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The eLabtronics Performance Modules

Introducing a new range of do-it-yourself performance electronic modules

by Julian Edgar

Click on pics to view larger images

At a glance...

  • Universal electronic modules
  • Designed for do-it-yourself modification
  • Fully built and tested - not kits
  • Just four wires to connect
  • In-built intelligence
  • Simple setup and wiring
  • Almost indestructible
  • With an additional module, able to drive up to 100 amp loads
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We’re pretty damned excited. Why? Well, over the next 12 months we’re going to be presenting stories on a whole bunch of new electronic modules dedicated to do-it-yourself car modification.

Long-time AutoSpeed readers will be familiar with the electronic kits developed by the author in conjunction with Silicon Chip magazine and sold by Jaycar Electronics, but the new modules will be better again. So how will they be better? In short:

  • They won’t be kits but instead be fully built and tested circuit boards, ready to be connected and then put in a box or simply wrapped in heat-shrink and placed up under the dash.

  • When equipped with an appropriate heat sink, they’ll be able to directly drive big electrical loads like fuel pumps, solenoids, radiator fans and the like. Or, if required, they can operate relays or switch LEDs or warning lights or buzzers.

  • Taking into account their high functionality and fully built status, they’ll be cheap. How cheap? Try AUD$59!

  • They’ll be small, near-impossible to kill and be very simple to wire into place and set up.

Click for larger image

The brains behind the electronics is eLabtronics, the company with which we developed the pictured Intelligent Intercooler Water Spray Controller some 8 years ago. That product, still available, combines intercooler temperature and engine load sensing with a predictive ability that allows the intercooler spray to actually come on before it is even needed! (Go here for more on that product – Intelligent Intercooler Water Spray Controller Module)

This time we approached eLabtronics with a proposition that they’ve very happily taken up – to build a single electronics module that can be software-developed to have a myriad of different functions. By standardising the hardware, eLabtronics can make the product in greater numbers, bringing down prices. And by using software reprogramming to produce different modules, the designs can still be fully optimised for their particular functions.

In plain English that means the modules will be cheap and very useful.

OK, so what sort of functions will these modules perform? We’ve deliberately aimed at making the modules universal building blocks - designs that can be used to perform numerous in-car functions. And that includes functions equally useful in a car running the smallest number of modifications to ones modified in every respect!

We’ll be releasing different modules that can switch on rpm shift-lights, operate radiator fans by monitoring the standard engine management temp sensor, sound over-speed alarms, switch auto transmission mode when you’re driving hard, steplessly control the speed of fuel and water/air intercooler pumps, pulse an alarm siren – and literally hundreds of other uses.

We’ll be covering each module in a dedicated story and then running follow-up stories that show the installation of the modules to achieve performance functions. Note that none of these universal modules will need to be software programmed – they’ll be available ready to go.

If you’ve looked at the do-it-yourself electronics that we’ve previously run, and decided that while the kits look great, you don’t have the component recognition and soldering skills to build them, these modules are for you.

Let’s take a quick look at the hardware and then look at some of the different functionalities that will be available.

Hardware

All the modules are based on the one piece of hardware called the eLabtronics Multi Purpose Module (MPM).

The MPM has two multi-turn user-adjustable potentiometers (pots), a four terminal screw-down connector, a four position DIP switch, a fuse, a microcontroller and an output transistor called a MOSFET. (And of course, there are other components on the board but we don’t need to worry about those.)

The four wire connector is for power, ground, signal input and output. To put this another way, the maximum number of connections that need to be made to the board comprises just four wires!

When the output MOSFET is activated, positive power is available on the output terminal. Without a heatsink fitted to the MOSFET, the module can output 3 amps. With a small heatsink that rises to 6 amps, and a larger heatsink will allow 10 amps to be drawn.

If you want to handle really big loads like radiator fans and fuel pumps, a separate add-on module (a high powered solid state relay) can be used that will allow up to 100 amps to be handled.

In short, there’s basically no 12V (or 24V) load that can’t be operated.

The two on-board pots are used to allow user-adjustment of two different parameters. (Some examples are covered below.) The DIP switch (not fitted to all versions of the MPM) allows the user to configure various options. The fuse protects against short-circuiting the output, and a diode is also fitted to protect against reverse polarity connection.

The microcontroller is pre-programmed by eLabtronics to allow the MPM to perform the desired function.

So what sorts of functions are planned? Let’s take a quick look, including some typical car modifications that you can do with each. And don’t forget that many of the modules have greater capabilities than we’re covering in this preliminary article.

1. eLabtronics Pulser

The Pulser is, as the name suggests, designed to pulse the output. The speed of the pulsing and the length of time the output is switched on each pulse are both independently adjustable by the pots.

This independent adjustment is key to the module’s usefulness.

Click for larger image

You can have the output switch on for a very short time at a fast rate (think of rapidly flashing a LED) or you can have the output switch on for a longer time much less frequently (maybe pulsing a horn).

Or the output can be on for a short time but at long intervals (eg a pulsing an intercooler water spray). You can even have the output switch on for 15 seconds every 3 minutes – great for circulating the water in a water/air intercooler when off boost.

As the examples suggest, in most cases the output MOSFET is powerful enough to directly drive lights, a horn or a pump.

