This being the season of lights, I deployed some outlet timers to turn them on at dusk and off at bedtime. The timers spend much of the rest of their lives plugged into outlets in the Basement Laboratory to keep their internal NiMH backup batteries charged, although they’re not controlling anything:
This one is labeled ENOVER, but it’s essentially identical to all the others sporting random alphabetic names; I have a few more labeled UKOKE in the same plastic case. The current crop uses a different case and has one fewer button, but don’t expect any real difference.
One of the timers had a blank display and didn’t respond to button pushes or a pin punch poked in the RESET hole, so I dismantled it to see what was inside.
Both the hot and neutral terminals had stray wire strands:
The power board had the usual missing components, suggesting it had been cheapnified after passing whatever regulatory inspection it might have endured to get a CE mark on its dataplate:
The alert reader may have already noticed the mmmmm smoking gun:
Incredibly, Z1 has a part number wrapped around it! A quick lookup shows a 1N4749A is a 24 V 1 W Zener diode, neatly matching the 24 V relay. The datasheet gives a 10.5 mA test current and a 38 mA maximum regulator current, with a caveat: “Valid provided that electrodes at a distance of 10mm from case are kept at ambient temperature”
The relay datasheet says 8.3 mA nominal coil current, a mere 200 mW, which is much easier to dissipate in wire wrapped around a steel core than in a little diode.
Evidently the poor diode ran rather hot before becoming a dead short, because a phenolic PCB (definitely not at ambient temperature) ought not discolor like that.
Indeed, measuring Z1 in another, still functional, Enover timer showed 25 V and a similarly discolored patch around Z1, suggesting the circuit design requires a bit more disspation from the diode than it can comfortably deliver.
I replaced it with a 1N970B from the Basement Laboratory Warehouse, rated for only 0.5 W in a seemingly identical case, buttoned the whole thing up, and left it in the middle of the concrete basement floor overnight. It wasn’t smoking and continued working in the morning, so I defined things to be no worse than before and declared victory.
Should when the next one fails the same way, I’ll epoxy a small heatsink to that poor diode and its leads to reduce its overall temperature.
For future reference, the underside of the PCB shows a distinct lack of post-soldering flux cleanup:
I swabbed it with denatured alcohol, although doing so certainly didn’t make any change to its behavior.
Memo to Self: no-clean flux is a thing.
It’s worth noting no other components show signs of overheating, despite the diode becoming a short circuit, so R1 (a big power resistor) is most likely the shunt regulator’s dropping resistor and can survive the additional power.
Should the diode fail open, the rest of the circuitry will be toast.
3 thoughts on “Enover Outlet Timer: Over-powered Zener Diode”
You could probably also increase the series resistance/decrease the capacitance to lower the power dissipation through the zener, you only need enough current through the diode to barely go into regulation when the relay is not on, at the worst expected input voltage. At that same input voltage you just need to have enogh oomph to power the worst case closing voltage/current needed for the relay plus about nothing for the rest of the electronics. I have a feeling the current going through the zener is probably grossly oversized.
Whenever I must make measurements inside line-powered widgetry, I always feel a nap comin’ on strong. Epoxying a heatsink-oid aluminum slab to the existing diode, though, that I can handle! [grin]
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