On wiring diagrams

After I finished rewiring the Cobra drag car’s trunk, I found myself needing to pull a fuse to do a test and not remembering which fuse was for what. Having all the fuses and relays in one panel was a huge improvement over the original wiring but clearly it was time for labels and a wiring diagram.

Shopping for one-off labels

These labels are going to be affixed near the fuel cell and will likely see some abuse. I want a label that has a strong adhesive, is resistant to scratching, is UV resistant, and tolerates contact with fuel. This is no ordinary sticker. This is a high quality label.

I know Sticker Mule makes custom stickers. Maybe they have something that would work. Bad sign #1: minimum order quantity. I will need precisely one of each label. Having 49 extras is a bit much. A few quick searches show any custom label order is going to have a minimum order. It makes sense: setup takes time. Time to rethink my approach.

From somewhere in the back of my mind, the name Avery jumped forth. Avery makes printable labels in all sorts of shapes and sizes formatted on standard paper sizes so any inkjet or laser printer can be used. I fondly remember churning out hundreds of their mailing labels in the 90’s by running a Word mail merge and using Avery’s provided templates. Maybe I can put a coating over their labels.

Avery UltraDuty GHS Chemical Labels box

No need! Avery makes UltraDuty GHS Chemical Labels designed for labeling chemical containers. They are promoted as great for custom NFPA and HMIS labels. That should work perfectly in a trunk. Oh, look! They even have a template! Wait… it’s in Word? I don’t even own a copy of Word anymore. Hmm, what’s this? They have an online tool instead? Ok. I’m generally against these kinds of tools but I’m getting desperate.  Five minutes later, I close the tab in frustration. Well, I have a label but I’m on my own to layout my designs.

Troublesome Tools

I am a programmer, not an artist.  I know how to draft with pencil, paper, and ruler but I much rather write code.  SVG seemed like a natural fit for the lineart and text I planned to use on these labels.  Not having used SVG before, I read a few how-to articles before diving into the specification.  Laying out the basic shape of the label was pretty easy but filling it with content became baffling. There were so many options of how to proceed with different ramifications.  Two evenings of trying to figure it out was all I could muster.  I deleted my work in progress and took a day off.

As I took some time working on other projects, I realized that wiring diagrams are a form of undirected graph rendered orthographically. GraphViz is the common tool used by programmers far and wide for this.  I quickly wrote up a few lines of DOT that represented some of the major components in my diagram (battery, emergency disconnect, fuse panel) and the +12V and ground wiring between them.  GraphViz, specifically neato, generated a diagram that was technically correct but looked horrible.  Even with ortho layout selected, lines were going underneath boxes, boxes were laid out nonsensically.  As I researched how to pin boxes to specific locations in the diagram and use shapes other than boxes, I discovered these were mostly kludges.  Yet another tool was requiring huge amounts of fiddling to get anything close to reasonable output.  Ugh!

Fine.  I’ll draw it if I have to.

I’m a Mac user.  Part of being a Mac user is discovering The Omni Group‘s fabulous collection of tools.  If I’m going to draw a wiring diagram, I’m going to do with OmniGraffle, a tool similar in concept to Visio.  In an evening, I drew both a label for the fuse panel and a wiring diagram for the trunk.  By grouping primitive shapes, I could create complex shapes that help with identifying components.  Adding magnet points to those shapes anchors the ends of lines (wires) that track as I moved the shapes and line path around.  For all that I wanted to avoid drawing, the process ended up being straightforward and effective.

Cobra Commander trunk labels made with OmniGraffle

I’ll post pictures of the installed labels when I get a chance.


HDDG22 Talk: ECUs and their sensors

Chris Gammell asked me to give a presentation at his Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic meetup in San Francisco.  I enjoy talking about things I work on so I didn’t hesitate to say yes.  I’m pretty sure he was expecting me to talk about Google’s Zaius server, an open-hardware POWER9 server design,  that I brought to a previous meetup.  Giving presentations about my day job takes some review and approvals, even for open designs.   Instead, I offered to talk about engine control, a subject I’m spending many nights on recently.

I’ve had to learn about engine tuning and EFI systems in particular to get Cobra Commander back on the track.  Since that knowledge seems to be spread in bits and pieces, I put together what I’ve learned into a presentation focusing on the sensors used and how they fit into the engine control systems.

Both slides and video are available.  Chris did a writeup for SupplyFrame’s blog as well.

MoTeC M48 Teardown

After working out the serial port pinout on my MoTeC M48 (see MoTeC PCI Cable for $20), I was left with one unidentified pin.  As the same DB9 is used with both a PCI cable and a SUU, I suspect this extra pin is how the ECU distinguishes between the two.  My M48 is already running the latest firmware so figuring out how to emulate an SUU isn’t a critical but not knowing how it works bothers me.

After trying a few things (tie pin to +5V, tie to GND), I decided I needed to open up the case and figure out where pin 12 on the ECU connector goes.

Based on the sharp, 90° bends in the traces, the whole board was definitely autorouted.  Unfortunately, the autorouter decided to route traces underneath chips which makes tracing them out much harder.  Also, the whole board is covered with conformal coating.  On the upside, a large number of components are used to protect the inputs and output from out-of-spec voltages which makes sense as incorrect wiring is bound to be a common problem in the field.

