I have an application that requires reading sensors and moving a stepper motor. The sensors draw about 200mA between them, and need 5V to work. (Too much to draw through the Arduino, I thought) The stepper is recommended to run off 12V, and is driven through a BigEasy board. And, of course, the Arduino needs 5V.
My actual setup has an old laptop power brick, which puts out nominally 12V. This is fed into a voltage regulator (one of the cheap ones with a voltmeter built in) which outputs a steady 5V, even if the input voltage changes a bit. So, I've got a reasonable 12V supply and a fairly fixed 5V supply.
From the 5V supply, I run wiring to the sensors, and from the 12V supply I wire the stepper driver.
The thing is, to power the Arduino, I thought I could just wire up a USB socket (only the power lines) and wire the USB socket to the 5V regulated output. Then I could either plug my arduino into my computer to program it, or plug it into the dummy usb socket to power it standalone.
This arrangement seemed to work for a while, but I've noticed strange behaviour with the 2x16 LCD board which is also attached. I should point out that the LCD takes it's power from the regulated 5V, not from the 5V rail of the Arduino, although the data lines go to the Arduino. The LCD has gone into a "lock-down" mode whereby it only displays half blocks on the top line and nothing else.
I'm wondering if it could be related to effectively powering the system with 2 supplies; one for the majority of the load through the old laptop power brick, and the Arduino through the USB port of my (also laptop) PC. Somewhere along the line, ground get connected to ground, but are all grounds equal?
Is there a standard solution for having the Arduino plugged into your development PC (so as to get debug messages through the Serial COM monitor) whilst still be able to safely power the high-draw loads of the rest of the system. I did consider powering the Arduino through it's barrel jack, but then I'll need an additional 7V supply. (The 5V regulated supply would be too much, and the 12V "semi-regulated" supply would be too much).
And can I do something to protect the next LCD that I use? (Stick a 5.2V Zener across the power pins to prevent spikes??)