Forming a recent NiMH purchase on the Hitec X4 and other computerized chargers.

Ed writes me about properly forming a recent NiMH purchase.

Hi Dave,

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?

Thanks,

Ed

Ed,

The best way to do it on most computerized chargers is:

General procedure,

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.

Dave

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Forming Charge On Peak Charger Email Question

Question:
Hi Dave;
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?
Thanks.
Matt K.

Matt,

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.
Dave

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Battery Storage In Reverse

For many of us there is a winter storage season. How do we bring our fuel powered models out of storage confident our RX battery packs are up to snuff? Were they nearing the end of life at the end of last seasons flying? Did they survive being in the trailer or garage ceiling for a number of months? Here are important steps to greatly reduce your risk of shouting “I Ain’t Got It!” when you hit the field this spring. These recommendations are intended for NiMH and NiCad packs although the similar principals apply to any mission critical TX or RX pack regardless of chemistry.

1. You should have cycled your packs and noted the value on them when you put the model in storage. Did you do this? A simple round of cycling in the fall will help weed the weakest packs from the herd.

2. Check the purchase date on your pack prior to model reactivation. Did you date your packs? Noting the purchase date in permanent marker should be a routine with new packs. Has this pack made it 3 seasons already? If it has made it 3 seasons, it’s time to replace it with a fresh one even if it’s still cycling well. It never seems like a good deal to “squeeze one more season” out of a pack if a model is lost doing so. There are no battery experts in the industry, nor any magazine writers that are willing to dare recommending using packs beyond 3 years. Most recommend only 2 years. The incident of surprise failures increases with each season. It’s much cheaper “not” to find out how long it will take to have a failure. Think about it.

3. Similar to a new pack, a pack having been in storage for some time is in need of a slow “forming charge.” A forming charge is a simple full-to-overflowing charge on a non-peak detecting charger like your factory wall wart. While in storage the cells slowly discharge. Not every cell will discharge at the same speed. After a few months, you could have one cell at 80%, one at 60% and two at 50%. When form charging, It’s important the charge rate does not exceed 10% of the packs mili-amp-hour (mah) value when doing this procedure. This type of charge allows all the cells to fill fully and the first cells to fill won’t be overheated by the ongoing charge. The danger of peak charging a pack that has been in storage is the best cell (the 80% full one) can be ruined as it’s overcharged while the other 3 are still filling up. Also, your pack may false peak meaning that although the charger reports it is full, it really might not be. Re-equalize the cells with a good long slow wall charger charge prior to any peak charging to avoid most problems.

4. Test for Capacity. Discharge the pack on your favorite charger (with discharge function). For the purposes of this kind of test, the correct rate to test against factory rating is 20% or 1/5 of the rated capacity. It’s ok if you can’t get that setting exactly, just get it close. Example: A 1000mah pack would be tested at 200mah discharge. Most chargers will display this as .2A. Your pack should test at least 80% of it’s rated capacity. If it does not, then a few more charge / discharge cycles are in order. If you can’t get the pack to test above 80%, it’s time to replace it. Although it might seem like a money saver to succumb to temptation and overlook marginal packs, one crashed model will pay for a great many replacement battery packs. And that’s to say nothing of the risk to others when a model goes out of control. Good pack or no go!

5. When you recharge the pack after your final discharge test, check the charger input mah. Did it put in about the right amount? A pack that’s been in storage, particularly if you’ve skipped the step of re-forming it is very prone to a false peak. A great pack that tests perfect but only takes 50% of the expected recharge amount could cause some unwelcome excitement.

6. Test your Switch. First, use a loaded tester to check your fully charged pack directly. Note the value then test it through the switch harness. If it tests good directly but marginal through the switch, it might be a sign the switch is getting dirty internally, worn or perhaps some connectors are going south. Like battery packs, finding out how long a switch will last is costly knowledge to acquire. It’s a good idea to replace the switch with every other new battery just to avoid trouble. Load testing your pack with and without the switch harness looking for any substantial difference is a good way to detect a problem before starting the season. Did you notice what I omitted? After checking the battery through your switches charge lead or charge jack, unplug it from the RX, turn the switch to the “ON” position and check it again. Is it load testing similar to the charge jack/charge pigtail? The most important place for your pack to deliver it’s energy is to the RX. Make sure it’s solid to this point, not just the charge harness.

Integrate these practices into your seasonal routines and many common pitfalls are avoided. Don’t forget to scrutinize your TX battery in similar fashion. Ongoing TX function is every bit as important as RX functionality.

Dave Thacker, Owner: RadicalRC.com
Blogsite: Radical RC Workbench

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RadicalCast #005

Bob’s Lucky 13 Kadet Senior and my flight predictions. A photo of the model and it’s owner was posted on June 1st. The High Voltage Paradigm Shift. Form Charging NiCad and NiMH packs. Important Considerations and general information on how peak charging works. Post flight commentary on Bob’s Lucky 13 and the importance of understanding what you want from a power system. The test flight video is available in the June 3rd post.

Show Notes:
Stick 400 Kit
GWEDP-300(A,B,C)

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Your Charger Is Lying To You

    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?
Dave
 
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“Reflections on the 2004 JR Challenge

Hi Dave, I’ve had a few days to recover from the travel and reflect on the 04 JR Challenge and it occurred to me that one of the most overlooked parts of the trip was the performance I received from my power system. I say overlooked because it was such a non-issue the entire week. I arrived Mon afternoon too late to get any flying in; Tue – 6 12 minute flights plus some time on the ground making system adjustments – at the end of the day both flight packs were still in the 6.2 volt range under load; Wed – a duplicate of Tues. Thurs and Friday competition flights I flew on a single charge. What’s more, the TX pack I installed in my 10x the week before went the entire week un-charged and never dropped below the 10v level! My only regret is that my flying wasn’t up to par with my battery performance. Thanks for great products and great service, keep up the good work, hope to see you in Muncie for NATS!

Ty Lyman
Carden 40% Edge – 2 x 2700 NiMH packs RX, 1 2700 ignition.
JR 10X – 1650 NiMH”
March 2004

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Bob Aberle writes:

“Dear Dave, Just a follow up to our meeting at the recent NEAT Fair. By the way the January 2002 RC Modeler will have the first published report of our NEAT Fair. Dates have already been set for next year; they are Sept. 13, 14 & 15, 2002. Hope to see you there again.

My reason for contacting you, at the Fair I purchased an 8 cell 720 MAH Sanyo NiMH battery pack from you. I just used this new pack the other day with excellent results. In my application I’m drawing 5.3 amps (at the start) on a Speed-300 motor geared 5/1. First flight was almost ten minutes with the motor running at full throttle the entire time. After landing the battery was only mildly warm. I have been fast recharging this pack at the field at 1.4 amps which takes an average of 30 minutes to reach a full charge. Do you feel the 5.3 amps is OK for these cells? I’m very impressed with the performance.

Bob Aberle
AMA 215
NEAT Fair
Event Director

Yes, they can take constant drains up to abut 6.5 amp range very well.”

October 2001

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