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Keeping plants happy with the Greentropia Base board – Part 1

March 6, 2019 Leave a comment

Last year I got started on an automatic plant watering project, with as goal a completely stand-alone, self-sufficient solution. It should be capable of not only monitoring the level of moisture in the soil, but also control a pump that would add water to the soil when needed.

Later iterations of this basic design added a scale to measure the level in the water reservoir, as well as a multi-colour LED to be used as a system indicator as well as for more decorative purposes. This design was initially developed further for my third book that got released [1][2][3] in February of this year. In chapter 5 of that book it is featured as an example project, using the BMaC [4] firmware for the ESP8266 microcontroller.

That’s where the project remained for a while, as even though a PCB design (the Greentropia [5] base board) had been created that would accommodate the project’s complete functionality on a single board, converting that into a physical product along with the associated effort and costs prevented me from just pushing the button on ordering the PCBs and components.

Thus the board remained just a digital render:

iop_plant_base_002

When I got suddenly contacted by a representative from PCBWay [6] with an offer to have free PCBs made in exchange for a review of the finished board, it made it all too easy to finally take the step to have the board produced for real.

After some last-minute, frantic validation of the design and board layout by yours truly and a good friend, the Gerber files were submitted to PCBWay. We used the Gerber viewer in KiCad to check the files prior to submitting them. Later I learned that PCBWay also offers an online Gerber viewer [7]. We did not use that one, but it’s important to use a Gerber viewer before one submits a design, to be sure that the resulting PCB will look like and function the way it should.

After a couple of days of PCB production and shipping from China to Germany, the boards arrived:

IMG_20190102_161941

Top side:

IMG_20190102_162412

Bottom side:

IMG_20190102_162432

All boards looked pretty good, with pretty sharp silkscreen features and the soldermask being aligned with the pads. We compared them with another Nyantronics PCB that we have been working on for a while now, that one being from JLCPCB. It is a good way to compare the blue soldermask that they use:

IMG_20190102_165819

Which colour you prefer is a personal choice, of course. Personally I like the more deep-blue colour of the JLCPCB board, but the PCBWay blue isn’t half bad either. The real concern is of course whether or not the PCB does what it’s supposed to, which is what we’d find out once we assembled the boards.

For this we used a professional reflow oven, courtesy of the local university:

IMG_0947IMG_0968

This resulted in the following boards, after a few through-hole components being added by hand:

IMG_20190203_041937IMG_20190203_041718IMG_20190203_042545
img_20190305_211945

Each of these boards has sockets for a NodeMCU board, which contains an ESP-12E or 12F module with the ESP8266 microcontroller. This provides the ability to control the pump output and SPI bus, as well as read out the HX711-based scale interface and soil sensor.

Microscope images of the finished boards were also made and can be found in this addendum article: https://mayaposch.wordpress.com/2019/03/11/reviewing-dual-layer-pcbway-pcbs/

In the next parts we will wrap up the remaining development of the hardware, and conclude with the development of the firmware for this board.

Maya

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Hands-Embedded-Programming-versatile-solutions-dp-1788629302/dp/1788629302/
[2] https://www.packtpub.com/application-development/hands-embedded-programming-c17
[3] https://www.amazon.de/Hands-Embedded-Programming-versatile-solutions/dp/1788629302/
[4] https://github.com/MayaPosch/BMaC
[5] http://nyantronics.com/greentropia.php
[6] http://www.pcbway.com/
[7] https://www.pcbway.com/project/OnlineGerberViewer