Thoughts from the workbench of Radical RC. The online retailer of electronics and kits for radio control aircraft. Dave Thacker shares his thoughts and knowledge of electronics, batteries, kit design and overall enjoyment of the hobby.
Ed writes me about properly forming a recent NiMH purchase.
I recently bought one of the FDK Twicell 6.0V 5-cell 2000mah NiMH AA Flat Pack and would like to try it in one of my airplanes . I read all your comments about this battery pack and I have the HiTec Multi-Charger X-4 and not sure what is the best way to charge it. The charger is fairly new in my collection and I am still learning the best way to use it any thoughts?
The best way to do it on most computerized chargers is:
1. Go into setup, make sure the mah limiter and time limiter are both off.
2. Put charger in PB mode, yes for Lead acid.
3. Set charge rate to 100mah, any more will ruin the battery eventually.
4. Set voltage of battery to 8V
5. Start charger.
If it refuses to start, set voltage to 6V and let it run a minute or two, the go back and restart with setting at 8V
“Generally” Eneloop’s (Twicell’s) come to you about 1/2 charged. So, the hole your filling is about 1000mah. (Hole * 1.4) / charge rate in mah = time in hours. 14 hours in this case.
What we are doing with the procedure above is tricking the charger into functioning like a dumb wall wart where it will just plod along indefinitely until we disconnect the battery.
The best practice would be to connect the cells to a dumb charger that charges at 50mah for about 30 to 40 hours and is the ONLY method for which I would ever consider warranting a pack. People try to break in new batteries in peak detection modes all the time which is the cause of my slightly “acidic” warnings against such acts on my website. One issue is there are no makers of chargers like that that I know of in the hobby world today. The last one (Sirius) seems to have become inactive. The best chargers to own for this forming purpose at this time are an ACE DDVC, ACE Digipulse or Sirius Pro-Former. Should you run across one at a swap meet or on Ebay, snap it up.
Firstly- thank you for your quality battery packs. I received my recent purchase- your 1650mah NiMH 8 cell 9.6 tx pack, plugged it in to my tx just to see what it was at, it started at 8.9 but quickly went to 8.5 where I pulled it out. So on to the first break in charge at 0.1A- on a Triton 2 with a thermal probe connected. The pack temp was at 79 degrees, so I set the cutoff temp at 88 (about 10 degrees higher) The charge lasted 16 hours with a delivery of 1670ma- terminated by the temp sensor. I had anticipated a longer charge time but am happy with the results- My question is: should I expect even higher mA delivery?
Your charge time at 100mah would be a bit short for a completely empty 1650 pack. I’d suspect it might not cycle as full but it could. I’ve never checked a Triton to see how accurate that number might be at low charge rates. Normally you have to put in 140% at low charge rates to get a full pack. A NiCad or NiMH has a lot of resistance to accepting a charge.
I would never expect the chosen procedure to work properly and consistently. There is not enough temp rise. The peak in a first charge is more of a “several peaks” along they to the final peak. One of those peaks is often large enough to trick the charger into declaring the pack full. On virgin packs, it will happen about 60% of the time when you use normal rates like Cx.5 to Cx2 (C=capacity). I’ve never run a study on doing it at 1/8th the minimum peak charge rate but I’d expect the results to be very poor. The temp will fluctuate with room temp also. All this is not to say you should have charged the pack faster as an initial peak charge. It is to say never use peak detection on an initial charge, never on a pack coming out of storage. There is no way to have the screen of your charger (or any other) showing NiMH or NiCad mode and not be in peak detection mode.
The best way to form (initial break in charge to complete manufacturing of the cells) on a computerized charger; Put the charger in PB (lead acid) mode, set the rate to .1, the voltage or cell count to a 12v pack (6 PB cells). Make sure all time limits and capacity input limits are turned off. This will get the charger to plod along slavishly well past when the first couple of cells fill. The point is to fill all the cells (which are initially of unequal charge) to overflowing at a very slow rate with gentle overcharge at the end. Peak detection will not get in the way by reacting to any false peaks. Peak detection is not reliable unless the charge rate is about 1/2 pack capacity or more. A new battery might have several peaks before it gets full. Calculating charge time when forming or slow charging (not using peak detection) is; (Capacity (or empty hole in the battery) x 1.4) / Charger output = hours to full. Let it run that long. Rates should never be above 10% of cells capacity. If it’s a AA cell above 1700mah, the rate should never be above 100mah, 50mah is even better.
What I’m going for here is a system that works 100% of the time. Every other kind of form charge is just fraught with problems. Using a peak type charger in PB mode (not in peak detection mode) is the only way to make them work reliably as a forming charger.
