Make Flexible PCBs with Your 3D Printer

The last few years have seen great strides in budget printed circuit board manufacturing. These days you can have boards made in a week for only a few dollars a square inch. Flexible PCBs still tend to be rather expensive though. [Mikey77] is changing that by making flex circuits at home with his 3D printer. [Mikey77] utilized one of the properties of Ninjaflex Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) filament – it sticks to bare copper!

The TPE filament acts as an etch resist, similar to methods using laser printer toner. For a substrate, [Mikey77] lists 3 options:

.004″ thick “Scissor cut” copper clad board from Electronics Goldmine

.002″ thick pure copper polyester taffeta fabric from lessEMF.com

<.001″ Pyralux material from Adafruit, which is one of the materials used to make professional flex PCBs.

A bit of spray adhesive will hold the Flex PCB down on the printer’s bed. The only issue is convincing the printer to print a few thousandths of an inch higher than the actual bed level. Rather than change the home position on his Z axis, [Mikey77] used AutoDesk 123D to create 3D PCB designs. Each of his .stl files has a “spacer bar”, which sits at the bed level. The actual tracks to be printed are in the air a few thousandths of an inch above the bed – exactly the thickness of the substrate material. The printer prints the spacer bar on the bed, then raises its Z height and prints on the flexible PCB material. We’re sure that forcing the printer to print in mid-air like this would cause some printer software to throw errors, but the system worked for [Mikey77] and his Makerbot.

Once the designs have been printed, the boards are etched with standard etching solutions such as ferric chloride. Be careful though – these thin substrates can etch much faster than regular PCB.

FTDI Screws Up, Backs Down

A few days ago we learned chip maker FTDI was doing some rather shady things with a new driver released on Windows Update. The new driver worked perfectly for real FTDI chips, but for counterfeit chips – and there are a lot of them – the USB PID was set to 0, rendering them inoperable with any computer. Now, a few days later, we know exactly what happened, and FTDI is backing down; the driver has been removed from Windows Update, and an updated driver will be released next week. A PC won’t be able to communicate with a counterfeit chip with the new driver, but at least it won’t soft-brick the chip.

Microsoft has since released a statement and rolled back two versions of the FTDI driver to prevent counterfeit chips from being bricked. The affected versions of the FTDI driver are 2.11.0 and 2.12.0, released on August 26, 2014. The latest version of the driver that does not have this chip bricking functionality is 2.10.0.0, released on January 27th. If you’re affected by the latest driver, rolling back the driver through the Device Manager to 2.10.0.0 will prevent counterfeit chips from being bricked. You might want to find a copy of the 2.10.0 driver; this will likely be the last version of the FTDI driver to work with counterfeit chips.

Thanks to the efforts of [marcan] over on the EEVblog forums, we know exactly how the earlier FTDI driver worked to brick counterfeit devices:

ftdi_evil

[marcan] disassembled the FTDI driver and found the source of the brick and some clever coding. The coding exploits  differences found in the silicon of counterfeit chips compared to the legit ones. In the small snippet of code decompiled by [marcan], the FTDI driver does nothing for legit chips, but writes 0 and value to make the EEPROM checksum match to counterfeit chips. It’s an extremely clever bit of code, but also clear evidence FTDI is intentionally bricking counterfeit devices.

A new FTDI driver, presumably one that will tell you a chip is fake without bricking it, will be released next week. While not an ideal outcome for everyone, at least the problem of drivers intentionally bricking devices is behind us.

Watch That Windows Update: FTDI Drivers Are Killing Fake Chips

The FTDI FT232 chip is found in thousands of electronic baubles, from Arduinos to test equipment, and more than a few bits of consumer electronics. It’s a simple chip, converting USB to a serial port, but very useful and probably one of the most cloned pieces of silicon on Earth. Thanks to a recent Windows update, all those fake FTDI chips are at risk of being bricked. This isn’t a case where fake FTDI chips won’t work if plugged into a machine running the newest FTDI driver; the latest driver bricks the fake chips, rendering them inoperable with any computer.

Reports of problems with FTDI chips surfaced early this month, with an explanation of the behavior showing up in an EEVblog forum thread. The new driver for these chips from FTDI, delivered through a recent Windows update, reprograms the USB PID to 0, something Windows, Linux, and OS X don’t like. This renders the chip inaccessible from any OS, effectively bricking any device that happens to have one of these fake FTDI serial chips.

Because the FTDI USB to UART chip is so incredibly common,  the market is flooded with clones and counterfeits. it’s very hard to tell the difference between the real and fake versions by looking at the package, but a look at the silicon reveals vast differences. The new driver for the FT232 exploits these differences, reprogramming it so it won’t work with existing drivers. It’s a bold strategy to cut down on silicon counterfeiters on the part of FTDI. A reasonable company would go after the manufacturers of fake chips, not the consumers who are most likely unaware they have a fake chip.

