Archive for December 24th, 2012

Getting 20% Duty Cycle From a 555 Timer

I want to stress-test some LEDs for the long-stalled bike taillight project with a high current / low duty cycle drive. The usual specs give something like 100 mA at 10% duty cycle in a 100 μs period, but maybe they’ll withstand more abuse than that; I don’t have any specs whatsoever for these LEDs. The usual DC rating is 20 mA, so 100 mA at 20%, say 2 ms in a 10 ms period, should give the same average power as the DC spec. I plan to run them continuously until some failures to pop up or it’s obvious they’re doing just fine.

Although this would be a dandy Arduino project, a classic 555 timer IC makes more sense for something that must run continuously without changing anything. The usual 555 circuit restricts the duty cycle to more than 50% for high-active pulses, a bit over the 20% this task calls for. The simplest workaround is a Schottky diode across the discharge resistor to separate the two current paths: charge uses the upper resistor, discharge the lower, with the diode forward drop thrown in to complicate the calculations.

Rather than putz around with calculation, a few minutes iterating with Linear Technologies’ LTSpice IV produces a reasonable result:

NE555 pulse generator

In round numbers, a 1 μF timing capacitor, 2.7 kΩ charge resistor, and 13 kΩ discharge resistor do the trick. Given the usual capacitor tolerances, each resistor should include a twiddlepot of about half the nominal value: 1 kΩ and 5 kΩ, respectively.

I’m thinking of repurposing those Wouxun KG-UV3D batteries for this task and found a 7.5 V 3.5 A wall wart in the heap that will be close enough for the test rig. The 555 output should drive a logic-level MOSFET just fine, although even an ordinary FET would probably be OK for the relatively low current required for LED toasting.