Rapidly Prototyping RF Filters

RF filters are really just a handful of strategically placed inductors and capacitors. Yes, you can make a 1 GHz filter out of through-hole components, but the leads on the parts turn into inductors at those frequencies, completely ruining the expected results in a design.

The solution to this is microstrip antennas, or carefully arranged tracks and pads on a PCB. Anyone can build one of these with Eagle or KiCad, but that means waiting for an order from a board house to verify your design. [VK2SEB] has a better idea for prototyping PCB filters: use copper tape on blank FR4 sheets.

The first, and simplest, filter demonstrated is a simple bandstop filter. This is really just a piece of fiberglass with copper laminated to one side. Two RF connectors are soldered to the edges and a strip of copper tape strung between them. Somewhere around the middle of this copper tape, [VK2SEB] put another strip of copper tape in a ‘T’ configuration. This is the simplest bandstop filter you can make, and the beauty of this construction is that it can be tuned with a razor blade.

Of course, a filter can only be built with copper tape if you can design them, and for that [SEB] is turning to software. The Qucs project is a software tool for designing and simulating these microstrip filters, and after inputting the correct parameters, [SEB] got a nice diagram of what the filter should look like. A bit of taping, razor blading, and soldering and [SEB] had a working filter connected to a spectrum analyzer. Did it work? To a limited extent; the PCB material probably wasn’t right, and board houses are more accurate than a razor blade, but [SEB] did manage to create a 10 GHz filter out of fiberglass and copper tape.

You can check out the video for this experiment below.

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Fail Of The Week: How Not To Use Pushbuttons

If you are a regular at creating printed circuit boards, it is likely that somewhere in your shop there will be a discard pile of boards on which you placed a component in the wrong orientation such that it would not work. It’s easily done, and don’t be shy to admit it if it’s happened to you.

[Bill] was making his own ARM developer board, taking inspiration from the ARM Pro Mini. He produced his PCB design and sent it off to the board house, and in due course received and reflow soldered a batch of beautiful dev boards. On power-up though, something was wrong! No USB device detected on his computer, a disaster. A lot of studying board and schematic led to the discovery that his push-button switches had been placed at 90 degrees to the orientation it should have had, leaving them in a permanently “on” position.

The PCB bug makes this is a Fail Of The Week post, but he transformed into a win with some experimentation with the switch outline in KiCAD before finding a way to mount the switches on the pads at 45 degrees, covering three of the pads. Well done, and well done for admitting the error.

[Editor’s note: been there, done that. One way to prevent the error is to only connect to diagonally opposite pins of the tact switch, so the rotation doesn’t matter.]

Having earlier asked others to come clean with their PCB mistakes, it’s probably appropriate to admit that Hackaday scribes are just as fallible as [Bill] when it comes to PCB layouts. Somewhere there may still be a board on this bench with a QFN microcontroller bodged on at 90 degrees to its original orientation, with cut tracks and tiny wire runs.

Whether you are a seasoned PCB pro or a wet-behind-the-ears rookie, our Creating a PCB In Everything series should be of interest.

Laser Exposing PCBs With A Blu-Ray Laser

For those of us whose introduction to PCB making came decades ago and who share fond memories of permanent markers and crêpe paper sticky tape, the array of techniques available to PCB artists of today seem nothing short of magical. Toner transfer and peroxide etchant mixtures might seem run-of-the-mill to many readers, but even they are streets ahead of their predecessors from times past.

Photographic exposure of  etch-resist coating has traditionally been performed with a UV lamp through a sheet of acetate film, but there is no reason why that should be the only way it can be performed. There have been plenty of projects using lasers or LEDs to draw a PCB design onto the coating as a raster, and a rather nice example from [Terje Io] using a Blu-Ray laser diode is the subject of the video below the break.

The diode is mounted on a gantry with a THK KR33 linear actuator that he tells us was unsuitable for his CNC mill due to backlash. This gives a claimed 1200 dpi resolution, over a 100 mm x 160 mm exposure area. Software is provided in a GitHub repository, taking a PNG image exported through a PDF printer. And since it’s got a UV laser, it can be used in a second pass to process UV-responsive soldermask film. ([Terje] cheats and uses a separate CNC mill to drill out the holes.) The result looks great.

Continue reading “Laser Exposing PCBs With A Blu-Ray Laser”

Hackaday Prize Entry: PCBs On Demand with Etchr

The ambitious etchr – the PCB Printer is just a concept at the moment, but it’s not often we see someone trying to tackle desktop PCB production in a new way. Creator [Jonathan Beri] is keenly aware that when it comes to creating electronics, the bottleneck for most workflows is the PCB itself. Services like OSH Park make professionally fabricated PCBs accessible at a low cost, but part of the bargain is that turnaround times are often measured in weeks.

