How To Laser Cut Mylar Solder Stencils

Solder Stencil

When you think about the difficulties of working with surface mount components, the first thing that often comes to mind is trying to solder those tiny little parts. Instead of soldering those parts by hand, you can actually apply solder paste to the pads and place all of the components on at once. You can then heat up the entire board so all of the parts are soldered simultaneously. It sounds so much easier! The only problem is you then need a solder stencil. You somehow have to get a thin sheet of material that has a perfectly sized hole where all of your solder pads are. It’s not exactly trivial to cut them out by hand.

[Juan] recently learned a new trick to make cutting solder stencils a less painful process. He uses a laser cutter to cut Mylar sheets into stencils. [Juan] appears to be using EagleCAD and Express PCB. Both tools are available for free to hobbyists. The first step in the process is to export the top and bottom cream layers from your CAD software.

The next step is to shrink the size of the solder pads just a little bit. This is to compensate for the inevitable melting that will be caused by the heat from the laser. Without this step, the pads will likely end up a little bit too big. If your CAD software exports the files as gerbers, [Juan] explains how to re-size the pads using ViewMate. If they are exported as DXF files, he explains how to scale them using AutoCAD. The re-sized file is then exported as a PDF.

[Juan's] trick is to actually cut two pieces of 7mil Mylar at the same time. The laser must be calibrated to cut all the way through the top sheet, but only part way into the bottom piece. The laser ends up slightly melting the edges of the little cut out squares. These then get stuck to the bottom Mylar sheet. When you are all done cutting, you can simply pull the sheets apart and end up with one perfect solder stencil and one scrap piece. [Juan] used a Full Spectrum 120W laser cutter at Dallas Makerspace. If you happen to have this same machine, he actually included all of the laser settings on his site.

Using Echoes of Light to Turn Walls into Mirrors

using a wall as a mirror

 

[Matthias] recently published a paper he worked on, in which he details how his group managed to reconstruct a hidden scene using a wall as a mirror in a reasonably priced manner. A modified time-of-flight camera (PMD CamBoard Nano) was used to precisely know when short bursts of light were coming back to its sensor. In the picture shown above the blue represents the camera’s field of view. The green box is the 1.5m*1.5m*2.0m scene of interest and we’re quite sure you already know that the source of illumination, a laser, is shown in red.

As you can guess, the main challenge in this experience was to figure out where the three-times reflected light hitting camera was coming from. As the laser needed to be synchronized with the camera’s exposure cycle it is very interesting to note that part of the challenge was to crack the latter open to sniff the correct signals. Illumination conditions have limited impact on their achieved tolerance of +-15cm.

Laser Cut Miter Joints

polyhedraEvery project deserves its own laser cut enclosure, of course, but the most common method of joinery – an overabundance of mortises and tenons, and if you’re lucky, a bit of kerf bending – is a little unsightly. Until tastes in industrial design change to accommodate this simple but primitive method of joining two laser cut panels together at an angle takes hold, the search will continue for a better way to cut acrylic and plywood on a laser cutter. The folks at Just Add Sharks might have a solution to this problem, though: miter joints with a laser cutter.

Instead of the slots and tabs of the usual method of constructing laser cut enclosures, miter joints produce a nearly seamless method of joining two perpendicular panels. The key, of course, is cutting a 45° bevel at the joint and gluing or fastening the pieces together. Just Add Sharks is doing this with a laser cut jig that holds a plywood or acrylic piece at a 45° angle to the laser beam. Yes, it’s only one cut per pass, but after adjusting the depth of cut to 1.4 times the thickness of the material, miter joints are easy.

Using a laser for miter joints isn’t limited to 45°, either. There are a few examples of an octahedron and icosahedron. Of course fastening these mitered panels together will be a challenge, but that’s what clamps and glue are for.

Better Lasing With Pulses

laser

The folks at the Lansing, Michigan hackerspace built themselves a 40 Watt laser cutter. It’s an awesome machine capable of cutting plywood and acrylic, and is even powered by a RAMPS board, something normally found in 3D printers. They wanted a little more power out of their 40 Watt tube, though, and found pulsing the laser was the best way to do that.

