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”

Panelizing Boards The Easy Way

For reasons that will remain undisclosed until some time in the future, I recently had a need to panelize a few PCBs. Panelization is the art of taking PCB designs you already have, whether they’re KiCad board files, Eagle board files, or just Gerbers, and turning them into a single collection of PCBs that can be sent off to a fab house.

Now this is panel racing

If you’re still wondering what this means, take a look at the last board you got from OSH Park, Seeed, Itead, or Dirty PCBs. Around the perimeter of your board, you’ll find some rough spots. These are ‘mouse bites’ and tabs, places where the boards are strung together to form a gigantic rectangular panel sent off to a manufacturer. You can check out this great interview with [Laen] from OSH Park to get an idea of how this works, but the basic process is to take a bunch of Gerbers, add tabs and mouse bites, solve the knapsack problem, and send the completed panel off to a board house.

Panelizing boards is something most of us won’t have to do often. Really, you only want a panel of boards when you’re manufacturing something. For small-scale production and prototypes, bare boards will do just fine. Simply by virtue of the fact that panelizing boards is far less common than throwing some Gerbers at OSH Park or Seeed, there aren’t many (good) tutorials, and even fewer (good) tools to do so. This is how you panelize boards quickly and easily using Open Source tools.

Continue reading “Panelizing Boards The Easy Way”

Friday Hack Chat: Perfect Purple PCBs

Every Friday, we gather ’round the hot air gun over on Hackaday.io, invite some cool people over, and get them to talk about what they do. This is the Hack Chat. It’s become a tradition, and already we’ve had a ton of awesome people walk through our doors.

This Friday, we’re going to sit down with the purveyors of perfect purple PCBs. Over the last decade or so, a lot has changed in the space of small-run PCB production. Ten years ago, PCBs were expensive, and it wouldn’t be abnormal to spend hundreds of dollars on a small run of tiny boards. Now, The DEF CON 24 badge, in a panel are cheaper than ever, giving industrious hardware creators access to professional quality manufacturing at a fraction of the price seen just a few years ago.

For the last few years, OSH Park has been a mainstay of low-volume PCB fabrication. Their website is as simple as it gets: Upload some Gerbers, an Eagle board file, or a KiCad PCB, press a few buttons, and in a week or so you’ll have a perfect purple PCB in your mailbox.

This week, we’re inviting [Drew Fustini] and [Dan Sheadel] to talk about what OSH Park does, how they became the first place that comes to mind when you need a PCB. They’ll explain why the boards are purple, environmental regulations for PCB manufacturing in the US, shared projects and tips and tricks for creating the perfect board.

What would you like to see from a PCB supplier? Would you like to see OSH Park expand further into their burgeoning Pog business? How about a sticker club? Who would win in a fight, a blue robot dog or a purple robot shark? All these questions and more will be answered; if you have a question for the OSH Park team, drop it in this spreadsheet.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This hack chat will take place at noon Pacific time on Friday, June 23rd. Confused about where and when ‘noon’ is? Here’s a time and date converter!

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about

Laser PCBs with LDGraphy

There are many, many ways to get a PCB design onto a board for etching. Even with practice however, the quality of the result varies with the process and equipment used. With QFN parts becoming the norm, the days of etch-resist transfers and a permanent marker are all but gone. Luckily, new and improved methods of Gerber transfer have be devised in recent years thanks to hackers across the world.

One such hacker, [Henner] is working on a project called LDGraphy in an attempt to bring high-resolution etching to the masses. LDGraphy is a laser lithography device that makes use of a laser and a Beaglebone green to etch the layout onto the board. The best part is that the entire BOM is claimed to cost under a $100 which makes it affordable to people on a budget.

The system is designed around a 500 mW laser and a polygon mirror scanner meant for a laser printer. The board with photoresist is linearly actuated in the X-axis using a stepper motor and the laser beam which is bounced off the rotating hexagonal mirror is responsible for the Y-axis. The time critical code for the Programmable Realtime Unit (PRU) of the AM335X processor is written in assembly for the fast laser switching. The enclosure is, naturally, a laser cut acrylic case and is made at [Henner]’s local hackerspace.

[Henner] has been hard at work calibrating his design and compensating for the inaccuracies of the components used. In the demo video below he presents a working version with a resolution of 6 mils which is wonderful considering the cost of the machine. He also shares his code on GitHub if you want to help out and you can track his updates on Google+. Continue reading “Laser PCBs with LDGraphy”