[Jonathan]’s concept for etchr is a small system that automates not only etching a copper-clad board with all the attendant flooding and draining of chemicals, but applying a solder mask and silkscreen layer labeling as well. The only thing left to do would be to drill any required holes.

The idea behind etchr is to first take a copper-clad board with photoresistive film or spray applied to it, and fix it into a frame. A UV projector takes care of putting the traces pattern onto the board (and also handles a UV-curable solder mask in a later step) and the deep frame doubles as a receptacle for any chemical treatments such as the etching and cleaning. It’s an ambitious project, but the processes behind each step are well-understood and bringing them all together in a single machine is an intriguing approach.

Desktop production of PCBs can be done in a few ways, including etching via the toner transfer method (whose results our own Elliot Williams clearly explained how to take from good to great). An alternative is to mill the PCBs out directly, a job a tool like the Othermill is designed specifically to do. It’s interesting to see an approach that includes applying a solder mask.

PCB Art Becomes Lapel Pins

We’re now living in the golden age of PCB art. Over the last year or so, the community has learned to manipulate silk screen, copper, and solder mask layers into amazing pieces of craftsmanship. These boards are putting the ‘A’ in STEAM, and now we have fiberglass replacements for enamel lapel pins.

[jglim] didn’t have much experience with fabric, but a PCB lapel pin was something that seemed like it should work. There are really only three parts to a lapel pin — the small ornamental pin itself, a solderable spike somehow attached to the pin (usually by soldering), and a clasp that holds the pin steadfastly to a lapel. The spike and clasp assembly were easily sourced on AliExpress, with one hundred clasps available for seven dollerydoos.  Attaching the spike to the PCB was as simple as adding a circular copper pad on the obverse side, applying some solder, and the liberal application of toaster ovens.

The design of the pin was based on the HTML5 logo, with the actual art done in Photoshop using a palette picked from OSHPark’s preview colors. The four colors used in this design are bare copper, a light purple for mask over copper, a darker purple for mask without copper, and a pale yellow for exposed FR4. This design was imported into KiCad with the Bitmap2Component tool.

The assembly of these lapel pins went very easily, and the finished product looks great. There’s a lot you can do with the standard OSHPark color stackup like making money of me, and this is a great example of exactly how much you can do with PCB art.

Home Built PCB Mill Reportedly Doesn’t Suck

It’s 2017, and getting a PCB professionally made is cheaper and easier than ever. However, unless you’re lucky enough to be in Shenzhen, you might find it difficult to get them quickly, due to the vagaries of international shipping. Whether you want to iterate quickly on designs, or just have the convenience of speed, it can be useful to be able to make your own PCBs at home. [Timo Birnschein] had just such a desire and set about building a PCB mill that doesn’t suck.

It might sound obvious, but it bears thinking about — if you know you’re incapable of building a good PCB mill in a reasonable period of time, you might save yourself a lot of pain and lost weekends by just ordering PCBs elsewhere. [Timo] was fairly confident however that the build would be able to churn out some usable boards, however, and got to work.

The build is meant to be accessible to the average hacker who wants one. The laser cut & 3D printed parts are readily available these days thanks to online services that can manufacture for those who don’t have the machines at home. [Timo] uses a rotary multitool for a spindle, a common choice for a budget CNC build.

With the hardware complete, [Timo] has spent time working on optimising the software side of things. Through careful optimisation of the G-Code, [Timo] has been able to improve performance and reduce stress on the tooling. It’s not enough to just build a good mill — you’ve got to have your G-Code squared away as well.

Overall, the results speak for themselves. The boards don’t suck; the mill can do traces down to 8 mil, and even drill the holes. We’d love to have one on the workbench when busting out some quick prototypes. For another take on the home-built PCB mill, why not check out this snap-together version?

An Hour to Surface Mount

Most of us have made the transition from through hole parts to surface mount. There are lots of scattered tutorials, but if you want to learn some techniques or compare your technique to someone else’s, you might enjoy [Moto Geek’s] hour-long video on how he does surface mount with reflow soldering. You can see the video below.

What makes the video interesting is that it is an hour long and covers the gamut from where to get cheap PCBs, to a homebrew pick and place pencil. [Moto Geek] uses a stencil with solder paste, and he provides links to the materials he uses. Continue reading “An Hour to Surface Mount”