Low-Power SMD Fireflies


[Tyson’s] family went with creating rather than buying Christmas presents last month, which gave him the opportunity to build some electronic fireflies for gifts. He drew inspiration from a similar firefly project we featured last year, but expanded on the original model by designing dedicated PCBs and housings for each of his firefly pieces.

Although he’d settled on using ATTiny85’s for this project, [Tyson] was fresh out of through-hole versions. He decided to skip the prototyping phase and go right for fabrication, cranking up the laser-jet printer for some toner-transfer, which successfully produced 4 functioning boards (and 3 failures). The fireflies were [Tyson’s] first attempt at SMD soldering, and we’d have to say it’s a job well done; he reflowed each board with a cheap-o heatgun from Harbor Freight.

After some hiccups with fuse programming, [Tyson] got the code uploaded and the fireflies illuminated.  Swing by his site for the nuts and bolts on construction, then snag the project files here. (Direct .zip download)

Woodcut Stamps and Conductive Ink


Even though it’s been a while since the Rome Maker Faire, we’re still getting some tips from the trenches of Europe’s largest gathering of makers. One of these is a 30-minute experiment from [Luong]. He wondered if it would be possible to create SMD circuit boards by using a 3D printer to fabricate a stamp for conductive ink.

[Luong] told this idea  to a few folks around the faire, and the idea eventually wound up in the laps of the guys from TechLab. the Chieri, Italy hackerspace. They suggested cutting a wooden stamp using a laser cutter and within 30 minutes of the idea’s inception a completed stamp for an Atari Punk Console PCB was in [Luong]’s hands.

As an experiment, the idea was a tremendous success. As a tool, the stamp didn’t perform as well as hoped; the traces didn’t transfer properly, and there’s no way this wooden laser cut stamp could ever create usable PCBs.

That being said, we’re thinking [Luong] is on the right track here with printed PCBs. One of the holy grails of home fabrication is the creation of printed circuit boards, and even a partial success is too big to ignore.

This idea for CNC-created PCB stamps might work with a different material – linoleum or other rubber stamp material, or even a CNC milled aluminum plate. If you have any ideas on how to use this technique for PCB creation, leave a note in the comments, or better yet, try it out for yourself.

Desoldering chips with fire


Salvaging components is a staple of any electronic enthusiast, but many times those interesting chips – old 8-bit microcontrollers, memories, and CPUs found in everything from game consoles to old computers – are rather difficult to remove from a board. [Ryan] over on Instructables has a rather interesting method of removing old SMD packages using nothing more than a little fire and a pair of tweezers.

Obviously the best way to go about salvaging SMD components is with a heat gun, but lacking the requisite equipment, [Ryan] managed to remove a few SMD chips using rubbing alcohol as a heat source. In a properly controlled environment, [Ryan] filled a small metal dish with alcohol, set it on fire, and used the heat generated to remove a few components. Alcohol lamps are a common bench tool in a range of repair disciplines because the fuel is cheap and burns relatively cleanly (not leaving an unwanted residue on the thing you’re heating).

It’s an interesting kludge, and given [Ryan]’s display of desoldered components, we’re going to call it a success. It might also work for through-hole components, allowing for easy removal of old SRAM, ROM, and other awesome chips.

A pick and place tool from medical equipment


A vacuum tool is an invaluable tool if you’re working with tiny SMD parts, and even with tweezers you might have a hard time placing these nearly invisible components on their pads for soldering. One tool that’s really great for these parts is a vacuum pen, usually made from an old aquarium air pump. [Jon] may have found a much more suitable piece of equipment to scavenge for a vacuum pen build – a nebulizer.

Nebulizers provide asthmatics with low pressure, low volume air to atomize medication for inhalation. Inside the nebulizer is a small diaphragm pump, just like the small aquarium pump teardowns we’ve seen. In just five minutes, [Jon] tore his thrift store nebulizer apart and reversed the flow of air, turning something that blows into something that sucks.

After the suction part of the build was finished, [Jon] needed a way to pick up small components. He did this by blunting a large hypodermic needle and fastening it to the end of a Bic pen with heat shrink tubing. After drilling a small hole in the pen body, he had a very nice looking SMD vacuum pump.

Electric skillet reflow soldering guide


It’s no secret that we’re bizarrely drawn to macro videos showing solder paste during the reflow process. This electric skillet reflow guide provides the fix we’ve been jonesin’ for while including some helpful tips for first-timers and veterans alike. Not sure what we’re talking about? Look at the grey paste at the top of this image. As it heats up it’s drawn under each component as seen in the lower half of the image.

This particular guide is aimed at one-off assembly so a solder paste stencil is not used (we learned a lot about those earlier in the month). It instead uses the painstaking toothpick application technique. It takes time but the upside is that once you get the hang of it you’ll apply the perfect amount of solder each time. After placing all of the components [Count Spicy] carefully transfers the board to an electric skillet, covers it with the glass lid (so he can see what’s going on), and sets the temperature just above the solder’s specified melting point.

Since the skillet is cheap and easy to find you really just have to order the solder paste to get into this type of assembly. Our only gripe is that you can’t really follow a temperature profile with this rig. For that you need to move up to some PID controlled hardware.

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Semi-automatic pick and place machine


This is a fascinating take on building your own pick and place machine. It does an amazing job of automating the hardest parts of hand assembly, while relying on human dexterity to achieve the hardest parts of automation. It’s a semiautomatic pick and place machine driven by an Arduino and controlled by an Android tablet.

The machine is built in two parts. The portion in the upper left feeds components from reels and is fully automated. The portion on the lower right consists of a padded arm-rest which slides smoothly along two axes. A mechanical arm with multiple articulations is attached to the end, culminating in a tip connector for some vacuum tweezers. Right handers are the only ones who will find this convenient, but oh well. The clip after the break shows it in action. The assembly technician first selects the component from an icon on the Android tablet. The reel machine then dispenses that part, which is picked up by the vacuum tweezers using the left hand to switch the vacuum on and off again. If the part orientation needs to be rotated it can done using the jog wheel on the Android app. It smooth, quick, and best of all, clever!

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Hackaday Links: Sunday, April 14th, 2013


We figure we have to start off this week’s links post talking about PETMAN. Boston Dynamics shows off the humanoid robot donning a full chemical suit. It’s a lot scarier than when we first saw it as a couple of legs a few years ago [Thanks Joshua].

Seeing something like that might drive you back to smoking cigarettes. But since that’s pretty bad for your health perhaps you just need a mechanical chain-smoking machine to take the edge off. That thing can really suck ’em down! [Thanks Mike]

Last week’s links included a bit about the Raspberry Pi 2.0 board version’s reset header. [Brian] wrote in to share a link for adding reset to a 1.0 revision board.

Speaking of RPi, [Elvis Impersonator] is using it to automate his garage door with the help of Siri.

In shop news, [Brad] needed to sharpen a few hundred pencils quickly and ended up melting the gears on his electric sharpener. Transplanting the parts to his drill press gave him more power to get the job done in about six minutes.

And finally, you can forget how to decipher those SMD resistor codes. Looks like surface mount resistors might be unmarked like their capacitor brethren. We were tipped off by [Lindsey] who got the news by way of [Dangerous Prototypes and Electronics Lab]