Tools of the Trade – Solder Paste Dispensing

The general process of circuit board assembly goes like this: You order your PCBs. You also order your components. For surface mount components, you apply solder paste to the pads, put the components on top, and then heat the board up so the solder paste flows and makes a bond. Then for through hole components you put the leads through the holes, and solder them with an iron or a solder wave or dip. Then you do an inspection for defects, program any microcontrollers, and finally test the completed board to make sure everything runs.

The tricky part is in volumes. If you’re only doing a few boards, it’s usually easiest to assemble them by hand. In the thousands you usually outsource. But new tools, and cheap hacked tools, have made it easier to automate small batches, and scale up into the thousands before outsourcing assembly.

In this new series which we’re calling Tools of the Trade we’ll be covering a variety of tools used for building products, and we’re starting with circuit board assembly. Let’s investigate our tools of the trade: solder paste dispensing. Continue reading “Tools of the Trade – Solder Paste Dispensing”

3D Printing Circuits Gets Rid of the Box Altogether

Many think that the next big step in 3D printing is when we’ll be able to print in metal, well, at an affordable rate. But what about printing in metal and plastic at the same time?

The thing is, most electronics are typically two-dimensional. Layers upon layers of relatively flat PCBs make up the brains of every bit of technology we know and love. The funny thing is, we live in a three-dimensional world, and we like to shove these flat circuits into three-dimensional boxes. Well, what if we didn’t have to? What if the circuit could be embedded directly into whatever shape we want? It’d be pretty awesome — minus the whole servicing aspect of the product…

Anyway we’ve seen some great hacks over the years attempting this, like adding a copper wire strand into your 3D print, embedding components into your print by pausing the job, or even going old school and using the point-to-point Manhattan style circuit construction to add some electronic features to your part. But what if your printer could do it for you?

That’s exactly what Optomec is attempting with the Voxel8 3D printing electronics platform. It is your standard run of the mill FDM style 3D printer, but it has a 2nd extruder that is capable of squeezing out liquid silver ink that dries at room temperature. Just take a look at this quadrotor they were able to make.

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3D Printed, Solderless Circuits

3d printed board

If you’re looking for yet another alternative to etching your own PCBs, then check out this new Instructable on 3D printing test circuits!

[Mikey] decided to try out this method when he needed a small board prototype. He designed the perfboard to have a standard thickness—only 1/16th thick (~1.6mm)—with thin, recessed channels on one side and through holes on the other. [Mikey’s] circuit board allows you to stuff your components in, hold them down with a piece of tape, and then fill the channels with some kind of conductive material. In this example he’s used a highly conductive paint.

This 3D printed option probably won’t suit all your circuit-building needs, but it could provide an excellent shortcut for your next hack! As always, there’s a video after the break.

Continue reading “3D Printed, Solderless Circuits”