Once the pack is broken in, and it’s in regular use, I wouldn’t Peak charge it slower than .8 amps. The slower you go below this the slower it heats up after it’s full, the slower the peak detection happens, the more you hold the pack in an overcharge condition. Heating up is what happens when it can no longer store the energy your putting in it. This causes a slight voltage reduction. The charger knows the pack is full because the voltage is dropping, there for it has detected that it must have “peaked”. Peak charging is a form of detecting heat indirectly by watching for the voltage to drop which can only because the pack is full and heating up. (The exception is virgin packs which may reduce in voltage very slightly during the first charge.)
Never peak a pack that’s been in storage. This kind of charging is only for packs in regular use. After it’s set in storage a few months, the cells could contain unequal states of charge. As the fullest (best cell) is peaking (heating up and dropping in voltage), the others may still be rising (as they do as they are filling). This can mask the peak and apply a damaging overcharge current to the first cell(s) to fill.
I know these steps will prove to get your pack into most reliable service for you.
What is the proper way to charge a 14 cell A123 battery?
I take from your question that your concerned about the large cell count and not the rules of charging this particular chemistry of pack.
Since you need to balance it from time to time, it should be charged as multiple lower cell count packs from time to time. All rules must be observed regardless of cell count or type of lithium chemistry. So, were I building a 14 cell aircraft pack for myself, I’d build it probably as two 5 cell and one 4 cell packs. In this way I could hook up to my balance charger and balance it. If you have a charger capable of balancing 8 cells, you could do two sevens. I am un-aware of any chargers capable of balancing more than 8 cells even though there probably are chargers that could manage a non-balance charge of 14 cells. Even if you owned one, you’d still want to be able to break the pack down (electronically) and charge it in shorter segments from time to time to maintain balance.
In the case of two 5 cell and one 4 cell packs for example, The pack could be literally 3 packs that are put in series in the model. You might use Anderson Power poles to do this to minimize the number of connectors needed. Each pack would of course have it’s own balance harness for plugging into the node port (balance port) of you charger.
It would also be possible to build the pack as one 14 cell block with one set of output wires for the ESC. However, you could put tap wires in that are heavy enough for charging at the union between the 5th/6th cells and 10th/11th cells. You would build in balance harness respecting this same cell spacing. So that “electronically” (if not physically) you have 3 battery packs, two 5’s and one 4. NOTE! This type of pack bould, the central tap wires would be positive or negative depending on which segment you were charging.
With a 14 cell charger you might be charging through the main output leads while your at the flying field. Yet, when your prepping the model for a trip to the field, you would be able to charge the pack in 3 steps (one step for each pack division 5 cell, 5 cell, 4 cell) with balance harnesses connected to your charger. In this way you’d be getting regular balance charges to keep all cells equalized.
A123 RX Packs can be tricky to deturming how much is left in the pack by checking voltage alone. Variations in connectors and length of wire can have a big impact on actual volt readings when loaded. Using an RRC1000 digital voltmeter with load capability of 0.0A, .5A, 1A and 1.5A we get the following results measuring a 2300 2S RX pack with 6″ 20 g silicone JR pigtail and the included 22 guage battery checker pigail with the meter. Note: the meter (which ever you are using) is reading the voltage on it’s board, not at the pack. The voltage at the pack will actually be higher by the voltage drop across your checkers connector, pigtail, checker/pack connector and the pigtail on the pack. Here are the results we measured at varous loads. Room temperature was 74 degrees F, each load held aproximately 5 seconds before reading taken.
State Of Charge
No Load Resting Voltage
.5 Amp Load
1.0 Amp Load
1.5 Amp Load
As can be seen from the data above, at some loads, the pack actually increased slightly in voltage as we went down even though the overall trend was lower in voltage. Note this test was not over a multitude of packs which would be more accurate and likely nuetralize the unexpected results mentioned.
Notice how little the pack is falling off in voltage and that the biggest consistant drop is in the resting voltage column, not a result I expected.
Notice the results at 0% capacity remaining as measured by my charger/discharger. As it is important to understand the context of the data and how I was checking the voltages, it is also important to understand the context of the data and how I was discharging the pack in 10% steps until empty (more explanined below) All discharges to make this chart after the initial 60% discharge were at 1.1A and in 230mah steps. The discharge harness was made from 22guage wire, 24″ long and plugged only into the JR output lead on the pack. Even though after 5 seconds of holding the load, I got the voltages above on the 0% line, putting the pack back on the discharger and trying to discahrge it some more resulted in the pack falling off to the 4V cut off (the empty point) in only about 10 to 15 seconds. Yet, I was still able to measure almost 1.5 higher than that when the pack had come off the first discharge to empty and been allowed to set for only 10 minutes before I measured anything. We can see that a wide range of voltages over 5 to 15 seconds with differing loads were all the same thing – EMPTY! Pay attention to the context of everything or you’ll get fooled! Because the context of how you are checking the voltage has such an impact on the reading, you should check your packs the same way every time with religious zeal.