Unlike the fancy Epilog and Full Spectrum Laser machines, the Buildlog.net 2.x laser cutter found in the Lansing Hackerspace didn’t use Pulse-Per-Inch (PPI) control until very recently. When a laser tube is turned on, the output power of the laser is much higher – nearly double the set value – for a few milliseconds. By pulsing the laser in 2-3 ms bursts, it’s possible to have a higher effective output from a laser, and has the nice added benefit of keeping the laser cooler. The only problem, then, is figuring out how to pulse the laser as a function of the distance traveled.

To do this, the laser cutter must accurately know the position of the laser head at all times. This could be done with encoders, which would require a new solution for each controller board. Since laser cutters are usually driven by stepper motors controlled with step and direction signals, a much better solution would be to count these signals coming from the CNC computer before it goes to the RAMPS driver, and turn the laser on and off as it moves around the bed.

A few tests were done using various PPI settings, each one inch long, shown in the pic above. At 200 PPI, the laser creates a continuous line, and at higher PPI settings, the lines are smoother, but get progressively wider. The difference between PPI settings and having the laser constantly on is subtle, but it’s there; it’s not quite the difference between an axe and a scalpel, but it is a bit like the difference between a scalpel and a steak knife.

It’s an impressive build for sure, and something that brings what is essentially a homebrew laser cutter a lot closer to the quality of cutters costing thousands of dollars. Awesome work.

 

The Laser Cutter Attachment For A 3D Printer

cheapo If you already have a 3D printer, you already have a machine that will trace out gears, cogs, and enclosures over an XY plane. How about strapping a laser to your extruder and turning your printer into a laser cutter? That’s what [Spiritplumber] did, and he’s actually cutting 3/16″ wood and 1/4″ acrylic with his 3D printer.

[Spiritplumber] is using a 445nm laser diode attached directly to his extruder mount to turn his 3D printer into a laser cutter. The great thing about putting a laser diode on an extruder is that no additional power supplies are needed; after installing a few connectors near the hot end, [Spiritplumber] is able to switch from extruding to lasing by just swapping a few wires. The software isn’t a problem either: it’s all just Gcode and DXFs, anyway.

There’s an Indiegogo for this, with the laser available for $200. Compare that to the Chinese laser cutters on eBay, and you can see why this is called the L-CHEAPO laser cutter.

Automatic Laser Level Made From Hard Drive Components?

hard drive laser level

[Crispndry] found he needed a laser level, but didn’t want to spend a few hundred dollars on a tool he might only get a few uses out of… So he decided to build one himself.

If you’re not familiar, a laser level projects a laser beam, level to wherever you put it — it works by having a very precise gimbal assembly that keeps the laser perpendicular to the force of gravity. To build his, [Crispndry] needed a highly precise bearing assembly in order to build his gimbal — what better to use one out of a hard drive?

He used the main bearing from the platter for one axis, and the bearing from the read and write arm for the second axis. A square tube of aluminum filled with MDF is then mounted to the bearings, creating a weighted pendulum. The laser pointer is then attached to this with an adjustment screw for calibration.  [Read more...]

OpenExposer, The DIY SLA Printer

printer

Precisely applied ultraviolet light is an amazing thing. You can expose PCBs, print 3D objects, and even make a laser light show. Over on the Projects site, [Mario] is building a machine that does all of these things. It’s called the OpenExposer, and even if it doesn’t win the Hackaday Prize, it’s a great example of how far you can go with some salvaged electronics and a 3D printer.

The basic plan of the OpenExposer is a 3D printer with a small slit cut into the bed, and a build platform that moves in the Z axis. The bed contains a small UV laser and a polygon mirror ripped from a dead tree laser printer. By moving the bed in the Y direction, [Mario] shoot his laser anywhere on an XY plane. Put a tank filled with UV curing resin on the bed, and he has an SLA printer. Put a mounting bracket on the bed, and double-sided PCBs are a cinch.

The frame is made of 3D printed parts and standard RepRap rods, with the only hard to source component being the polygonal mirror. These can be sourced from scrounged laser printers, but there’s probably some company in China that will sell them bulk. The age of cheap SLA printers is dawning, friends. Video below, github here.

[Read more...]

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