BLINKENROCKET - Soldering Tutorial

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The Blinkenrocket is a DIY electronics kit


It is made to teach SMD soldering, while providing a fun and useful product that is easy to use.
It features an 8x8 LED matrix that can be programmed using a regular HEADPHONE jack directly on your Laptop, Phone or Tablet.
No APP, No Special Cables, No programmer needed.

Just go to http://blinkenrocket.com/ and create your custom Animations and Text online.

  1. Plug in your blinkenrocket
  2. Turn the volume to maximum
  3. Hit the [TRANSFER] button

You can get a kit at the hackerspaceshop.com

Blinkenrocket is available in three Variants.

[NORMAL]

This variant of the kit has the SOIC-8 EEPROM and the TQFP-32 Microcontroller already soldered on the PCB
You need to solder some 1206 SMD and some trough hole components yourself.
This is pretty straight forward and can be done by anyone with a fine pitched soldering iron and a pair of tweezers.

If you got this kit you can skip steps 3 and 4.

Assembly time: ~ 20 minutes

[EASY]

This kit is designed for the younger solderingheroes.
All SMD components are already presoldered.
You only need to solder the trough hole components.
This kit was successfully assembled by 6-year olds and was designed to be easy to assemble or when you need to make a quick soldering workshop for total beginners.

If you got this kit you can skip steps 3 to 7 and start at step 8

Assembly time: ~ 10 minutes


[CHALLENGE]

This kit is designed for the adventurous explorer.
You need to solder everything yourself including the fine TQFP and SPIC-8 packages.
Don't worry we got the biggest SMD parts we could and made the pads especially large so it is easier to solder everything by hand.

If you have some soldering experience but never soldered components with many legs before, this is for you!

Assembly time: ~ 35 minutes


All kits include:

  • Printed circuit board
  • Preprogrammed microcontroller
  • High quality 8x8 matrix module with beautiful bright square pixels
  • Sorted and marked components in a bag
  • CR2032 battery
  • Durable lanyard
  • Adaptor to connect the blinkenrocket to your headphone jack
  • A sticker
  • A card with QR-code and parts index
  • Sturdy plastic box for transportation

Step 1: TOOLS

With the right tools, soldering is easy.

For the blinkenrocket you will need the following tools

  • A fine tip solder iron
  • Tweezers
  • Solder
  • Fine Pliers (for electronics)
  • Desolderbraid (optional)
  • Solderflux (optional)

If you think about buying equipment, a good soldering iron will cost 80 euro or more, but it is a good investment.
There are some good videos about electronics equipment available on the EEVBLOG

Step 2: SOLDERING BASICS

There are basically two kinds of components
Trough hole technology (THT) and Surface mount devices (SMD).
SMD parts are soldered directly to the printed circuit board (PCB) and THT components stick trough holes in the board.

THT is old and bulky but there are some parts that you can not produce in SMD.
The MATRIX module for example needs to have the legs underneath.
Learning how to solder, this days usually means learning how to solder SMD.

The pictures above show you how its done.

  1. Apply some solder to a pad (pads are the golden squares on the PCB)
  2. Place the part using tweezers
  3. Melt the solder to keep the part in place
  4. Solder the other side of the part

The THT parts are even easier to solder, just make sure the parts sit flat and the orientation is correct.

Step 3: EEPROM

This part of the tutorial is only necessary for the [CHALLENGE] variant.

The EEPROM is already soldered in the [NORMAL] and [EASY] variants of the kit.
If you got one of those kits you can skip to step 5 respectively 8 of the instructable.

EEPROM stands for Electrically Eraseable Programmable ReadOnly Memory
If you wonder how that came to be you might want to check out wikipedia on the subject.

The EEPROM is the storage device we use with the blinkenrocket design.
When you upload new text or animations, they are saved in this part, so next time you turn on your blinkenrocket is still remembers what you uploaded previously.
The complete content of the EEPROM is overwritten on each upload.

The EEPROM has a marking and needs to be aligned in the correct orientation.

Please check out the VIDEO linked with this instructable on how to solder the EEPROM.

To solder the device in place you

  1. First apply some solder to the top right pad
  2. Than place the EEPROM carefully in place and make sure the mark on the part is in the top left corner
  3. Melt the solder you put on the pad before and fix the device in place
  4. Now add solder to the bottom left pad and than to each other pin
  5. Remove excess solder with desolder braid and use FLUX if the solder sticks to a pin

DOUBLECHECK the orientation of the part.
The mark goes on the TOP LEFT next to the little white circle on the PCB.

