How Commercial Printed Circuit Boards Are Made

Most of us who have dabbled a little in electronics will have made our own printed circuit boards at some point. We’ll have rubbed on sticky transfers, laser-printed onto acetate, covered our clothing with ferric chloride stains, and applied ourselves to the many complex and tricky processes involved. And after all that, there’s a chance we’ll have ended up with boards that were over or under-etched, and had faults. For many the arrival of affordable online small-run professional PCB production from those mostly-overseas suppliers has been a step-change to our electronic construction abilities.

[Fran Blanche] used to make her own boards for her Frantone effects pedals, but as she admits it was a process that could at times be tedious. With increased production she had to move to using a board house, and for her that means a very high-quality local operation rather than one on the other side of the world. In the video below the break she takes us through each step of the PCB production process as it’s done by the professionals with a human input rather than by robots or ferric-stained dilettantes.

Though it’s twenty minutes or so long it’s an extremely interesting watch, as while we’re all used to casually specifying the parameters of the different layers and holes in our CAD packages we may not have seen how they translate to the real-world processes that deliver our finished boards. Some operations are very different from those you’d do at home, for example the holes are drilled as a first step rather than at the end because as you might imagine the through-plating process needs a hole to plate. The etching is a negative process rather than a positive one, because it serves to expose the tracks for the plating process before etching, and the plating becomes the etch resist.

If you’re used to packages from far afield containing your prototype PCBs landing on your doorstep as if by magic, take a look. It’s as well to know a little more detail about how they were made.

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This EAGLE Script Gets Quotes For Your Boards

Weary of manually entering manufacturing parameters into PCBShopper’s web form, [Jeremy Ruhland] created an awesome shortcut: His ULP script lets you obtain quotes from 26 PCB manufacturers around the world directly from your EAGLE board layout.

The script extracts all relevant data from your layout, including board size, the layer count, minimum trace widths and hole diameters. It then let’s you specify a few more in a tidy dialogue before sending you to the PCB manufacturing price comparison site PCBShopper.com with a custom query for board quotes.

It works like a charm, and [Jeremy] also plans to add a shortcut button to the EAGLE layout editor’s toolbar. Since the script implements the entire PCBShopper API, for which [Jeremy] cooperates with PCBShopper.com owner [Bob Alexander], it’s also a great starting point for the development of scripts that work with other board layout tools.

Thanks to [Matthew Venn] for the title photo (via Flickr)!

Hackaday Prize Entry: Printem Is Polaroid For PCBs

We are going to great lengths to turn a quick idea into an electronic prototype, be it PCB milling, home etching or manufacturing services that ship PCBs around the world. Unwilling to accept the complications of PCB fabrication, computer science student [Varun Perumal Chadalavada] came up with an express solution for PCB prototyping: Printem – a Polaroid-like film for instant-PCBs.

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Single sided Arduino is a great introduction to PCB etching

After you’ve taken the plunge and decided to learn how to etch your own circuit boards, you’ll quickly find even the simplest boards are still out of your grasp. This is due mostly to the two-layer nature of most PCBs, and turn making a homemade Arduino board an exercise in frustration and improving your vocabulary of four-letter words.

After looking around for an easy-to-manufacture single-sided Arduino board, [Johan] realized there weren’t many options for someone new to board etching. He created the Nanino, quite possibly the simplist Arduino compatible board that can be made in a kitchen sink.

Billing it as something between the Veroduino and the Diavolino, [Johan]’s board does away with all the complexities of true Arduinos by throwing out the USB interface and FTDI chip. A very small parts count makes the Nanino much less expensive to produce in quantity than even the official Arduino single sided board.

For an introduction to etching your own PCBs at home, we couldn’t think of a better first board. As an Arduino, you’re guaranteed to find some use for it and the ease of manufacture and low parts count makes it the perfect subject for your hackerspace’s next tutorial series.

Going from idea to schematic to printed PCB

Building a circuit on a bread board makes life much easier, but eventually you’re going to want a PCB for one of your circuits. Luckily, [Will] from Revolt Lab put up a trio of posts that will take you idea and turn it into a schematic and PCB.

First up is an awesome tutorial on the circuit design program Fritzing. While you won’t find Fritzing on the computer of anyone making a living doing circuit design work – those people usually go for Eagle or KiCad – Fritzing is very easy to use but still has a ton of features. Using Fritzing isn’t very hard, either. [Will]’s tutorial goes over copying your breadboarded circuit into Fritzing, creating a schematic from the bread board layout, and finally converting that to PCB artwork.

Once you have board artwork for your circuit, you’re probably going to want a real-life PCB. [Will]’s board etching tutorial goes over the toner transfer method of PCB creation. Basically, print your circuit onto glossy photo paper with a laser printer, put it face down on a copper board, then take a clothes iron to it. If you’re lucky, the laser printer toner will have transferred to the copper making a nice etch resist. To get rid of all that superfluous copper, [Will] used ferric chloride but a Hydrochloric Acid/Hydrogen Peroxide mix will work just as well.

Before you etch your boards, you might want to thing about building an etch tank that keeps all your slightly dangerous chemicals in one container. [Will]’s etch tank uses a large water container and a few pieces of LEGO to suspend the board in the etch solution. It etches boards a lot faster than laying them face down in a tray, allowing you to go from idea to finished piece a lot quicker.