Intro: PEX Pipe Hexagons With RGB LED Strip
Built for a stage back drop this project features some hexagon shapes made from 3/4" PEX pipe, similar to a LED hula hoop, some 12 Volt RGB LED strip, and a NLED 30 Channel High Current LED Controller. The PEX hexagons are nearly seamless looking using a simple technique involving crimping U shaped nails/fencing staples.
The NLED 30 Channel High Current LED Controller offers connectivity for DMX-512, USB, TTL serial(from FTDI, XBee, Arduino, or other serial device). All the connectivity modes offer 8-bit and 16-bit options for smoother control of the controller's output channels. It offers several DMX-512 modes for various control methods including control over the loaded stand-alone color sequences. The controller is compatible with the software NLED Aurora Control, a cross platform GUI based application that allows the user to create custom dynamic color sequences on a computer. Then upload them to the controller, for it to run by itself with no data connections. Perfect for many different types of projects
Step 1: Tools and Supplies
- 3/4" White/Natural PEX pipe, straight kind not spooled. Purchased at Home Depot in 10' lengths, SharkBite brand, Model # U870W10
- 12 Volt LED Strip, used 60 LEDs per Meter type
- NLED 30 Channel High Current LED Controller or NLED Quasar model.
- 12 volt Power Supply, proper amp rating for the amount of LEDs
- 4 Conductor 22AWG Ribbon Cable, Amount Varies
- U shaped nails, commonly called fencing staples
- 2x4 or scrap wood to build a drilling jig
- Acetone or other solvent, to clean off the PEX pipe printing
- Hand Saw Miter Box, critical tool for making the hexagons work well
- Drill and bits, drill press is best
- Sharp Razor
- End Cutting Pliers, these are used to crimp the fencing staples
Electronics tools, wire cutter, stripper, soldering iron, etc
Step 2: PEX Hexagons
The PEX Hexagons are made out of 6 equal length sections with 60 degree miters on each end. A 1/16" hole drilled near the edge of the miter, which is used for inserting the U shaped nails that hold the hexagons together. The holes need to be in the right position, a drilling jig and drill press make it easy. Before cutting the entire length of pipe was cleaned with some solvent and a rag, the printed text comes off easily.
Cutting: First 3 sizes of hexagons were chosen, and the length of segments was calculated. All the segments for each hexagon has to be exactly the same size, any deviation makes it not fit together well.
- The miter box will need a stop block to ensure each section is exactly the same size, just measuring and cutting will result in a hexagon that doesn't fit together well. The miter box saw was not long enough so a long board was clamped to the top of the miter box.
- Set up the miter box for 60 degrees
- Measured and clamped a stop block to the miter box in position for the first length.
- Cut all the segments for each length at the same time, without allowing the stop block or blade setting to be changed. This ensures they will all be exactly the same length.
- Then adjusted the saw stop block for the next segment size.
- A small drilling jig was made, which is a 2x2 block with 60 degree miter, screwed to a board with groove cut in it to seat the PEX pipe.
- The jig was clamped to a drill press and through a bit of guessing and trial and error, was secured into position. The distance is a little bit less than half of the width of the U shaped nails.
- Drilled 1/16" hole on each segment end, with the hole on the point of the miter.
- Drilled 2 holes in each segment, repeat for all segments.
Step 3: LED Installation
With the hexagons nearly ready, the final layout, and distances needs to be figured out. Adobe Illustrator or other graphics software can make it easy to try different variations. Once a layout has been selected, the length of the wires between the LED hexagons and the LED controller needs to be calculated. Its always better to have too much slack than too little, as you can always cut some off, but splicing ribbon cable is a huge pain and could cause issues.
- Start by numbering the partially assembled hexagons, referenced to the layout design.
- Calculate the length of LED strip that will be required for that size hexagon and cut some to length.
- Find the length that the 4-conductor ribbon cable will be for that hexagon and cut some wire to length.
- Strip one end(an autostripper is very helpful), tin and solder the wires to the LED strip contacts, minding the wire colors so they will be the same from hexagon to hexagon.
- Tape(white tape) or shrink tube the wire and LED strip contacts.
- Insert the LED strip into the hexagon, LEDs facing inwards(at least for this project) it takes some effort and jiggling to get it past the staples/nails.
