A relative latecomer to The Hackaday Prize, [AltMarcxs] has nevertheless come up with a very interesting tool for fabrication, the likes of which no one has ever seen before. It’s a rotating laser soldering paste applicator, meant to be an add-on to a CNC machine. What does it do? RIght now it looks extremely cool while being an immense time sink for [AltMarcxs], but the potential is there for being much more than that, ranging from a pick and place machine that also dispenses solder paste, to the closest thing you’ll ever get to a carbon fiber printer.
[AltMarcxs]’s build consists of two 3W laser diodes focused just beyond the tip of the syringe. The syringe dispenses solder paste, and rotating the diodes around, [Alt] is able to put a melted solder blob anywhere on a piece of perfboard. He put up a reasonably well focused video demonstrating this.
With a few homebrew pick and place machines making the semifinalist cut for The Hackaday Prize, it’s easy to see the utility of something like this: Putting a board in a machine, pressing a button, and waiting a bit for a completely populated and soldered board is a dream of the electronic hobbyist rivaled only by a cheap and easy way to make PCBs at home. [AltMarxcs]’s machine could be one step on the way to this, but there are a few other ideas he’d like to explore first.
The build also has wire feeders that allow a bit of copper wire to be soldered to the newly formed metal blob. There are plans to replace this with a composite fiber, replace the paste in the syringe with a UV resin, cut the fiber and cure the resin with the laser, and build something much better than other carbon fiber 3D printers we’ve seen before.
[Geir Andersen] of Let’s Make Robots has been venturing deeper and deeper into the wonderful world of surface mounted devices, which as you know, can be tricky to solder! Not wanting to shell out a few hundred for a professional solder paste dispenser (and air compressor), [Geir] decided to build his own.
It allows him to use a standard syringe for solder paste, which can easily be refilled using this technique. The professional dispensers use air pressure to control the flow of the paste, but [Geir] decided to go the all-electric route instead. He’s hooked up a small stepper motor to a threaded shaft which can push the plunger up and down the syringe.
Couple that with a few 3D printed parts for the housing, a nicely designed PCB, and bam you have yourself a super handy solder paste dispenser! He’s even included a small potentiometer on the board to change the speed of the motor. It might not be quite as accurate as a professional one, but as you can see in the video after the break it seems to work great for [Geir’s] purposes.
There’s a strange middle ground in PCB production when it comes to making a few boards. Dispensing solder paste onto one board is easy enough with a syringe or toothpick, but when pasting up even a handful of boards, this method gets tiresome. Solder paste stencils speed up the process when you’re doing dozens or hundreds of boards, but making a stencil for just a few boards is a waste. The solution for this strange middle ground is, of course, to retrofit a 3D printer to dispense solder paste.
This project was a collaboration between [Jake] and [hzeller] to transform KiCAD files to G Code for dispensing solder paste directly onto a board. The machine they used was a Type A Machines printer with a solder paste dispenser in place of an extruder. The dispenser is hooked up to the fan output of the controller board, and from the looks of the video, they’re getting pretty good results for something that’s still very experimental.
[Michel] was in need of a 9V battery connector, and in a brilliant bit of insight realized 9V batteries will plug directly into other 9V batteries (just… don’t do that. ever.) Taking a dead 9V, he tore it open, was disappointed by the lack of AAAA cells, and soldered some wires onto the connector.
Sometimes a project starts off as a reasonable endeavour, but quickly becomes something much more awesome. [Wallyman] started off building a hammock stand and ended up making a giant slingshot. We’re not one to argue with something that just became a million times more fun.
We’ve seen solder stencils made out of laser-cut metal, photoetched metal, plastic cut on a vinyl cutter, laser-cut plastic, and now finally one made on a 3D printer. It’s a pretty simple process – get the tCream layer into a .DXF file, then subtract it from a plastic plate in OpenSCAD.
Apple loves their proprietary screws, and when [Jim] tried to open his Macbook Air with the pentalobe screwdriver that came with an iPhone repair kit, he found it was too large. No problem, then: just grind it down. Now if only someone could tell us why a laptop uses smaller screws than a phone…
[Victor] has been playing around with an RTLSDR USB TV tuner dongle for a few months now. It’s a great tool, but the USB thumb drive form factor wasn’t sitting well with him. To fix that, he stuck everything into a classy painted Hammond 1590A enclosure. It looks much cooler, and now [Victor] can waterproof his toy and add a ferrite to clean things up.
LIB3 is an open source hardware start-up from upstate New York. Thus far, the team has made some interesting products such as the piLED kit. However, they have big dreams for the future. LIB3 plans to become a contract assembly house specifically targeting low volume makers. To do this they have to build their own tools. LIB3’s latest project is a solder paste dispenser for surface mount components. Traditionally solder paste is applied with stencils made of stainless steel. In more recent years laser cut kapton has become a favorite for low volume production.
Both of these systems require a stencil to be made up. LIB3 took a different approach, and modified an old CNC glue dispenser for paste. The team got their hands on an 1991 vintage X/Y glue dispensing system. X/Y systems in this era were big, heavy affairs with powerful motors. LIB3 removed all the control electronics and built their own system from scratch. New features include direct computer control, and a vision system.
When looking for a way to make his own stencils he considered two options: plastic and aluminum. He produced both (more about the plastic stencil and his reflow process is discussed in this post). Plastic is a bit easier to work with since it lays flat. But it proves to be too thick. After applying paste with a squeegee there’s way too much solder on the pads. Aluminum beverage can walls are much thinner, depositing less paste.
We’ve seen soda cans used in the past, but they were produced through an etching process. [Simon] cut these holes using a CNC mill. This required a bit of futzing to figure out the right settings. For instance, he used Altium to produce CAM files from his circuit design. But the program is set up to mill the outside of traces, resulting in openings that are too large. He fixed this by setting the pasted expansion rule in the program to a negative value. The other advantage to using a mill is that he can cut precision tooling holes to ensure proper alignment. You can see them in the upper corners of this image.
There’s some really cool stuff to find if you wander around a Michaels craft shop or Hobby Lobby long enough. Recently, [Ben] picked up a craft cutter – a small vinyl cutter-like device meant for scrapbooking and other crafty endevours. He’s using this machine to create solder paste stencils that are better than any laser cut stencil he’s used before.
Like a build we’ve seen before, [Ben] is using a desktop-sized vinyl cutter, the Sihouette Portrait, with 4 mil Mylar. After converting the relevent layers of a Gerber file into .SVG files, [Ben] loaded up Robocut to cut very, very small holes in his solder stencil. The results are great; much better than a laser would cut Mylar, and good enough to apply paste to a few hundred boards at least.
While [Ben] is using his stencils to apply solder paste, we’re wondering if a similar process could be used to apply a UV-curing solder mask to home-fabbed boards. That would allow for some very professional-looking boards to be produced with a turnaround time of just a few hours.