We're a little crazy, about science!

Adventures in equipment modding

I have it! I finally (as of yesterday) got all the parts needed to build the stuff I wanted to finish for the studies we have coming up. This will be months of thinking through how to improve our setup and improve the noise rejection capabilities of the equipment. A LOT of planning went into the design and now that I have all the parts for assembly it’s time to earn my keep. But it’s not all smooth sailing.

There’s some work ahead for me. Mostly I need to figure out how the hell to make the stuff I’ve envisioned. Some of it will be easy (relatively speaking), some of it I’m finding out will be a huge challenge and I wish I could document it as I go, but as we know from all my previous posts I can’t talk about it until we’re finished. Which means talking around it, but that shouldn’t be an issue in this case because I finally cracked open a piece of equipment I haven’t played with and well…

Sometimes things are just far outside your skill level. But nothing ventured nothing gained and frankly I’ll never improve if I don’t push, so we’re going to attempt it anyway. The problem is some soldering that needs to happen and when I say soldering, I mean very, very, very fine soldering. Soldering stuff so small I’ve never done it before and I’m not sure the tip I am using, which is a “fine” solder tip (there are different styles) may not be small enough to do the trick. We’re going to speed ahead anyway because if I’m going to fail I’m going to fail trying.

That’s basically the problem as it stands now. The catch is this is all optional. I don’t have to improve the equipment. I don’t have to push this hard. I don’t need to take time away from all the other stuff I have going on to make this happen. Yet here I am doing just that. There’s no substitute for clean data (low noise), no filtering or preprocessing that can beat just well collected data. It’s one of the first things I learned coming into this field. When working with low signal to noise ratio data, collecting data with low noise to start is the difference between having something and having garbage.

There are several steps in this build that I’m taking. A lot of moving parts basically, so to speak anyway. I’m essentially remaking already made equipment, but better. The main issue is that a lot of the stuff that I’m taking apart has been made in a way that makes it difficult to disassemble. I’ve got it all disassembled though, so that was actually the easy part, it’s what I found on the inside that made me hesitant to continue, but continue I must.

Aside from the very fine, very close together soldering job I need to figure out, there’s also space requirements that I need to get solved and I need to figure out how to pack everything back together in the original containers (the case the stuff existed in when we bought it). It doesn’t NEED to go back into its original containers I guess, but that would be the ideal case or I would have to figure out a way to fabricate something to make it all fit.

There’s a few steps to remaking anything I want to remake, but the biggest steps are the desoldering and re-soldering processes. They are very delicate and you don’t want to burn something, but you also don’t want to break anything when you’re desoldering. I’ve already run into a nasty surprise with one of the pieces of equipment. I always try to order at least one spare “just in case.” You never know if something will break or if you’ll break something.

Well it turns out these pieces of equipment that I’m currently working on are hand soldered from the manufacturer. One of them was done very poorly. Like bad, it works, but taking it apart would be a nightmare kind of issue. And I took it apart and like I predicted it was a nightmare. In fact, one of the contacts on the board was damaged despite my best efforts. The good news is I quickly figured out a workaround despite my annoyance. However, it just really highlighted the delicate work I’m trying to do.

I’ve managed to get most of the stuff taken apart, now I mainly need to focus on how I’m going to build it back the way I want it. That will take a significantly longer amount of time unfortunately. Why does building something always take longer than tearing something apart? I feel like there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

Anyway, point being tomorrow (with a little luck, the schedule is awful), I will be assembling the first of three of the new pieces of equipment. I’m hoping it will go well, but we have to wait and see. I already know of a few problems I need to solve while I’m doing this. It’s going to be an adventure, but I’m really looking forward to seeing it all done and I hope it works the way I’m planning. Nothing is worse than assembling something only to find that it doesn’t work the way you expect it to work.

Wish me luck, I’m going to need it!

2 responses

  1. Good luck! I have always wondered why it wasn’t easier to find truly fine soldering iron tips. We have some at work that are the real deal, and I have never seen the like offered for sale. I probably need to look again, they might be in the depths of Digikey somewhere, I’m just surprised they aren’t more common. Maybe they’re easily damaged by oxidation.

    Have you ever used solder paste with a reflow oven? I have not, yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 8, 2022 at 8:32 am

    • Right? I’m always annoyed when I read the description “super fine tip” and it turns out to be the size of a sharpie. That’s basically what I’m currently using, but maybe I’ll get lucky and find one for future use, it would really come in handy.

      Oxidation damage is a good guess as to why they are hard to find though. I typically use tip tinner (highly recommend if you’ve never used it) to help keep the tip clean and working right.

      I’ve seen it done at school, but I haven’t done it myself. I’ve never really had a reason to use the equipment myself to be fair, maybe one day though!

      Liked by 1 person

      September 8, 2022 at 7:26 pm

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