Push-me Pull-you LEDs

I may never get tired of talking about LED and diode polarities. It’s so much fun. Not long ago, I wrote about two LEDs from the same manufacturer, marked with opposite polarities. I recently ran into another one, but at least this one tells you on the same datasheet.

The image at right is an actual unmodified clip from the datasheet.

I can’t for the life of me understand why this would be done on purpose. I could maybe understand is one was designed in a different building, but it couldn’t have been too hard for someone to say: “Hey – wait a minute…” before sending these things off to manufacturing.

Of course, maybe they built a million before noticing and then just decided it would be easier to change the datasheet. Regardless, it’s kind of nuts in my opinion. The other thing here is that, while you can generally get away with the indicators “+/-” on an LED, you can’t with all diodes. Thin Zener and TVS.

Duane Benson

Matter + antimatter makes what?

Does it really matter?

Does anybody really know what time it is?



LEDs: Seeing Double

Like I do so often, I’m being a bit redundant. While I’m all for stamping out and eliminating redundancy, this is redundancy with a purpose (not a porpoise). Not long ago, in a galaxy not far away, I blogged about annoyances in surface mount diode polarity markings. You can read that here.

I’ll wait.

Messy isn’t it? Well, after reading that blog, someone asked me about dual diodes. For some reason, I can’t seem to find the page covering dual diodes in my IPC book, but that’s not the important part. What is important is the way the diodes are marked on the PC board.

We do ask for centroid data which, in theory, contains the component rotation. That would be cool except that we find that far too often, the zero degree orientation (and the rotation from that) differs from the standard. That, and there are seemingly half a dozen or so standards.

Since LEDs don’t work too well backwards, we really would like to see everything marked in a non-ambiguous way in silk screen (or in an assembly drawing if you don’t have silk screen). A “cathode bar” won’t work because it could be a bar indicating the cathode or negative. The cathode isn’t always negative, especially when looking at TVS or Zener diodes.

Mimicking the diode markation pattern printed on the part may not be secure either. Read that article I linked to right at the start of this blog. What if you put silkscreen down to match one of those LEDs but ended up buying the other one? That’s exactly what I did myself. Trust me. It just leads to disappointment and possible soldering iron induced finger burns.

So what is the answer, and why am I talking about single LEDs and TVS diodes when the blog is about dual LEDs? Well, the answer is the same. The best way to communicate the desired polarity of an LED or any kind of diode is with a mini version of the schematic symbol. It doesn’t matter if it’s a single LED, dual LED, Schottky, Zener or whatever kind of diode. The schematic symbol is the clearest way to go.

Led marking

The diode footprint has the manufacturer’s polarity marking, but I don’t care. I still put the diode schematic symbol next to it. If you don’t have room for silk screen, put it in an assembly drawing. You won’t regret it.

Duane Benson
And they called him Flipper…


Fun with Electrolytics

I was fiddling with one of my robot boards the other day — popping some passives on and off and checking out subs and alternate values. I was doing this on a couple of boards at the same time. Everything was going along fine until I started to do a power-on test. The first board was fine. The second one would briefly light the power indicator LED. It would start a full brightness and then fairly quickly fade out.

My first thought was that I had been too aggressive with my soldering iron and had burned something out. (Who has already guessed what really happened?) Turns out, that wasn’t the case. I put it aside and came back to it a few days later. This time, I gave it the finger test and discovered that my regulator was hot. Darn. Next, I found a hot tantalum cap. Nothing looked out of the ordinary/ I stared at it for a while. The + side was on the left in both parts and… The plus side was on the left in both parts. One was supposed to be on the right. Oops. The cap had a high enough voltage rating that it didn’t blow up. It just pulled down the supply until the over-current protection in the regulator shut it down.

I’ve heard a number of folks recommend that you keep all your polarized parts facing the same way. It’s not always possible, but it can certainly reduce opportunities for errors like I made here.

Duane Benson
Left, right. Left, right. Left, right. Left, left. Left, right …



Call it what you may, but surface mount assembly robots need this magic file to determine where to place your components and how to orient them. We call it a centroid. Others may call it something else, but it’s all basically the same. In our case, the basic format is comma delimited, in mils:

Ref designator,     Layer,     LocationX,     LocationY,     Rotation
C1 ,                       Top ,           0.5750  ,       2.1000  ,           90

That’s not too difficult. Most CAD programs will automatically create this file for you. Eagle doesn’t natively, but we have a ULP to do it for you in Eagle (downloaded here). Again, no problems here. Mostly…

I say mostly because, at this point, you are at the mercy of the person who created the CAD library part. Provided they center the origin and follow the IPC for orientation, everything should come out just fine. Unfortunately, we do find parts that don’t follow those rules. We’ll do our best to catch and correct such things here, but for maximum reliability, check you library components to make sure. We find the problem crops up most commonly with passives.

IPC says that zero orientation for two pin passives is horizontal, with pin one on the left. For polarized capacitors, pin one is (+). For diodes, pin one is the cathode. They note that pin one is always the polarity mark pin or cathode. Pin one is also on the left for resistors, inductors and non-polarized capacitors, but left vs. right doesn’t matter so much with non-polarized things. The most common orientation error we see is to have the “zero rotation” 270 degrees off from the IPC standard.

Every now and then we’ll find that someone assumes that since usually the anode on a diode tends to be on the positive side, that the anode should be pin one. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Duane Benson
Is it pulling electrons of pushing holes?