Monday, December 12, 2005

Plasma Boy's School of Charger Repair

Sorry it's been a while, but that's not for a lack of EV activity, but rather the opposite.
Last weekend saw the arrival of the new-to-me PFC 20 Battery Charger. The Manzanita Micro PFC line offers what's by far the most powerful onboard and versatile battery chargers ever obtainable by the hobbyist, and are completely user-adjustable with regards to input and output voltage, amperage, time on, and to some extent, charging profile. My charger comes secondhand from a fellow hobbyist who never could let go of his Bad Boy charger, concerned that charging by genset might fry the precious PFC. Well, the Manzanita Micro website gives clear instructions on how to determine if your genset is safe, and the Creator, Rich Rudman was willing to provide full support to me as second owner, so it's a risk I'm willing to take, err..., make. (More to come on manufactured risk in a later post.)

So, under the guise of retrieving my loaned video camera from EV Racer extraordinaire John Wayland, known in battery-safety circles as Plasma Boy, I head for Portland with the new charger under my wing. It had arrived accompanied by a strange rattling sound on the inside, and I wanted a semi-professional opinion before powering up the silicon. When I arrived at the Wayland estate, John was putting the finishing touches on some long-postponed shop cleanup, and looking for approval, he asked my opinion. My reply; of "It's lookin' pretty good, so is that corner over there where you shoved EVerything?" was appropriately appreciated....

While talking over some design decisions for the KarmannEclectric, we got into holiday topics. The associated commercialism and artificial niceties of this season have made Christmas one of Mr. Wayland's least favorite seasons, but determined to gain his wife's good graces, our hero enlisted my assistance in the hanging of gaily-colored lights from his roofline. EVer-attentive to tidy wiring, John had permanently positioned plastic clips long ago to ease this annual installation. Well, about half of these succomed to the weather, snapping off in our chilled fingers. Determined to prevent this recurrence, out came the self-tapping screws, and we installed enough wiring clips to make Underwriter's Laboratories proud. The lighting set was old, with large screw-in bulbs, and we had to make many replacements, juggling the bulbs from socket to socket in order to keep the colors in line (red, yellow, green, blue, purple, redyellowgreenbluepurple, red...), and creatively hiding a couple of dead sockets. At long last, the house was festively festooned, and just in time to tackle the loose charger before dinner.

We quickly opened up the case, and discovered that the sturdy copper inductor posts would have to be desoldered in order to remove the circuit board and access the problem point. Johnny-on-the-spot whipped out his gun and a clever little slurpee that removes molten solder via vacuum. Once the inductor posts were loose, we carefully pried the board free. The problem was easily rectified by simply sliding the shims back into position and firmly clamping the inductors, making sure to reset the locknuts. As we went to replace the board, I innocently asked, "What are those tiny hairs of wire for?". It turns out that we had overlooked the temperature sensor leads, and yanked four miniscule wires right out of their little homes. Not a user-repairable item, we'll have to call on the maker for more....

Now, there will be those who think it was unwise to bring my technical problems to someone who's motto is "We break things so you don't have to!". But heck, it was a great learning experience, and who knows, maybe an upgrade to the old PFC 20 will be in the works, now that it's already opened up and EVerything.........

To top off the evening, John's wife walks into the shop, as if on cue. She starts straight into some family business, ignoring the eager anticipation on her husband's face. Somewhat crestfallen, he asks- "Didn't you notice the lights?" She doesn't miss a beat. "Yeah Dummy, that's the old set you were supposed to throw out, where are the nice new ones that I got last year!"

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