Monthly Update April 2022

glowingkitty
5 min readApr 2, 2022

Hey there! And welcome to another monthly update about my LED projects, what progress I made and what comes next.

Despite being at home for about 2 weeks because of covid, I was able to make some good progress with my LED lamps, getting them nearly ready for launch!

GlowTower & GlowLight

The first prototype of GlowLight with a custom PCB. And in case you wonder: that gel on the PCB is flux, which I needed for assembling the prototype by hand.

Together with my custom-designed PCBs for my other LED projects, I also received the first prototype PCB for GlowTower & GlowLight. At first, I had some issues with getting the PCB to work. But once I realized that I switched the 5V and ground pins on two of the four connected LED strips, I was able to fix that issue quickly, and voila — the prototype glows! Still an annoying mistake, but that’s exactly what prototypes are for, right?

If an LED strip points downwards on one side of an aluminum square tube and upwards on the next side, of course the positions of 5V and GND also have to be switched… Like here, after I fixed that mistake.

And as you can see, I also designed a new case from scratch for GlowTower & GlowLight, while I was waiting for the PCBs to arrive. A case which is in comparison to previously, before I had my custom-designed PCB — waaay simpler to assemble and stronger connected. Honestly, I am still surprised by how strong a few solder connections can be.

Sadly the microphone of this prototype doesn’t work yet. Which most likely means there isn’t enough solder connecting the microphone to the PCB, or some contacts are connected which shouldn’t be connected. Both issues were caused by me manually assembling this prototype PCB. Plus, it takes some practice (and luck) to get enough (but not too much) solder paste everywhere, using a stencil. Speaking of stencils…

DIY PCB stencils

Lasercut PCB stencils: by taping lasercut/engraved foil on lasercut acrylic.

Ordering PCB stencils made out of steel is way more expensive than the PCBs themself, both the stencil itself, but also the extra shipping costs — and of course the delay with the shipping is also annoying. So what about making PCB stencils at home? Or… better said, at your local hackspace or makespace? After reading an article about 3D printing PCB stencils with resin I tried it myself. But yeah… that didn’t work out well. The holes for the solder paste in the 3D printed stencil ended up being.. well, filled with resin and therefore useless as a stencil. I am sure this can be fixed by spending a few hours fine-tuning the printing settings. But thankfully someone from my local hackspace made me aware of a much better way to create DIY PCB stencils: using mylar foil (I think that’s the kind of foil overhead projectors use?). This foil exists in the required 0.125mm thickness — and is compatible with a laser cutter! So I experimented for a few minutes with some settings on the laser cutter — and voila, a full PCB stencil gets engraved within a few minutes — with no post-processing required (unlike the resin 3D prints). The resulting PCB stencils are still not the same quality as steel PCB stencils, but more than good enough for some prototypes. And of course, they are cheaper to get and one doesn’t need to wait for shipping. Plus, in combination with a laser-cut acrylic cutout for the PCB, I was able to create a stencil where I don’t even need to align the PCB anymore, awesome!

GlowTube

The first GlowTube prototype with the new GlowTube PCB and the new case design.

Next, let’s talk about GlowTube. Together with the other prototype PCBs, I also assembled the first GlowTube PCB prototype. And after discovering that also here I accidentally switched 5V and ground of the LED strip, I was able to improvise with the help of some wires and got the GlowTube PCB to work as well! I also designed a completely new case for GlowTube, in which the GlowTube PCB(s) fit nicely into. And so far it looks nice and seems to fit perfectly fine!

The new case design, designed for the new GlowTube PCB inside.

GlowHub

The first prototype of the new GlowHub, with some of the GlowSync ports connected for testing.

And for GlowHub I also assembled the GlowHub PCB prototype for the most part (except some remaining RJ11/RJ12 ports), uploaded the WLED software and 3D printed a case for it — and it looks great! However, I haven’t had time yet to test the “GlowSync” functionality (that’s what the RJ11/RJ12 connectors are for), which allows you to connect LED lamps (GlowTower, GlowLight, and GlowTube) or the GlowCore Mini & GlowCore development boards to GlowHub — and make them all light up to the same music perfectly in sync. That will come next in April. Speaking of…

What’s next in April?

First I will finish testing and fixing the prototype PCBs for GlowTower/GlowLight, GlowTube, GlowHub, as well as GlowCore Mini — and update the PCB designs accordingly. This includes testing the GlowSync port. But I will also figure out how to let GlowHub automatically detect which LED lamp has been connected — and update the WLED settings automatically.

In addition, while uploading software to the PCBs is already possible, it still requires pressing the “RESET” button. Not ideal — and other ESP32 boards also allow for uploading software without pressing any buttons. So of course I will add the same functionality to all my PCBs.

While the case for GlowTube and GlowHub seem to fit perfectly fine, I also need to make some minor adjustments to the GlowTower/GlowLight case.

And once all those fixes are done, I will both start planning the re-launch of my LED online shop (where you will be able to buy all my LED lamps and LED development boards), and also start planning GlowOS, the firmware for all my LED projects (based on WLED).

So a lot of exciting stuff to look forward to! Hope you liked this monthly update and stay tuned for the next updates :D

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glowingkitty

Hey, Marco here! Maker and LED enthusiast. Loves learning new skills and exploring the world.