Zooming in on the main processor, I find a Motorola MC68332ACFC16 (datasheet) which is a nifty 68k variant with peripherals geared toward generating time-synchronized I/O.

Next to the main processor are a pair of Altera MAX 7000 PLDs (EPM7032LC44 datasheet).  I didn’t research enough to determine if these PLDs are used with the main processor’s time processor functions or with its expansion bus.

After a few false starts, I determined that pin 12, our extra serial pin, passes through protection circuitry before ending up at a GPIO on port E of the main processor.  There seems to be no alternate functions on that pin that make sense so next up will be reverse engineering the firmware.  Thankfully, MoTeC provides a full, unencrypted firmware as part of the M48 software on their website.  Time to buy a license for IDA.

MoTeC PCI Cable for $20

After getting the MoTeC M48 EMP software installed in Dosbox as described previously, I naively assumed the M48 just connected with normal RS232 serial.  I mean, there’s a DB9 hanging under the dash and the EMP software is looking for a serial port.  Of course it couldn’t be that simple.

Coiled up grey cable with DB9 connectors.
Motec PCI Cable: Pure Unobtainium

It seems that MoTeC decided to save a dollar in the M48 by not including RS232 level shifters.  Instead, it has 5V TTL serial on non-standard pins.  MoTeC helpfully offers cables, called PCI and CIM, to bridge the gap from an RS232 serial port to the ECU.  The downside? These cables are practically unobtainium (or at least cost $220 for one).  Knowing that it’s just TTL serial, why is this cable so expensive?  Can’t I just make one?

Official wiring diagram for M48 serial port

MoTeC offers a wiring diagram for the M48 but it doesn’t tell you what signals are on the DB9 pins.  At least they were clear that pin 6 is ground.  After some time with a voltmeter and oscilloscope, I figured out the following pinout:

DB9  Signal  ECU
1     +5V     24
2     N/C
3     N/C
4     N/C
5     TXD     11
6     GND     27
7     ???
8     N/C
9     RXD      9
Black cable with USB Type-A on one end and 0.1" header with 5V TTL serial on the other
Sparkfun FTDI Cable 5V: Functional equivalent to MoTeC PCI cable

So, what’s inside that $220 cable?  Probably a MAX232.  A simpler, modern alternative is a FTDI 5V cable from Sparkfun for $20.  Either make a connector to adapt to DB9 or wire directly into the ECU connector pins.

Now the M48 EMP software running in Dosbox is talking to the ECU over the FTDI cable.  I’ve successfully downloaded the current tune and some log data.  I even discovered that the air temperature sensor was showing a fault and was able to clear it by reseating the connector on the sensor.

Next up is inventorying the sensors and actuators installed and finding their datasheets.  The goal is to get a good understanding of the tune that is currently loaded and get ready for logging data during dyno runs.  That probably means building a board that can capture the telemetry the ECU spews out the serial port during normal operation.  Then I’ll start digging into the protocol used by EMP to configure the ECU.

Drag Race Cobra and MoTeC M48 ECU

1996 Cobra modified for drag racing parking in a garage

A few month ago, a coworker decided to buy a built drag racing car and was looking for someone to help crew.  I emphatically offered my services and we started working out what exactly he had bought.

The car started as a stock 1996 Ford Mustang Cobra with a 4.6L V8 engine (in Mystic, no less).  The engine has been rebuilt with a supercharger and nitrous.  The drivetrain has been completely replaced.  Yet, it still has power windows, doors, and steering.  The story from the seller was that the original owner had some outrageous tuning that needed the nitrous for cooling, not power.  The seller, the 2nd owner, had had a professional tuner redo the tuning from scratch to get something that would work as a daily driver, an 800HP daily driver.  It’s an interesting beast to say the least.

I started looking into the ECU to figure out what we had to work with.  It’s a MoTeC M48 which is a well-respected ECU from the 90s.  MoTeC still has the manual and software available for download but that’s where this story starts to get annoying.  The M48 software is a DOS-only application that talks to the ECU over serial.  Most of the applications will work under Windows 7 but not all.  I couldn’t get it to work with Windows 10 at all.  After a bit of research, others had had luck with Dosbox.

Screenshot of MoTeC M48 EMP software
MoTeC M48 Software

I use a MacBook Air so I tried Boxer which is just a nice UI over Dosbox.  Installing the MoTeC software is…odd.  The download from MoTeC is a Windows installer that dumps a DOS-based installer into C:\Motec.  The DOS-based installer is built around floppy images and is generally quirky.  I was able to successfully get everything installed in a Windows Vista VM I had handy and then copy C:\Motec into a Dosbox disk image.  If you are looking to use MoTeC M48 EMP on a Mac and want to save a bunch of time, email me.

One last note about using Boxer: the Boxer UI doesn’t expose any settings for serial ports.  Do not despair; Boxer’s Dosbox core has all the serial port support included.  You just need to add the following to the DOSBox Preference.conf stored inside the Boxer disk image bundle (right-click on the disk image in Finder and click Show Package Contents):

serial1=directserial realport:cu.usbserial-A100P1XB

Change cu.usbserial-A100P1XB to the serial port of your choice (one of /dev/cu.*) and you’ll be good to go.