DIY Soldering Station Controller

It’s been quite a while that I wanted to treat myself to a new soldering station, and recently I found out about the Weller RT active tips which are great for building a soldering station. The whole station from Weller is really expensive, but the tips cost only around 25€. They are active, which means that they contain the heating element as well as a thermocouple temperature sensor. I got inspired by several similar projects on the web, like this one, this one or this one.

The design is kept simple, with a rotary encoder with internal pushbutton to set the temperature and 4-digit 7-segment LED display. I wanted to use mainly parts that I already had in my parts bin, including a nice aluminium case from an old external harddrive. The user-interface is extremely simple. By turning the knob, the target temperature is set. While turning the knob, the display briefly shows the target temperature, and then goes back to displaying the current (actual) temperature. When the pushbutton is pressed for >3s, the current target temperature is stored as default value in the non-volatile EEPROM memory of the microcontroller. This default temperature is loaded at startup. When the iron handle is put in the stand, the iron goes into standby mode and reduces it’s temperature to 100°C. This reduces the wear of the tip and is no problem, because the tip heats up increadibly fast because of the internal heater and the small thermal mass. Originally I planned to use a hall sensor to detect the handle in the stand, but I chose a simpler solution by connecting an input pin of the microcontroller with an internal pullup resistor to the stand. Since the metal part of the iron tip is grounded, it sets the pin low and thus enables to detect the iron in the stand. solderingstation

The microcontroller used is a Microchip ATTiny24A. The program is in C with avr-gcc, avr-libc and the AtmelStudio IDE. The program code just fits barely into the small flash memory (2kB), so a variant like the ATtiny44 (4kB) or 88 (8kB) might be more appropriate If you want to replicate this project and add some features. The display is a TM1637 4-digit 7-segment LED display module, those can be found cheaply on ebay etc. One big advantage of these modules is, that they need only 2 GPIO pins to communicate with the display using an I²C-ish interface. The rotary encoder used has an internal pushbutton, the one I used is salvaged from an old radio. The power supply is a also salvaged from an old laptop, it supplies 12V DC at something around 3.6A. The Weller RT tips are rated at 44W max., so a quite beefy power supply is needed. The Weller RT tips use a standard 3,5mm stereo audio jack connector with the following pinout:

  • tip = heating element
  • middle ring = thermocouple sensor
  • sleeve (back ring) = GND

The thermocouple signal is amplified with a low input offset voltage(!) rail-to-rail OpAmp and fed to the microcontrollers internal ADC. The µC’s internal 1.1V bandgap voltage reference is used. Two RC-lowpass filters in the signal path remove noise in the signal. It is important to only measure the thermocouple sensor voltage when the heating element is off, or else erroneous readings will be produced. To achieve this, the heater is controlled with a center-aligned (a.k.a. phase correct) PWM. In the middle of the low-cycle of the PWM, an interrupt triggers an AD-conversion. The PWM duty-cycle is computed with a P-controller to control the temperature. The heating element is switched with a p-MOSFET power transistor. To drive it’s gate with 12V from the microcontrollers 5V level, another small nMOSFET is used. A PCB for the design has been designed and manufactured at AISLER. The microcontroller is programmed via an 6-pin ISP connector with a programmer. pcb

This is the connection diagram (pinout) of the PCB: pinout_annotated

For the iron handle I used a standard stereo audio jack that connects to the tip and 3d-printed a tubular handle for it. The faceplate of the case is also 3D-printed.

As always, the design is open source and available here.

Written on December 26, 2019