Step 4: MCU

This part of the tutorial is only necessary for the [CHALLENGE] variant of the kit

The microcontroller is already soldered in the [NORMAL] and [EASY] variants of the kit.
If you got one of those kits you can skip to step 5 respectively 8 of the instructable.

The microcontroller (MCU) comes in a TQFP-32 package which is the biggest SMD package available for this specific MCU.
The MCU is basically a small computer that has internal storage, ram and registers for peripherals to read sensor values, check buttons and blink leds.
If you are interested in learning more about microcontrollers you should check out the arduino platform.
It is user friendly and has a large community.

The MCU has a marking and needs to be aligned in the correct rotation.
Please check out the VIDEO linked with this instructable on how to solder the MCU.

To solder the device in place you

  1. first apply some solder to the top right pad
  2. than place the MCU carefully in place and make sure the mark on the part is in the bottom left corner
  3. DOUBLECHECK the orientation of the part.
    The mark goes on the BOTTOM LEFT left next to the little white circle on the PCB
  4. melt the solder you put on the pad before and fix the device in place
  5. now add solder to the bottom left pad and than to each other pin
  6. remove excess solder with desolderbraid and use FLUX if the solder sticks to a pin

Step 5: CAPACITORS

The capacitors and resistors are marked with COLORS on the back of the white band they are packaged in

Please make sure that each part goes to the correct location.
The card in your kit shows you the NAME, the COLOR, the IMPRINT on the part (if any) the VALUE and how many pieces are included.

Capacitors are components that store energy and are used to stabilize the energy distribution in a circuit.
When the leds in the matrix are turned on, it will need a lot of energy.
Capacitors are used to make sure the MCU and other parts of the circuit get enough power all the time.

We use ceramic capacitors.

They usually come in little brown packages and have NO POLARITY.
That means that orientation is not important.
But make sure to solder each part to the correct position.

C1 has a value of 10 uF which is quite large while C2 and C3 provide only 0.47 uF capacity.

uF stands for microfarad.
If this sparked your interest, go check out wikipedia on the subject of SI-units.

We used parts in the fairly large 1206 SMD package, which is a reasonable size for beginner SMD soldering.
Modern mobile phones use packages as small as 0.1x0.1 mm that can only be soldered with special equipment under microscopes. But those packages are meant to be assembled by high precision pick and place machines.
I also made a short video about the blinkenrocket manufacturing process.

The capacitors are labeled with C1, C2 and C3

Please refer to the "BASICS OF SOLDERING" section in this instructable for details and pictures.

  1. Apply some solder to a pad (pads are the golden squares on the PCB)
  2. Place the part using tweezers
  3. Melt the solder to keep the part in place
  4. Solder the other side of the part

Step 6: RESISTORS

Just like ceramic capacitors, resistors have no polarity either and can be placed in any direction.

Make sure each resistor is placed at the correct location on the PCB.
Resistors are soldered just like the capacitors so please refer to the previous step for details.

Step 7: DIODES

We use two diodes in this kit.
They are of the commonly used 1N4148 type.


Diodes DO HAVE a polarity, orientation IS IMPORTANT

The diodes have a small white stripe on the package.
The strip needs point toward the right border of the PCB.

There is also a small white circle under each diode indicating the correct rotation.

They are soldered just like the capacitors and resistors, nothing special there.

Just make sure the alignment is correct.

Step 8: TROUGH HOLE COMPONENTS

We refer to parts that stick trough the PCB as trough hole components.
In this kit we got:

  • two Buttons
  • Audio jack
  • Coincell holder
  • 8x8 Matrix

To solder those components you stick them trough the board from the correct side and make sure they sit flat during soldering.

Most components are inserted from one side of the board, but the battery holder is inserted from the other side.

Please DOUBLECHECK this before soldering.

Step 9: BUTTONS

INSERT THE BUTTONS ON THE FRONTSIDE OF THE PCB

So far all components were soldered to the back of the PCB.
The buttons are the first components to be inserted from the frontside.

Refer to the pictures above.
The buttons should sit flat in their positions.

Make sure you don't bend the legs during insertion, they can break off.
You usually do not need force to insert the buttons into the holes.
If they don't get in easily, maybe you got them them 90° flipped?

Once inserted hold them in place and solder the 8 pads.
Touch the pads and the leads with the soldering iron and apply solder from above.

Step 10: AUDIO JACK

The AUDIO JACK is installed on the frontside of the PCB, just like the buttons.

During soldering make sure the audio jack does not come loose and sits very flat on the PCB.

