Integration of Salvaged VFD and Prototype Driver PCB

The time has finally come to put our salvaged vacuum fluorescent display (VFD) together with the prototype driver printed circuit board (PCB) we built for it. First we gave our VFD a little layer of protection. The individual pins of the VFD are small and seemed rather fragile. And as they went into a vacuum sealed chamber we had no means to repair, if one pin should break that would mark the end of our fun.

Fortunately, when we salvaged it from its previous home we noticed that those pins were quite strong in union. A single pin is fragile, but all twenty pins together was pretty strong. So we’ll solder up one of our cheap prototype boards to these pins just for the sake of holding them together. It was a bit tedious getting all the pins to line up. Two more boards were used as spacers to give us the desired distance.

VFD pin alignment

Once lined up, the VFD was soldered in place.

VFD pins in perf board

As anticipated, the assembly is now much more robust. Now we can work with this module with a lot less trepidation: if we should break a pin now, the break should stop at this PCB where we could still recover, not break all the way to VFD glass where we couldn’t.

We still had a lot of usable pin length remaining, so we left this unionizing PCB alone and soldered another one where we’ll actually attach wires and headers.

VFD second PCB

While this soldering work was underway, a breadboard was populated to test our design for interfacing our driver PCB and the VFD. Each VFD grid and segment wire received a 10 kilo-ohm pull-up resistor to the 30V line, and path cords were installed to map pins from our generic driver board to this specific VFD as per the pinout diagram we drew up earlier. Now the VFD, with its new more robust pins, should plug right in.

VFD interface breadboard

Finally, power delivery which is far more complex than what a LED project requires. This initial integration test had three different power sources. The power transformer we salvaged alongside this VFD delivers (among other voltages) the ~2.5V AC we need for our filament. With a few rectifier circuits, it should be able to deliver the other DC voltages we need as well, but we weren’t going to worry about it until we got this test working. In the meantime, a HP inkjet printer power supply delivered the 30V DC for grids and segments, and a Raspberry Pi delivers the 5V logic power as well as I²C control signals.

VFD integration test rig

We plugged everything in and… it lives again under our control!

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