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Got a technical problem? Can't understand a piece of jargon or some technical principle? Drop us a line and we'll answer your question. Write to: Ask Silicon Chip, PO Box 139, Collaroy Beach, NSW 2097 or send an email to

Bed pan machine is a pain in the...

I am an electrical engineer at Ipswich Hospital in the UK. I wonder if you could give me some advice. We have problems occasionally with the timing chip (picture attached to email) from a bed pan machine. Basically it times pumps, solenoids and motors.

Unfortunately, the timing chip goes wrong on a regular basis and we have no option but to purchase a new board which costs £300. Is there a way or company to duplicate these chips in the UK? (M. E., Ipswich, UK).

• It seems highly likely that the IC is a micro and the label on it refers to the version of software it is programmed with. If you peel off the label, you may be able to identify what type of micro it is. However, the software is likely to be in flash memory and so it is unlikely that you could get the chip duplicated.

The question you should be asking of the suppliers is “why do these modules keep failing?” Is there no warranty? It may also be possible to compare voltages etc with a known good module. If the micro keeps failing, perhaps it is being hit by voltage spikes on its supply or input leads.

If you can trace out the circuit, you might be able to add diode clamping to particular inputs and also ensure that the power supply itself does not cause the failures.

Alphanumeric clock tells the time in English

I was in Singapore recently and saw this cool-looking clock in action. My first thought, “What a great idea for a project!”. See it at What do you think? (T. R., via email).

• As you say, that clock idea looks pretty neat. But SILICON CHIP actually did the same thing 18 years ago, back in November 1994, with a PIC16C57 driving LED dot-matrix displays. It gave the same sort of readouts such as 10 past 8, 6 o’clock, midnight and noon.

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