Doublecheck for short circuits / interconnects on the contacts after soldering as they are quite close to each other.

Step 11: COINCELL HOLDER

First apply some solder on the PAD for the coincell.

Not too much, just enough to make the battery touch the solder once it is inserted.
Than insert the coincellholder form the BACKSIDE of the PCB as shown.
Make sure it sits flat and nice.

The opening for the battery should be pointing toward the nose of the rocket, check out the picture above.

Solder the 4 contacts on the other side of the PCB and make sure the batteryholder does not move during soldering.

Step 12: The Matrix

SUPER IMPORTANT READ THIS CAREFULLY


The matrix has a marking on one side.

The text might differ from the one shown in the picture, but there will be some imprint.

There is also a WHITE ROUND MARK on the PCB (FRONTSIDE).

Insert the matrix on the marked side and make sure the LABEL is on the right.
Please doublecheck this.

Now make sure the matrix sits flat during soldering and solder one pin after other.

Once you are done, remove the leads with pliers.
Check for shortcircuits / interconnects between the contacts of the matrix, remove them with desolderbraid if necessary.

Step 13: Finally Insert the Battery

ALMOST THERE!
It's time to insert the battery.
The + marked part of the battery goes upside.

Does it blink?

CONGRATLATIONS
Upload your custom text and animations at http://blinkenrocket.com



TODO

It does not blink at all or behave in strange ways?

Check out the Bug resolution video on youtube that shows the most common errors.

Step 14: Upload Your Custom Content

You can upload your custom text and animations by openening:

http://blinkenrocket.com in your browser.
Simply plug in your blinkenrocket to the HEADPHONE jack of your device and make sure to TURN THE VOLUME to maximum.
Click the transfer button once you created your conent.
The website creates a high annoying tone that is used to transfer the data to your blinkenrocket.

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9 Discussions

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gog72

11 months ago

Help, please

I soldered everything together an turned the rocket on:

it blinks and shows the text: "V2.1 blinken rocked...." :)

the i startet the webeditor at:

http://blinkenrocket.de/webedit-react/

added a text an connected the Rocket to my Phone/Laptop turned up

the volume an hit the "Transfer-button" but nothing hapens :(

if i unplug the Rocket i hear the sounds out of the Phone/Laptop (like my old Modem)...

doublechecked the Soldering on the audio-jack but don't see a Problem...

Thanks for any sugestion

2 replies
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overflogog72

Reply 11 months ago

Hi Gog,

Some people experienced this kind of problem.


For some taking out the battery and inserting it again worked out.

Others needed to actually turn DOWN the volume as it was overamplified by their soundcard.

Others had problems on iOS/Safari (we are working on this)

One guy found out he had to turn on the volume AFTER pressing the transfer button on his Android-Tablet.

One guy had the DIODES soldered in the wrong way. (see step #7)

On one laptop the adaptor for the audiojack did not sit well in the socket and no audio signal was transfered to the rocket.
That was a hard one to debug, you need an oszi for that.

And than we had a strange one at the 34c3 that worked 50% of the time.
I still dont know what this was about :/

If nothing works out for you send me an email and i will send you a fully assembled and tested replacement for free. (info@blinkenrocket.de)

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overflogog72

Reply 11 months ago

Please check out Step 7.
Did you solder the two diodes in the right way?

The webinterface is still work in progress, try to reload and clear your cache.
If it is not working at all please contact me via email (info@blinkenrocket.de) so we can arrange a replacement.

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Glumgad

11 months ago

It looks nice!

Are you the author of the BLINKENROCKET?

3 replies
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overfloGlumgad

Reply 11 months ago

The Blinkenrocket project is a collaboration project.
Many people are involved.

I spent a lot of time to make the new PCB, videos, tutorial, documentation and manufacturing.
We will have some hundered kits @ 34c3 hacker cccongress next week :)

If you want to get a kit, they are available here:

https://hackerspaceshop.com/products/blinkenrocket

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Glumgadoverflo

Reply 11 months ago

btw, why don't you enter the LED contest?

I believe, more people will learn about your project when you enter the contest.

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overfloGlumgad

Reply 11 months ago

Oh thanks for the tip mate!
I dont think this instructions for the kit will win something, but spreading the word is a good thing.

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Swansong

11 months ago

Great tutorial, that's a really cute kit!

1 reply
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overfloSwansong

Reply 11 months ago

Thank you very much!
I consider this a first draft of the tutorial.
I will make nicer fotos once the 34c3 is over..
But i am too busy now preparing all those kits and packing my stuff :)