Thing-O-Matic / MK5 Extruder: DC Motor Safety Lamp vs Fuse

The MK5 Extruder’s DC motor seems prone to a shorted-winding failure that reduces the DC resistance of (at least) one pole to (at best) a few ohms. The A3949 H-bridge driver has an upper limit of 2.8 A, but the failed winding jams too much current through the chip and eventually (instantly?) kills it stone cold dead.

Discussions on the Makerbot Wiki tended to favor fuses. My buddy Eks suggested putting an incandescent lamp in series with the motor leads, as described there, and that’s what I’ve done. That discussion is also informative.

It’s worth noting that the A3949 datasheet has this to say about overloads:

Output current rating may be limited by duty cycle,
ambient temperature, and heat sinking. Under any
set of conditions, DO NOT exceed the specified

So all this may be irrelevant: any transient overload could kill the driver chip stone cold dead, regardless of how clever you (think you) are.


Yesterday I came across my Big Box of Fuses and said the obvious thing:

Let’s Find Out!

Note: that’s not the same as the Famous Last Words “Hold my beer. Watch this!”

I clipped the oscilloscope across a 1 Ω power resistor, set a 3 A bench power supply to 12.0 V, and connected a Device Under Test between the +12 V lead and the resistor:

  • The #89 bulb from my TOM
  • A Littelfuse 3AG 1 A fast-blow fuse (actually, two of ’em)
  • A dead short

I used a 1 A fuse because that’s what I have. I strongly suspect a 1/2 A fuse would behave about the same way.

The oscilloscope trace starts at 0 V, jumps when the DUT contacts the resistor, and then settles at the final current. The 1 Ω resistor makes the vertical scale read directly in amps. Pay attention to the horizontal scale.

First, the lamp:

Type 89 Lamp
Type 89 Lamp

The peak current hits 4.5 A before the bulb lights up and limits the current to about 600 mA in the steady state. The supply’s current limiter doesn’t seem to come into play: the bulb wrestles the current under 3 A before the supply notices what’s going on. Indeed, it’s under 3 A in 2 ms and below 1 A in 20 ms.

Next, the fuse:

Littelfuse 3AG 1A Fast - 50 ms
Littelfuse 3AG 1A Fast - 50 ms

The peak current starts off-scale high, well in excess of 7A, drops to the power supply’s 3 A limit, then falls to zero when the fuse blows 76 ms later.

Finally, the dead short:

Bare 1 ohm resistor
Bare 1 ohm resistor

I changed the vertical scale to capture the initial peak, which tops out just under 10 A, obviously not limited by the power supply. The supply eventually clamps the current to 3 A and, because there’s no fuse, the current just sits there.


The lamp does a much better job of protecting the H-bridge chip than the fuse:

  • The peak current is lower
  • It cuts off sooner
  • And the sustained current falls well within the chip’s limit

The TOM does not have a current-limited +12 V supply, which means a nominally “protective” fuse will conduct whatever current the failing motor’s winding will permit until it eventually blows. The time-to-blow depends on the fault current: if the winding fails at, say, 6 Ω the fuse will last much longer while it passes 2 A than with the 3 A you see here.

Here’s an example of how that works. The first time I tapped the fuse to the resistor, I flinched and it fell off:

Littelfuse 3AG 1A Fast - 20 ms
Littelfuse 3AG 1A Fast - 20 ms

That’s indistinguishable from a blown fuse, but the same fuse subsequently produced this result (another fuse died to produce the first fuse picture):

Littelfuse 3AG 1A Fast - 100 ms
Littelfuse 3AG 1A Fast - 100 ms

Moral of the story: a 1 A fuse can pass 3 A for 80 ms and live to tell the tale!

Of course, I knew how this would work out: Eks didn’t accumulate 100+ patents during his career by not knowing what he was doing…

[Update: It works just like it should! Bacon saving in full effect!]