- Once its all inserted crimp the segments together.
- Repeat with all hexagons.
- Lay all the segments down flat with the LED strip inside.
- Insert a U shaped nail/staple through the holes into 2 of the segments.
- Using an end cutting pliers, squeeze the u shaped staple/nail, it should bend inwards. It won't be very strong until all of them are installed.
- Work around inserting the staples and crimping them tight.
- Save the segment junction where the wire comes out for last.
- Use a razor to cut away some of the PEX pipe to make a gap for the wire to fit through.
- Position the wire, adjust the LED strip and crimp the last segment junction.
Step 4: Hanging Frame and Support
For this project all the PEX hexagons were hung on a curtain of black construction fencing. It came in 3' wide rolls, a 50ft roll was cut into foruths, making a 12'x12' section, that was zipped tied together with black zip ties. The curtain was hung from 2x2 framing, painted black.
The PEX hexagons were attached to the curtain using clear/white/natural zip ties. With the wires going downwards. The layout was used to position the hexagons by eye and a tape measure. Each hexagon took 3 zip ties to get it on flat.
Two NLED 30 Channel High Current Controllers or NLED Quasars were positioned at the bottom of the curtain, and all the hexagon wires were connected to them. A 12 volt at 30A power supply was used to power both controllers.
Step 5: Controller, Power Supply, and Software
The selected NLED 30 Channel High Current LED Controller is quite easy to use. It offers powerful stand-alone color sequences, or several options of DMX reception, along with USB and TTL serial reception modes. The available pluggable terminal block option makes the final assembly really easy, even in the field.
The power supply should be of the proper voltage for the configuration of LEDs being used, normally 12 volts for regular LED strip. The amperage rating should always consider maximum potential current, if all the LEDs were turned to maximum intensity(same as 100% white). Check your LED strips specs for details. But for normal 12 volt RGB LED strip 30/LEDs per meter, 10 sections per meter = 60mA x 10 = 0.6A per meter
Using an under rated power supply can cause many issues. Including: Changes in color of light output, controller restarting/flickering/loosing data/otherwise not working correctly, power supply failure, flickering or strobing of LEDs, and so many more. If considering a NLED product, please Contact Us with any questions regarding power supply selection.
Basic info found at https://learn.adafruit.com/rgb-led-strips/current-draw
The NLED Quasar or the NLED 30 Channel High Current LED Controller is extremely easy to hook up. They each offer 2 power input terminals, a large one and standard size one. Either or both can be used to provide power to the controller. Heavy gauge wire should be used to connect the controller to the power supply. The controller offers 30 output terminals, divided into 10 groups, V+ - Ch.1 - Ch.2 - Ch.3 - V+ - Ch.4 - Ch.5 - Ch.6 etc. Each group or RGB channel has a position for V+, which is the same as the input voltage provided by the power supply, and a separate position each for 3 channels(or RGB). For single color or RGBW setups, connection is a bit more confusing, but no more difficult. Just mind that the LED anodes are connected to any of the V+ positions and cathodes are connected to the desired channel(1 - 30, each independently controllable)
Software: The software NLED Aurora Control, is freely available and is used to interface with NLED controllers. It can be used to create custom dynamic color sequences and upload them to the controller(stand-alone color sequences). It can then run them by itself without a computer. Or USB, Serial, or DMX-512 control can also be used to control the outputs. The software can also be used to change any of the controller's configuration settings, which can also be accessed from the external LED display.
See the manual and tutorials for software usage instructions.
Step 6: Usage and Final Thoughts
Turned out well and was well received. While the control and overall usage is nothing new, the technique for assembling the hexagons and crimping them together is really the unique part of this project that other people will hopefully be able to utilize. There are many controllers out there similar to the NLED 30 Channel High Current LED Controller, but ours features powerful stand-alone color sequences and easy to use software compatibility. And the various communication methods makes it easy to interface with most any other device. Such as computers, serial adapters, PICs, Arduinos, Atmels, ancient DB-9 serial ports(with level translation of course), cell phones, and most any other device that can communicate.
All of our controllers are designed and manufactured in the United States, and offer personalized customer service. Any question, any problem, at most any time can be addressed by our competent support team.
We derive a lot of ideas and features from our customers. If you have a request of any sort for features, protocols, bug fixes, product ideas, please Contact Us.