The workaround for this driver update is to download the FT232 config tool from the FTDI website on a WinXP or Linux box, change the PID of the fake chip, and never using the new driver on a modern Windows system. There will surely be an automated tool to fix these chips automatically, but until then, take a good look at what Windows Update is installing – it’s very hard to tell if your devices have a fake FTDI chip by just looking at them.

Hackaday 10th Anniversary: Wrap-up

A little more than a month ago we saw the 10 year anniversary of the first Hackaday post ever, and last week we had a little get together in Pasadena to celebrate the occasion. Everyone had a great time, building tiny line-following robots and LiPo chargers, listening to some great talks, and in the evening we all had a lot of fun emptying some kegs. We couldn’t ask for a better crowd, and we thank everyone who came (and those of you who watched everything on the livestream) for participating.

As far as specific people go, we need to thank [charliex], [arko] and everyone else from Null Space Labs for helping out with the weird rotary encoder two-player version of Duck Hunt. The folks from Crashspace were also there, helping out and lending a steady hand and hot soldering iron during the workshops. Shoutouts also go to [datagram] and [jon king] for running the lockpicking workshop, and [Todd Black] deserves a mention for his lithium battery charger workshop. All the speakers deserve to be mentioned again, and you can check out a playlist of their talks below:

Continue reading “Hackaday 10th Anniversary: Wrap-up”

10th Anniversary Trinket Pro Now in the Hackaday Store

Black solder mask and proudly sporting the Jolly Wrencher? The 10th Anniversary Trinket Pro boards just hit the Hackaday Store.

These were actually the suggestion of [Phil Torrone]. He founded Hackaday way back in 2004 and is now CEO of Adafruit Industries. Shortly after I asked him to record a remembrance of his time at Hackaday for the anniversary party he suggested these boards (normally blue and missing our logo) as a limited-edition for the event. It took just two weeks for them to crank out 585 of them.

I’m most likely biased for many reasons. Obviously I like putting the skull and wrenches on everything, and black solder mask is just cool. I also adore the ATmega328 (my 8-bit go-to chip for prototyping) and am especially fond of this form factor as it makes for super simple on-the-go firmware coding.

Once we sell 560 of them they will never return. We’re betting that Adafruit will have an even better minuscule breakout board for our 25th Anniversary. Do you think quantum computing will have trickled down to the single-chip prototyping stage by then?

Update: We’ve updated shipping rates on the store. Orders over $25 in the USA now have free shipping. International shipping is free for orders over $50. We will continue to try and reduce shipping rates as much as possible. We’re new to this so stay tuned!

Hackaday 10th Anniversary Update

The Hackaday 10th anniversary is going great guns. Attendees have already built line following robots with [Adam Fabio], learned lockpicking with [Datagram] and [Jon King]. [Jame Hobson’s] team is building an awesome video game controller. The attendees are currently building LiPo battery chargers. [Todd Black] gave a great presentation on the care and feeding of LiPo batteries. He designed and built a PCB just for this event!

build

Some familiar faces are on hand, such as [Chris Gammell], [Bil Herd], as well as the entire Hackaday editing team!

cbb

Still to come are talks by [Steve Collins], [Quinn Dunki], [Jon McPhalen], and [Thundersqueak].

Want to check out the live view? Click our Hackvision streams!

We’re At Maker Faire This Weekend

It’s that time of year again where the east coast division of the Hackaday crew makes the trek out to Maker Faire New York. We’ll be there the entire weekend, checking out the sights, talking to the people who make the things you make things with, and standing in an hour-long line for a hamburger.

We’ve been going to the NYC Maker Faire for a few years now, and each time we’re surprised by the sheer variety of stuff at the faire. This year, SeeMeCNC is bringing a gargantuan delta printer, [Adam] and I are going to geek out when we meet the Flite Test crew, and we’ll be filing a few interviews with the folks from Intel, Atmel, BeagleBone, and TI. If you’re wondering what the, “I can’t believe Make is allowing this at the faire” project is for this year, here you go.

If you’re heading to the faire and find some of the Hackaday crew wandering around, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. I’ll be wearing a flagpole with the Jolly Wrencher, and [Adam] will probably be wearing something emblazoned with the Hackaday logo. We have stickers to give out, and if you’re really cool, some sweet swag.

This year is a little different from the other times we’ve made the trek to Maker Faire – this time we have a press pass, and that means access to some very important people. If you have a question you’d like to ask Atmel’s VP of MCUs, Intel’s “maker czar”, [Massimo], someone at TI, or anyone else on the schedule, leave a note in the comments.