Cyclone PCB Factory: 3d printable circuit board mill

printable-cyclone-pcb-factory

If you can 3D print most of the parts for another 3D printer, why not also for a PCB mill? That’s the question answered by the Cyclone PCB Factory. It will help you kiss those toner transfer or photo resist days goodbye.

Homemade circuit boards tend to be rather small, which really helps keep the cost and scope of this project down. Most of the mounting parts, as well as the gears, are 3D printed. Of course there’s the usual machine tool items which you pretty much have to purchase: the ball screws, precision rod, stepper motors, and a motor to spin the routing tool.

Check out the video below to see where the project is right now. One of the crucial aspects of PCB milling is to have a level build table. The cutter head tends to be ‘V’ shaped so cutting just a bit too deep can blow out the traces you’re trying to isolate. The demo shows that this can automatically calibrate the software to account for any variances in the height of the copper clad.

We remember seeing a snap-together PCB mill. But we’re pretty sure that that one used parts milled from HDPE rather than 3D printed components.

[via RepRap]

Comments

  1. Kris Lee says:

    When I see something like this then I’m always worried about glass fiber dust. What do you think, how serious is my concern?

    • Bob says:

      Commercially available PCB mills have vacuum/filter systems so it’s definitely something to consider.

    • Carlosgs says:

      I’m also concerned about glass fiber dust (you can see the vacuum cleaner in the video), but as Bob says that is not a problem with commercial PCB mills.
      This problem could be addressed by using a small hand-held vacuum cleaner with a fine filter, some flexible tubing and the necessary printed parts.

      • Mark S. Harris says:

        You can buy PCB material which uses something else other than the fiberglass. I’m not sure how much it changes the board impedance, but at the slow frequency/speed of most of the electronics on these boards it probably doesn’t matter. This the material that Tech Shop requires to be used. I’ll have to make some inquiries to find out more about that they require.

        Mark Harris (High-speed board designer)

    • dbtayl says:

      If you slather your PCB in oil before cutting the traces, all the dust gets trapped and you can just wipe it off afterward. This has the added benefit (in my limited experience) of cutting cleaner traces.

      • scuffles says:

        Hmm interesting, might try that if I build one of these.

        I was just thinking about chopping up a smaller vacuum cleaner and building a small liquid filter. To catch all the dust in suspension.

  2. Tom says:

    I love the idea of moving over to a mechanical PCB fab system (as opposed to a wet-etch), but having watched the video above, I don’t fancy the odds of something like this dealing too well with fine pitch (read: SMT) work…

    It’s very good work though, and I’ll be keeping an eye on this for any improvements, as I don’t see myself getting a LKPF mill any time soon!

    • JB says:

      Agree. I like what he has done, but I’d like to see it milling some fine pitch traces.

      This gives me another excuse to want a 3D printer :P

      • Mark says:

        I have a desktop CNC that I routinely use to make PCBS. I can quite reliably get down to 10mil traces and 10mil clearances. It’s not super great, but works fine for all but the most fine pitched SMT.

  3. JoeJoeDancer says:

    I’ll keep ordering my boards online but love the progress.

  4. brianredbeard says:

    Have you considered combining the vacuum with the CNC head to do double duty of dust clean up and air flow for cooling the CNC engraver?

  5. Josh Martin says:

    Just spend the $$ on a Microcarve MV3 and you’ll NEVER have issues with accuracy.
    I know it’s a lot but when you never have to wonder if it’s accurate enough it’s a great peace of mind.

  6. Dan says:

    For a flat surface. It’s easier to just put a small end mill into the router and have any warp in the table or fine adjustments in the machine taken care of by the machine!

  7. 0xfred says:

    Some nice work, although if building a mill from scratch just for PCBs it might be worth looking into a floating tool that automatically follows the contours of the board for a consistent cut depth. Getting accurate Z height over a PCB that’s not as flat as you think it would be is a pain. It can be done, but it’s a pain.

    I’ve been milling some PCB on a small mill (converted Proxxon MF70). I’m now trying out etching on presensitised photoresist boards – partly for SMD accuracy and partly because the less contoured end result makes solder mask application easier. A CNC mill can’t be beat for driling and cutting out the board though.

  8. scuffles says:

    I was sold on the idea around the time I saw it drilling the holes for the components. The Toner transfer and etching isn’t so bad but drilling all those holes blegh :P

  9. kgasper says:

    I noticed that the PCB is suspended from the bed. I don’t think that is the best solution. The LKPF’s and like used a precision ground metal bed that the PCB sits directly on. While you can’t subsequently do your drilling using that arrangement, I think you’d get much better results.

    Personally, I’ve done PCB milling on my Sherline mill and use a second piece of PCB under the board being milled clamped to the mill’s bed. That way the PCB is held more flat and I have a sacrificial piece underneath to drill into.

  10. M4CGYV3R says:

    This is awesome, is the green trace guard/covering/stuff whatever it is available to purchase and apply yourself? It would be awesome to get some seriously pro-looking PCBs from a 3D mill.

  11. Whatnot says:

    All things considered the cost+effort vs the benefits ratio is just not there at all for the purpose of making prints, and they’d be better off making an automatic system to do the toner transfer method, 3D print a feeder system from a printer to a heat roller andsoforth.

  12. Eatith Mee says:

    PCB milling is a pain in the a**, the depth of the z axis is like never right, and thats using a highend protomat. even using a “foot” on the tool to set the depth is hit or miss due to the runout of the router bearings. Setting the z a little deep is probably better than having it skip over dips in the board surface.

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