A123 Systems cells ability to hold a strong voltage under load all the way until they are empty is one of the primary reasons they are so popular as RX packs, yet it is the very reason they are somewhat more challenging to voltmeter check from flight to flight.
To devise your own chart, cycle the pack to deturmine it’s actual value (ours was 2250), recharge, then set your chargers limiter to 60% of the actual value (ours was set to 1350) and discharge at capacity/2 (we used 1.1amp for our pack). After you’ve discharged it to this point, take the reading with the equipment and through the switches or whatever you have installed in your ship. Now you will know the readings at the 60% discharged (40% remaining) point. This is where you should be recharging any mission critical pack such as a TX or RX pack. To arrive at another row of data aproximately 10% further down in the pack, we simply set the limiter to 230mah and repeated the discharge. Repeat for each line of data you’d like to collect. You could start from full and discharge in 230mah steps generating data for 100%,90%,80% & etc….. Science, don’t you love it!
It would be my advice to think about making your own chart so you can learn something and become firmiliar with the voltage drop across all the gear in your model. You’ll be measuring the pack across a switch harness in most cases which will give you lower voltage readings than these.
General practice should be to taxi the model back to the pits, and before you’ve turned it off, plug your loaded volt meter in, turn off the model and take your reading immeadiately. Note your own chart for the correct cut off voltage and always recharge at the 40% remaining point. Flying below 40% is dipping into your reserves and should be avoided for any mission critical pack.
One more quick question. I ordered some 1100 2s A123 packs from you today.
Do these need to be cycled? I have a FMA 4S CellPro charger that is A123 compatible. It will charge and balance, but not cycle.
If you want to check them before flying, Yes.
If you want to find out when they go bad on the workbench rather than at the field, yes.
There is no skipping regular battery testing and maintenance regardless of battery chemistry. All battery types will fail eventually and discharge testing is the only chance to discover packs needing replacement before having an accident.
My answer might seem a bit strange, however, every time there is a new battery chemistry many modelers think the new “miracle chemistry” means the end of regular battery maintenance and testing. I got the question many times at the beginning of the NiMH revolution, the Lipo revolution and at the introduction of A123 Systems LIFE cells. There could be nothing further from the truth. There is never a time when battery maintenance and testing is not prudent.
No jab against the CellPro chargers is intended here. They are very good quality and I recommend them. I don’t know the specifications of all the models they sell but am aware some of them will discharge test packs. It is possible to discharge these in NiCad or NiMH mode on modern digital chargers as long as the mode has NO CHARGE at the end of discharge. In other words, as long as it’s not a “cycler”. A cycle is a full discharge then charge or full charge then discharge. To do this, we want to us a charger that simply does 1/2 the cycle, in other words we want it to discharge and that is all. Just set the (NiMH or NiCad) cell count to 4 for a 2 cell A123. Some let you set the cut off voltage directly and in that case, set it to 2v per cell or 4V for a 2cell A123 pack. The correct discharge rate for any kind of lithium is Capacity/2. They are rated over 2 hours. Since many chargers/dischargers only allow discharge rates at even .1 amp (100mah) increments, set discharge to 500 or 600mah (.5 or .6 amps) to do a reasonably accurate job on an 1100mah rated cell.
I’ve noticed over the years the 2300mah cell (26650 can size) generally cycles to 2100-2200 range. They seem slightly over rated. Don’t be alarmed if your 1100mah (18650 can size) pack tests to 1000 or 1050mah. It’s probably just about right.
We all have chargers. Most of these chargers will have a digital screen with a voltage read out. When you’re charging (or discharging) your favorite battery, where is the voltage being measured?
It’s an interesting question and I’ve found hardly anybody who knows or understands the answer. It’s really very simple, though not straightforward. What is your answer? I submit to you that your charger does not display the voltage of your battery. There really is a simple point of logic here. Certainly, nearly everyone reading this will look back on their experience charging batteries and think to themselves that I’ve gone nuts. But, I submit to you that I have not, and if you’ll participate in a little test you will soon be a “crazy” like me.
Let’s gather the parts of our test. We need a charger with a digital readout that accepts banana ended charge cords. To make this test simpler, let’s use a Li-poly or “A123” pack. I want you to use one of these kinds of battery packs because it has multiple connections to the cells inside and will make the test easier than if we use a NiCad or NiMH pack. We will also need a digital voltmeter with probes.