The switch that’s used to turn on the Pulser needs to carry only a tiny current, making it easy to trigger the Pulser from an existing alarm output or a low current switch like a temperature switch, a microswitch or a pressure switch.

The speed of pulsing can be set any where from 10 per second to once per hour, and the length of the pulse can be from 1 per cent to 99 per cent of the available time.

2. eLabtronics Manual Motor Speed and Solenoid Control

This module is useful wherever you want to adjust the amount of power going to something – motor speed control and light dimming are two examples.

Click for larger image

Any DC brush-type electric motor can be speed-controlled. So you can vary the speed of a water/air intercooler pump or a radiator fan. You can set the speed to the required value and then leave the system alone, or, if you wish, you can have a pot mounted on the dashboard that allows you to manually adjust speed. You can also steplessly dim lights.

And when the motor speed or lights are turned down low, very little energy is being wasted. This is much better than using a big variable resistor to dim lights or slow motors, where lots of power is wasted and the resistor gets very hot.

Finally, this module can be used to pulse a solenoid or an injector. The pulse rate and duty cycle can be independently controlled, being left at a fixed value or manually changed as required.

3. eLabtronics Intelligent Motor Speed Control

The eLabtronics Intelligent Motor Speed Control module adds external electronic input to motor speed control. This means that rather than manually adjusting the motor speed, it can be done automatically.

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For example, by monitoring the standard temperature sensor, you can steplessly control the speed of radiator fans, so that their flow always matches the required cooling demand. You can do the same with a fuel pump, matching fuel supply output to engine requirements (so saving on fuel pump wear, noise and reducing fuel temperature). You can automatically control the speed of a water/air intercooler pump and another use is to vary water injection flow with engine load.

The two on-board pots allow the minimum and maximum motor speeds to be set while the DIP switch sets the control mode.

4. eLabtronics Voltage Switch

This single module will switch on a power feed when a monitored voltage reaches the adjustable trip-point.

Because most engine management sensors output a varying voltage, you can use the sensors already fitted to switch things on and off. To put this another way, rather than having to install new sensors, you can use the ones already there that monitor engine temperature, exhaust gas oxygen, engine airflow consumption, manifold pressure, etc.

Click for larger image

For example, you can turn on a low fuel warning light when the gauge gets low, turn on radiator fans by monitoring the standard engine temperature sensor, turn on an intercooler fan when engine loads are high or low (you just monitor the output of the airflow meter, MAP sensor or airflow meter), disconnect the battery if the battery voltage falls too low (or sound an alarm), build in an anti-wastegate creep function, and so on and so on!

The standard engine management sensor that’s being monitored won’t be loaded down (so it will still work fine doing its original function), or if you like, you can add a new dedicated sensor. And remember, in many cases the module can be used to directly control loads like pumps or fans without the need for a relay, further reducing cost and simplifying the wiring.

One on-board pot allows the trip-point to be accurately set and the other pot sets the difference between switch-on and switch-off points.

5. eLabtronics Frequency Switch

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This module performs the same function as the eLabtronics Voltage Switch described above but instead of monitoring a changing voltage, it monitors frequency. This means it can use the output of frequency-based airflow meters and MAP sensors, and also monitor road speed and engine revs.

It’s the easy way of illuminating a shiftlight, sounding an over-speed alarm, enabling a rev cut, controlling active aerodynamics and working with anything else speed or rpm related!

Cars that use smart sensors – that is, the sensors communicate with control systems by CAN bus and the like – will not be able to be monitored by the voltage and frequency switches. However, this is a minority of new cars. (Note that many current cars use CAN bus systems to communicate between different ECUs but not between the sensor and the ECU).

All older cars equipped with engine management and/or electrically-powered dash instruments use frequency or voltage signals between the sensors and the ECUs (or between the sensors and dash instruments) and so can use these frequency and voltage switches.

6. Timer

Finally in this overview of some of the modules, we have a universal timer module.

Click for larger image

This will be able to be used to drive a cooling fan for a set period after you switch off, add an extended ‘on’ time to a pushbutton-triggered intercooler water spay, add wastegate anti-creep or over-boost functions to a boost control, let you continue using the electric windows for a minute after switch-off (in cars that don’t already have this function!) – and many, many other functions.

The time length will be set by the two pots and the timer will also have many different modes.

Conclusion

The basic functions of some of these modules are deliberately similar to the kits we’ve previously covered. That’s because those kits performed very effectively in numerous different applications.

But these modules won’t be kits – they’ll be fully built and ready to be wired straight into your car.

Furthermore, most of the modules will also have additional functions – for example, the Voltage Switch output will be able to be configured to give a couple of warning beeps, pulse the output on and off, or stay fully on. The Pulser will be able to be triggered once a certain monitored temperature is reached. Being able to directly drive loads will simplify wiring and integration into existing car systems.

We’re aiming to make the modules as straightforward to use as possible - but that won’t prevent some very tricky applications indeed.

So standby for the full tour and detail, starting with the eLabtronics Pulser. We think you’ll be pretty impressed.

Note: the descriptions of the modules contained in this article cover proposed functionalities. Changes may occur during individual module development.

The eLabtronics modules are engineered and manufactured by eLabtronics. The modules are based on concepts and specifications developed by Julian Edgar, with the aim being to provide cost-effective and useful modules for car modification (and also industrial and educational uses).

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