I’m currently mainly working on my new anemometer design but once in a while I get distracted. For example when my Keysight E3645A lab power supply was making so much noise that I could hardly concentrate. That’s when the idea of this fan controller was born.
Of course, the best temperature controlled fan in the world doesn’t help if you really need the cooling the fan is providing. But very often a small fraction of the cooling would do just fine most of the time. In my case the supply does control the speed of the fan. But it doesn’t seem to measure the temperature at all but seems to calculate the necessary cooling in a worst-case condition. An for a supply that may be rack-mounted together with lots of other heat dissipating gear the worst-case might be quite demanding. But my supply just sits on a shelf at, say, 22 degrees ambiant. And most of the time I’m hardly pulling any current. When working with microcontroller designs it’s rare for me to pull more than a few tens of milliamps. So little cooling is needed most of the time. But the E3645A (this one here does a better job) ran its fan at crazy speeds while the case still had this cold metallic feel to it. So we can definitely do better.
So the first step was to open the supply and to see what kind of fan it uses and how it is controlled. After beaking some seals and opening the case I found a 60x60x25mm 12V fan of Chinese origin. I also found out that the supply uses linear control. So there’s no PWM or anything but the supply voltage just varies in (I think) four steps from 7.4 to 12 volts. Most surprisingly, this voltage is not ground-referenced but symmetric around ground, i.e. plus/minus 6 volts.
I was pleased to see that the fan connects to the main board by means of a standard two-pin 100mil header. So I could just plug anything in between the board and the fan.
That’s exactly what my first idea was. Stick with the original fan and just put a PWM controller in between. I’ve just recently made some LED dimmers and the technology needed here seemed to be very similar. So Rev A of my fan controller was born.
It’s simple: A linear 5V regulator, a PIC16F18325 microcontroller, an LMT86 temperature sensor and a N-channel mosfet. The PIC chosen here runs at up to 32MHz on an internal oscillator, has an internal voltage reference (of 1.024, 2.048 or 4.096V), six PWM modules and plenty of other nice features while comming in a small 14-pin package. So all I need to do is to measure the temperature, calculate the desired fan speed and set the PWM duty cycle accordingly.
My first surprise came when I first wanted to program the PIC. My trusted Mikroelectronika MikroC for PIC compiler doesn’t know that chip. And neither does my MikroProg programmer. So after a little bit of research I ordered a PICkit3 and downloaded the MPLAB IDE. As a nice side effect I can now also compile code for and program the fancier PICs like the DSPics and PIC32s. I might do that before long.
So I did the necessary programming (and debugging) and attached a small fan. It all worked but I had to chose a quite low PWM frequency in order to make the fan spin at lower duty cycles. And probably as a result of the low PWM frequency the motion of the fan didn’t look or sound very smooth.
With the larger fan from the supply things only got worse. I had to lower the PWM frequency even more into the tens of Hz range so it would spin at all. And even like this I couldn’t get it to run at low duty cycles. Of course, the low frequency caused nasty vibrations so I gave up on this approach. I read online that other people successfully use PWM on their fans but at least this model wasn’t happy to be PWM-dimmed. Does anybody know more about this? Was this an option in the old days before brushless motors were the norm? Is it that brushless motors aren’t unsuitable for this kind of control alltogether or does it depend on the specific model? Please use the comments section below if you can shead some light on this.
But I don’t give up easily so after a bit of research I ordered a four-wire fan conforming to the so-called Intel spec. Besides ground and +12V they have two control lines. A PWM line that lets you control the fan speed by means of a (25kHz nominally) PWM singal. And a so-called TACH singal that allows you to read the current fan speed. The PWM line has internal pull-ups to (depending on the fan) 3.3 or 5 volts so you just need to pull it low. The TACH signal needs an external pull-up resistor and gets pulled low by the fan twice per revolution. So you’re getting a digital signal with a frequency of twice the fan speed.
I ordered a EBM Papst 622/2 HHP which is the right size and somewhat more powerful than the original fan. The new board has a somewhat odd shape so I can use one of the fan’s mounting screws to mount the board as well. Note that all the copper has been removed around the mounting hole. The fan is attached to a heat sink which is grounded while our board runs on a split suply. So ground as our board sees it is not actually ground but a negative voltage so we have to be careful.
The new Rev B design runs on 3.3 volts in order to be compatible with any fan independent of the fan’s internal logic voltage. I’ve also used a different temperature sensor – a classic LM35.
Like the Rev A there is an LED to visually indicate what’s going on. There are also three pins on the microcontroller that are intended to be used as debug pins so I put some vias there to make it easy to connect a scope probe.
Above you get an idea of what the TACH signal looks like. It’s a quite low frequency singal since there are only two pulses per rotation. So the measured 104Hz shown on the screenshot correspond to 3120 RPM.
Having a TACH signal to measure and three debug outputs to worry about made the software development somewhat more involved but it was well worth it. I’ve used the debug pins as follows:
- Actual (i.e. mesured) fan speed. 100% corresponds to 10000RPM
- Target fan speed. 100% corresponds to 10000RPM
- Measured temperature. 100% corresponds to 100 degrees centigrade
So from the duty cycle measured by a scope you can easily read the speeds and temperature.
Of course this is only possible since there are some unused PWM modules left. But as I said, this PIC has 6 of them and only two are needed to measure the fan speed and another to control the fan.
The transfer function from temperature to fan speed can be freely defined in software. In the screenshots above the fan was running at 1500RPM up to a temperature of 30 degrees. Above that the speed would rise linearly until reaching its maximum of 9000RPM at a temperature of 55 degrees.
One could easily implement a PID control if one was so inclined but the slowly chaning nature of the temperature in such a setting makes this largely unnecessary so at least for now only the proportional part is taken into consideration when calculating the PWM frequency.
As you can see, the little board is nicely held in place by one of the fan mouning screws. By the way, the LED blinks roughtly once per second and its duty cycle corresponds to the target fan speed relative to the maximum fan speed of 9000RPM. So if the LED is on one-third of the time the target fan speed is one-third of the maximum speed or 3000RPM.
Unfortunately for my application, the supply senses the current consumed by the fan and shuts down if not enough current flows. This is probably a good idea and prevents the supply from possible damage if the fan is unplugged for example.
I found that it is possible to run the fan at a lower speed without the supply complaining but with fan speeds below about 4000RPM the there were conditions causing an error condition. So I ended up connecting a 1W 150ohms resistor in parallel to keep the supply happy even with the fan running at only 1500RPM.
I believe that my settings are very much on the safe side. At a a temperature of around 50 degrees measured inside the case the airflow matches the one of the original fan at max speed. But needless to say this kind of fiddling voids the warranty and is always done a one’s own risk. The reward is a supply that is now hardly audible and much more pleasant to use.
The zip file contains the eagle files, PDFs and software of both revisions.