Circuit Printer Doubles as a Pick and Place

Squink PCB printer and Pick and Place

Prototyping circuits is still a pain. The typical process is to order your PCBs, await their arrival, hand assemble a board, and start testing. It’s time consuming, and typically takes at least a week to go from design to prototype.

The folks at BotFactory are working on fixing that with the Squink (Kickstarter warning). This device not only prints PCBs, but also functions as a pick and place. Rather than using solder, the device uses conductive glue to affix components to the substrate.

This process also allows for a wide range of substrates. Traditional FR4 works, but glass and flexible substrates can work too. They’re also working on using an insulating ink for multilayer boards.

While there are PCB printers out there, and the home etching process always works, building the board is only half the battle. Hand assembly using smaller components is slow, and is prone to mistakes. If this device is sufficiently accurate, it could let us easily prototype complex packages such as BGAs, which are usually a pain.

Of course it has its limitations. The minimum trace width is 10 mils, which is a bit large. Also at $2600, this is an expensive device to buy sight unseen. While it is a Kickstarter, it’d be nice to see an all in one device that can prototype circuits quickly and cheaply.

Comments

  1. Measuring the printed sheet resistance with a Radioshack DMM says something about the project and the team seriousity…

    • Sven says:

      Not really, most companies have a couple of throw-away DMMs laying around, for a simple resistance measurement the radio shack meter is fine.

      I personally would probably have grabbed the most impressive looking Fluke meter just for the reason you mentioned, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking simple measurements with a cheap meter (unless you measure AC voltage)

      • Measuring resistance with 2 wires in this range is a joke even if you are doing it with Fluke or whatever.

      • Tony says:

        As per @Miklos, you need a 4-wire meter to measure low resistance values.

        The error range on most DMMs would exceed the track resistance. Also note they don’t mention the track thickness anywhere – you kinda need that. Still, the figure they give is in the range expected.

        That said it will work for the type of circuit they’re making, silver conductive ink has been around forever. Their trick is getting the silver particles small enough to be able to be printed (they’re not the first to manage that).

    • John says:

      I’m more irked by what appears to be a sales sticker left on that laptop below the numpad….

  2. zaprodk says:

    Prototype BGA’s with this ?! – Come on again HAD!

  3. JRDM says:

    But to inspect a BGA’s placement and such, you need an X-Ray machine

    • tekkieneet says:

      Print traces on a transparent medium and see it from the back side? :)
      10mils isn’t enough for to break out a BGA. This isn’t good for anything modern with fast rising edges. The sheet resistance will ruin any attempts of getting a low enough power rail impedance. About 1 ohms os interconnect resistance added to your decoupling caps isn’t insignificant.

  4. fartface says:

    Waiting a whole week? try it when we had to wait 2 months for a PCB to show up from the fab house. I still have to wait for my 4 layer and 6 layer boards you can reduce iterations by simply spending time looking at the schematic and board cad carefully.

    • steve says:

      Hmmm… I just submitted a 4 layer board on Tuesday, and picked it up Wedensday night. Of course, it was $1800 for (7) 4″ x 7″ boards, but not my money (work project, not hobby project).

  5. Me says:

    Now if only one of these could be printed on a reprap…

  6. Dee says:

    It’s pretty much a Zen Toolworks CNC (only around 350$) modified to drive a fourth stepper to control the tools with some custom 3D printed parts. Nevertheless, it’ s still a pretty cool idea if it they manage to deliver. I’m really hoping someone will release a DIY kit for something like this.

  7. r4k says:

    How many times are you going to pot this?

  8. Somun says:

    Unless they put a camera in there as well, they should forget about anything smaller than 0805 and SOIC packages.

  9. tekkieneet says:

    How well can you reuse the parts without have to resort of *nasty* chemical solvents to remove those epoxy goo and at the same time without damaging the parts?

    If the target audience is towards people that don’t design their circuits up front, figure out what’s needed instead of randomly inserting wires into a bread board to make/tweak things work, then this solution isn’t quite right. Very hard hard to change parts when it is glued onto fragile medium like paper.

    This is like a home gym. If you are serious about training, then you would used have something else except for those rainy or sick days. Not to say it won’t be a huge market for people who have more money than skills.

    The print quality for the ink is good and someone has certainly do a fine job of the design..

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