Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Velleman USB Kit: Assembly

I'm not a pro at soldering.

I've soldered some things together and made them look nice, but I've never really soldered anything big. I'm more of a breadboard sort of guy- experiment, record, rinse, repeat.

After purchasing the Velleman USB Experiment Interface Board (link), I learned how to make good solder joints pretty quickly. After two hundred solder joints, I had a good grasp of what works and what doesn't. At the end of the assembly, it took me about one second for each solder joint. Also, all of the joints were neat and pretty good looking, if I say so myself.

This kit is used for both digital and analog inputs and outputs for the computer (it has capabilities similar to a specialized Arduino with USB). It even uses op-amps for true analog output, as well as having pulse width modulation. I read about how people bought the kit for home automation and presentations, so I snagged it at the store, but I never got around to assembling it until now.

A clean workstation is a rare occurrence
Of course, after opening the project box I took some photos of the bare board before I soldered to it. The traces and pads looked nice when backlit by my desk lamp.

(photo edited)
That's where the experimenting began. Which way do I bend the leads of the through-hole parts when soldering? In? Out? Should I tape them down? (Bend them out. They will stay supported when upside-down, but they won't get tangled when soldering many parts at once.)

Will end cutters be able to clip off leads after they are soldered? (No. They actually end up scratching the board while trying to reach down to nibble off the lead. That lesson was learned the hard way.) After some procrastination and a trip to the store to purchase flush cutters, I learned the joys of nice, neat solder joints. Once I got the hang of soldering, the whole process became relaxing and enjoyable, with the fan whirring and cool air filtering in from the night.

After soldering my way through resistors, capacitors, IC sockets, terminal blocks, LEDs, and more parts, I finally got to the scary step of the project. After assembling anything, the most nerve-wracking part is trying it for the first time. Surprisingly, after plugging in the USB cable, the board didn't explode or catch fire or melt.

One of the LEDs blinked on and off, and the computer even "found new hardware". I guess my soldering didn't turn out so badly after all!