World Stepper Clock with NXP LPC845

I really love clocks. I think this is I am living here in Switzerland. Beside of that: clock projects are just fun :-). After I have completed a single clock using stepper motors (see “DIY Stepper Motor Clock with NXP LPC845-BRK“), I wanted to build a special one which is able to show up to four different time zones: Below an example with London (UK), New York (USA), Beijing (China) and Lucerne (Switzerland):

Stepper Clock

Stepper Clock

The clock is not only able to show time for up to four different locations on the world: Using dual-shaft 360° stepper motors can show patterns beyond the time:

💡 In that video the minute hand is incrementing is changed every two seconds to advance the time faster.

In that project, a microcontroller (NXP LPC845, ARM Cortex-M0) is driving 8 stepper motors, one clock uses two motors, each individually controlled. Because the motors are special 360° motors, the zero position is determined with a magnet and a hall sensor for each hand. Using a serial connection, the clock can be configured. Because the clock can be away from a host PC, the clock uses RS-485.

Motors

This time the clock different concept than the one in “DIY Stepper Motor Clock with NXP LPC845-BRK“: instead of normal stepper motors it motors which are used behind the dashboard in cars. I evaluated different motors, and the VID28.12 dual shaft one was selected for this project. The motors have been tested first with a LPC845-BRK breakout board:

Testing the VID28.05 using NXP LPC845

Testing the VID28.05 using NXP LPC845

Below a short video showing the motor in action:

Each VID28.12 unit includes two stepper motors with a dual shaft. The motor can be easily disassembled and modified as needed (e.g. for 360° operation):

Disassembled VID28.05 Motor

Disassembled VID28.05 Motor

For 360° operation, the end stop has to be removed (e.g. with a sharp knife). Otherwise the motor is available from the factory without the end stop (this is what I have ordered after the first test unit).

VID28.05 End-Stop

VID28.05 End-Stop

PCB

The PCB has been designed in KiCad:

  • NXP LPC845 microcontroller
  • 2 Switec X12.017 quad-stepper motor driver
  • SWD debug port
  • RS-485 interface
  • 8 Hall sensors (AH3572)
  • LED
KiCad Project

KiCad Project

The board has been produced by PCBWay. Below the first board which worked with a few patches.

PCB V0.1 arrived

PCB V0.1 arrived

Reflow

The board only has a few parts on the bottom (clock front) side. Most components are 0603, with the microcontroller using 0.5 mm pitch the biggest challenge. Below the first board placed in the reflow oven:

Board in Reflow Oven

Board in Reflow Oven

It came out pretty good, with some excess solder (expected) on the microcontroller pins:

Out of the Reflow Oven

Out of the Reflow Oven

Issues

There are many ways to mess up things. As a list of reminders for myself (and maybe everyone else, nobody is perfect 😉 ):

1) Carefully check the microcontroller pin alignment before getting it baked. It ended up soldered shifted by one pin.

💡 The image below shows excessive solder on the pinis which is on purpose and will be to be removed later.

LPC shifted by one pin

LPC shifted by one pin

Luckily I had an infrared heater available in the lab to get it off and on the board again:

Infrared Heat Gun

Infrared Heat System

Selected Heat Profile

Selected Heat Profile

While the area (in red) is heated up, it gets monitored by a temperature sensor:

Heating it up

Heating it up

Heat Gun

Heat on the focal point

Running the Heat Profile

Running the Heat Profile

That way I was able to get it off the board easily:

Removed LPC Microcontroller

Removed LPC Microcontroller

With the help of flux, solder wick, solder past and the heat gun the LPC was placed correctly the second time :-).

2) Don’t miss adding solder paste to a pad. Or don’t wonder why a motor is not able to change the direction:

Solder Paste

Missing Solder Paste

 

3) There is no ‘standard’ footprint and pin numbering for SOT-23 packages. Carefully double-check the footprint and pin numbering used in the CAD tool. Or be prepared for painful board ‘fixes’. Luckily I had through-hole footprints added to the design as a backup.

Wrong Footprint

Wrong Footprint

3) Carefully check marking and orientation of polarized capacitors. It is not a good idea to populate a tantalum capacitors reversed. It might ‘work’ for a week or so. But it will end with magic smoke:

Tantalum blew up

Tantalum capacitor blew up

First Test Runs

After populating the parts, it was time to develop the firmware. I added a SWD debug header on the board and used that to debug it with a SEGGER J-Link EDU Mini. The design includes RS-485 connector with 5V/GND so it can be powered from USB. I’m using a SparkFun USB-to-RS-485 converter board to connect it with the host PC to configure the board settings:

Board with RS-485

Board with RS-485

The first board assembled with motors and debug connector:

Board with motors

Board with motors

Below the front of the board with an initial set of clock hands:

Front of PCB with clock hands

Front of PCB with clock hands

The video below shows one of the early test with the motors:

Enclosure

The enclosure has been designed in Inkscape and then produced with a laser cutter. Below an first version. The sides and back are made of lasercut 4mm plywood. The front is using 1 mm balsa wood. That way everything is inside 17x17x2 cm.

StepperClock

StepperClock

The hands for the clocks are 3D printed with PLA and include special sockets for the magnets on the bottom side of each hand:

3D Hands

3D Hands

Firmware

The firmware has been developed with the NXP MCUXpresso IDE V11.0.1 using the NXP MCUXpresso SDK and the McuLib.

MCUXpresso IDE

MCUXpresso IDE

The firmware includes a command line interface through the Segger RTT:

SEGGER RTT Command Line Interface

SEGGER RTT Command Line Interface

The same command line interface can be used over the RS-485 connection too. Configuration data like the clock hand offsets or RS-485 device address are stored in the microcontroller flash at runtime if reconfigured.

Summary

The result of the project is a versatile World Clock with four clocks make of automotive dashboard dual-shaft stepper motors. The clock is 17x17x2 cm in size and requires a 4-wire connection (5V, GND, A, B). It intentionally does not include a battery backed-up RTC (yet), as the idea is to connect multiple clocks to a bigger clock system. The clock can be used as a single clock, in that case it gets configured throught the RS-485 connection.

The design allows to use custom front covers, for example to show logos or landmarks for each time zone. For my first design I used London, New York, Beijing and Lucerne. The cover can be removed and replaced with a different one:

Stepper Clock

Stepper Clock

I plan to work on a new revision of the board. Until then, you can find the current firmware and design files on GitHub (see links below).

Happy TimeZoning 🙂

Links

 

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