We can do this test under charge or discharge, you decide. I want you to apply a 2-amp charge or discharge load to the pack. If it’s full, you’ll be discharging, if it’s empty, you’ll be charging. Charging or discharging makes no difference. The results will be madness, I promise.
First, let’s take a resting no-loaded volt reading of the pack. Measure the voltage out of the output wires first(what you’d be connecting to your speed control) . Jot down this number. Now, measure it from the red and black (or outer most 2 wires on the balance plug). Jot this number down. These two numbers should be identical.
Next, plug a charge cord into your charger and then into the output plug of the pack. If your charger is on, you should be able to read out the voltage on its screen and it should agree very closely with your digital voltmeter measurement. Jot this number down. There may be a slight difference here and we can explain that because there may be some calibration difference between your meter and the charger. Also, most chargers do not read out to 1/1000th of a volt like your meter may read. Some chargers drop the digit, some round it. It’s hard to figure out what your charger does here but let me promise you this. For the purpose of this test it is of no consequence.
Next it’s time for another measurement. Slightly pull out the banana ends of your charge cord from the charger so you can easily probe them with your meter. Take a measurement at the partially retracted banana plugs. Now, you have made 4 measurements and jotted down each of them. All are essentially the same voltage. Now, apply your charge or discharge current of 2 amps to the pack. Connect your meter to the balance port of the battery. If you’re charging, you will see the voltage is lower in the battery (measured from the balance port) than on the chargers digital readout. If your discharging, you’ll see the voltage is lower on the chargers readout than at the balance port. How can this be? Are they are connected to the same thing?
Another test is to move the meter back and forth between the balance port and the partially retracted banana plugs. You’ll get a similar spread in your readings when you do this (while the pack is being charged/discharged). How can it be that essentially at both ends of the same connections you get two different readings?
If you repeat this test with a smaller weight charge cord, you’ll get an even bigger disparity between the charger and voltmeter. Poor quality connectors (like Kyosho/Tamiya/BEC/etc) will add to the voltage difference as well. We’ve performed this test in shop and have seen several volts difference before. What you are seeing is the voltage drop across the wires/connectors/solder joints, etc. between the charger and the battery pack. Now that you’ve run the tests, you’ve seen the voltage in the balance port is not the same as the voltage at the charger. What I’m pointing out here is the simple logic of understanding that the charger can only measure the voltage on its circuit board where the banana sockets are soldered on. It’s not measuring the pack voltage but the voltage as delivered by your connections to its internal circuit board.
Repeating the test at lower charge/discharge rates will show lower differences in voltage readings. Higher discharge rates will produce higher differences.
Higher resistance charge cords and connectors cause all kinds of problems. The higher the resistance, the more of your capacity is being wasted making heat (warming up the wires and connectors) rather than spinning your prop or being measured when you test capacity. The lighter the wire or more worn (or poor quality) the connections between the charger and the battery, the less accurately it can do its job and the less accurate the information it will provide you.
I’ve had instances of customers replacing battery packs with new ones which they tested to be just as bad as the ones they replaced because the charge cord was faulty or too cheaply made. The discarded packs were good when tested with a better quality cord and/or connectors. I’ve even had a customer with a 50cc gas model lose it in a dead-pack crash because he was using a “Quick” charge mode on an “A123” pack. In this mode the charger pumps the pack up to 80% where it’s safe to fly again. He flew and crashed because the resistance between the charger and the charged pack was so high that the charger was reading out a couple volts higher than the pack really was, under the condition of being charged. This condition was aggravated due to the high charge rate and small charge cord size. After the crash the pack was empty yet cycled good.
The point I’m trying to drive home here is don’t assume anything. There are many facets to doing accurate charging and battery testing which are overlooked by most. Certainly this short article will have confused some and enlightened others. One could go on to explain Ohm’s law and use these test measurements to calculate the resistance of your charging harness and thereby infer the error (believe me there is one) in your discharge readings when testing battery packs. But, I don’t think we need to take it that far in order to get the idea across. Are you crazy like a fox yet?
Welcome to the Radical RC Workbench, Radicalcast. Today the topic is 12v power supplies for the flying field. Dave will cover how many amps your power supply needs to be to drive your chargers and how to get the most life out of your 12v wet lead acid batteries.
Note, this is my first cast, just warming up and learning this new skill, they’ll get better I promise. 😉
“Thank you for the quick service and an awesome product. Well worth the money. I bought the HECO Lipo Solution Charger from you about a week ago.