A High Speed High Current LED Driver; Refurbishing ACMI’s Zoetrope

One of the more popular exhibits in Screen Worlds at the ACMI is The Zoetrope. Like all exhibits inside of Screen Worlds, the Zoetrope has not aged gracefully due to over 9 years of active service! With the original design utilising xenon based strobe lights, the maintenance cost of this exhibit in man hours and replacement lamps was significant. Eventually it was decided to refurbish The Zoetrope with a new LED based lighting system to reduce these costs, which was easier said than done! At the conclusion of the refurbishment a custom high speed, high current LED driver circuit and PCB was designed. Many were assembled and custom LED bars driven by these LED drivers replaced the old xenon strobe lights resulting in significant cost savings!

The Zoetrope Throughout Time

The Zoetrope. Source: ACMI

Zoetrope type devices were originally created in the 18th Century, however the technology used to produce a zoetrope like effect in modern museums has evolved significantly. By utilising an electric motor, 3D printed models, and strobing xenon based lights, a 3D real life animation like effect is realised!

However this mix of technology proved to be problematic. Due to the 8 hour a day, 7 day a week running schedule, at least one xenon lamp blew every week or two.  On average, replacing one these lamps took a technician 30 minutes to complete due to accessibility issues. Now 10+ years ago xenon strobe lighting was all the rage, however the ability to buy replacement lamps for these lighting devices has become increasing difficult due to the rise of the LED.

The Specifications

The control signal that drove the xenon strobe lights was a simple pulse, with a high value indicating the strobe light should be on, and a low value indicating the light should be off. This control signal came from a microprocessor with a series of connected sensors and these sensors detected when a lighting pulse should occur. The voltage output of this signal was approximately 10V peak-to-peak, an odd value that was likely chosen due to the internal circuitry of the xenon strobe lights used in the exhibit.

This control signal pulse had an on time of 4ms, and an off time of 54ms. This meant that the total cycle time was around 17.2Hz, with a duty cycle of around 6.8%. Now these requirements might not sound that stringent, with many LED strobes on the market being able to fulfill this criteria. However due to the type of control signal being used, the exhibit’s necessity on absolute synchronisation of the various elements, and the fact that DMX based lighting having a refresh period of only 44Hz (compared to what would be a minimum refresh period of 250Hz due to the 4ms on time), an off-the-shelf strobe lighting solution was quickly disregarded.

Due to this, whatever LED driver circuitry that was chosen had to be able to handle a 10V control signal, be able to sink over 1 amp of current for small periods of time, and have a rise time significantly less than 4ms. A variety of off-the-shelve Luxdrive LED drivers initially looked promising such as the FlexBlock series due to their ability to handle 10V strobed control signals and sink significant current, however when tested the output rise time of <2ms proved problematic. Dim output was observed and this option was also discarded. It was then decided to design a custom LED driver and LED Bar.

The Custom LED Bars

One of 12 constructed LED Bars.

To ensure enough light was produced, each custom LED bar consisted of six Cree XP-E2 LED stars for a total of eighteen individual LEDs. Pairs of LED stars are wired in series. Due to the forward voltage of roughly 2.9V, each series pair was driven with a 24V power supply. Each Pair of LED stars required it’s own driver box. In total 72 individual Cree XP-E2 LED stars were attached to 12 separate bars with thermal glue. A frosted optic was also used to focus the light with a tight beam pattern on the exhibit.

It should be noted that the LED bars did not have sufficient heat sinking capacity to to remain illuminated for a significant period of time and get truly hot when left on without pulsing!

The Custom LED Driver

The LED Driver circuit schematic.

The LED driver circuit was heavily influenced off the circuit found here. A 4N25M optocoupler was used to isolate the driver circuit from the control circuit, to buffer the control signal, and to provide the MOSFET with a sufficient input signal to fully turn the MOSFET on. The 1 ohm sense resistors connected in parallel were of the high wattage variety (5W+), as quite a lot of current is dissipated through them, making this not the most efficient design.  An output current of approximately 900mA was observed in series with the connected LEDs when the optocoupler was driven with a 10V input signal. Although if you decide to build this yourself, be sure to test this as small component variances may lead to an output current that destroys your LEDs!

One of the contructed LED driver boxes.

A custom PCB for the circuit was also designed and manufactured. It was found that no heat sinking of the MOSFET was required provided the duty cycle remained less than 10% with a cycle frequency of 17.2%. While this does not protect the driver from a control signal failure, it was deemed that this was unlikely to occur within the exhibit.

The Installation

The Zoetrope lighting before refurbishment. Source: here

The Zoetrope after refurbishment.

The LED bars were hung from the roof of the exhibit, and the LED driver boxes were connected to there respective LED bars. The control signal was wired in parallel to all driver boxes.

Setup diagram for LED bars and LED drivers.

Conclusion

While the challenge of refurbishing The Zoetrope was somewhat niche, the resulting design for a isolated high speed, high current LED driver is a useful one to have created. While the driver boxes are not the most efficient devices, they can never the less sink a lot of current with a very short rise time. This solution is something that is difficult to find off-the-shelf, and the relative simplicity of the circuit makes it something that is easy to construct in small runs for many applications.

 

2 thoughts on “A High Speed High Current LED Driver; Refurbishing ACMI’s Zoetrope

    1. dale-blog Post author

      It would indeed! Back when I was trying to figure out what the control signal actually was I took some snaps on a handheld oscilloscope, although those are long gone… Maybe it is something to capture again at some point.

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