Populate SMD boads using a toothpick and tweezers

cnlohr-hand-applied-solder-paste

Here’s a demonstration which proves you don’t really need special tools to populate a surface mount PCB. We’ve seen this board before, it’s the glass PCB server which [Cnlohr] developed and demonstrated by connecting the real world to Minecraft. It’s a tiny board and we were happy to have the chance to see his method for populating the parts before reflow soldering.

In the video after the break [Cnlohr] starts by dispensing a glob of solder pasted from its storage container. He mentions that as long as you store the stuff in the refrigerator it’s rather easy to work with. Because most of his projects are single boards it’s not worth it to have a solder stencil produced. Instead he picks up a bit of the solder glob on the end of a toothpick and applies it to each pad.

This isn’t really as bad as it sounds. The fine pitch TQFP footprints can just be dragged with a bit of the paste. After this application — which took around seven minutes — he grabs some tweezers (not the vacuum type) and begins placing each component. If he missed some paste he’ll discover it in this step and add where necessary. The last step is a trip through his toaster oven.

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AVR Minecraft server lets you toggle pins from the virtual world

Wanting to test his skills by building a webserver [Cnlohr] decided to also code a Minecraft server which allows him to toggle pins from inside the game. The rows of switches seen above give him direct access to the direction register and I/O pins of one port of the ATmega328.

The server hardware is shown in the image above. It’s hard to tell just from that image, but it’s actually a glass substrate which is [Cnlohr's] specialty. He uses an ENC424J600 to handle the networking side of things. This chip costs almost twice as much as the microcontroller next to it. But even in single quantities the BOM came in at under $20 for the entire build.

In the video after the break [Cnlohr] and a friend demonstrate the ability for multiple users to log into the Minecraft world. The simulation is fairly bare-bones, but the ability to affect hardware from the game world is more exciting than just pushing 1s and 0s through some twisted pairs.

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Glass PCBs

Our friend [Jeri] tipped us off about this cool video on youtube where the author makes his own “transparent” PCB’s using some nontraditional materials. One ounce copper foil is found online along with some clear glass microscope slides, from there it is just a matter of cementing the foil onto the glass slides with some thin UV curing glue. Once the 2 parts are mated the entire thing is popped into an eeprom eraser for its intense UV light, then excess is trimmed.

The normal routine of toner transfer is used to copy a circuit pattern onto the copper clad glass and it’s etched in standard ferric chloride. The copper is removed but the UV glue that was holding it is still left, some special care needs be followed as this stuff is pretty weak against even mild solvents, and you do not want your traces peeling up. Next no clean solder paste is applied and parts are soldered down with a heat gun, keeping the glass evenly heated to prevent it from cracking.
This leaves you with a board that looks like frosted glass, and in order to protect the glue while clearing up the frosted effect, some polyurethane is applied which fills in all the little bumps and smoothes the surface bout out to almost 100% clear.
The end application in this video is a touch sensitive board which works fine though the back side of the glass and presents a nice smooth interface for the user. Join us after the break for the video.

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