Hackaday Prize Entry: DIY Ceramic PCBs

We’ve seen hundreds of ways to create your own PCBs at home. If you have a laser printer, you can put traces on a piece of copper clad board. If you have some hydrogen peroxide and acid, you can etch those traces. Don’t have either? Build a tiny mill and cut through the copper with a Dremel. Making your own PCBs at home is easy, provided your boards are made out of FR4 and copper sheets.

Printed circuit boards can be so much cooler than a piece of FR4, though. Ceramic PCBs are the height of board fabrication technology, producing a very hard board with near perfect electrical properties, high thermal conductivity, and a dielectric strength similar to mineral transformer oil. Ceramic PCBs are for electronics going to space or inside nuclear reactors.

For his entry into this year’s Hackaday Prize, [Chuck] is building these space grade PCBs. Not only is he tackling the hardest challenge PCB fabrication has to offer, he’s building a machine to automate the process.

The basic process of building ceramic PCBs is to create a sheet of alumina, glass powder, and binder. This sheet is first drilled out, then silver ink is printed on top. Layers of these sheets are stacked on top of each other, and the whole stack is rammed together in a press and fired in a furnace.

Instead of making his own unfired ceramic sheets, he’s just buying it off the shelf. It costs about a dollar per square inch. This material is held down on a laser cutter/inkjet combo machine with a vacuum table. It’s just a beginning, but [Chuck] has everything he needs to start his experiments in creating truly space grade PCBs.

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DIY PCB Fixture Helps You Spread the Paste

(Yeah, we don’t know what that title means either.) But holding your PCBs down in one place and nicely registered while you spread solder paste over them is a problem that needs solving, and [Carsten] did it nicely.

High volume PCB manufacturers have expensive screen printers to do this. The standard hardware hacker solution is to tape some scrap PCBs of the same thickness down to the table to hold the PCBs solidly in place. But if you’re doing a large run, and if you’re already firing up the laser to cut out mylar stencils, you might as well cut out some PCB-holding fixtures to match.

[Carsten]’s blog entry is short on details, but you get the idea just from looking at the picture, right? Adding registration pins to the holder that engage with the stencils could make this a real time-saver as well. As long as you’re lasering the stencil and the holder, there’s nothing stopping you. It’s a simple idea, but a good one, so we thought we’d share. Our only remaining question: what’s a Karate Light?

Building a Sturdy Remote Control Mailbox

This DIY mailbox pretty much has it all. Not only is it waterproof and secure, it’s beautifully built and unlikely to arouse the suspicion of or induce fear in the mailman.

It’s made of 2mm thick sheet metal and features accents made of merri, a rather nice blood wood native to Western Australia. [George] of Make It Extreme built this mailbox primarily for remote control access, the idea being that each of his family members would have a key fob remote to open it. There’s an input panel under the lid in case someone loses or forgets their remote.

The setup is simple. That 12V solar panel under the address number is connected to a solar charge controller and charges a small battery. Pushing the A button on the key fob remote triggers the latch to slide over, unlocking the door. A push of the B button turns on an interior light for late-night mail collecting. The tube on the side is for leaflets and other postal miscellany. Now, the coolest feature: when mail passes through the slot, it lets [George] know by calling his cell phone. Check out the build/demo video after the break.

We’ve featured all kinds of mailboxen over the years. This wifi-enabled ‘box uses an Amazon Dash button and a Pi to play the AOL notification on the owner’s phone. The flag on this adorable mini mailbox goes up when there’s mail in the real one outside.

Continue reading “Building a Sturdy Remote Control Mailbox”

Custom Case Lends Retro Look to Smart TV

Refits of retro TVs and radios with the latest smart guts are a dime a dozen around Hackaday. And while a lot of these projects show a great deal of skill and respect for the original device, there’s something slightly sacrilegious about gutting an appliance that someone shelled out a huge portion of their paycheck to buy in the middle of the last century. That’s why this all-new retro-style case for a smart TV makes us smile.

GE 806 restored by Steve O'Bannon
1940s GE 806 restored by Steve O’Bannon

Another reason to smile is the attention to detail paid by [ThrowingChicken]. His inspiration came from a GE 806 TV from the 1940s, and while his build isn’t an exact replica, we think he captured the spirit of the original perfectly. From the curved top to the deep rectangular bezel, the details really make this a special build. One may quibble about not using brass for the grille like the original and going with oak rather than mahogany. In the end though, you need to work with the materials and tooling you have. Besides, we think the laser cut birch ply grille is pretty snazzy. Don’t forget the pressure-formed acrylic dome over the screen – here’s hoping that our recent piece on pressure-forming helped inspire that nice little touch.

This project was clearly a labor of love – witness the bloodshed after a tangle with a tablesaw while building the matching remote – and brought some life to an otherwise soulless chunk of mass-produced electronics.

[via r/DIY]

Hackaday At Hamvention

There are a few interesting Hackaday gatherings going on next weekend. The first is the Bay Area Maker Faire. Most of the Hackaday and Tindie crew will be in San Mateo next weekend, and we’re giving away free tickets to the Faire – a $70 value, free to Hackaday readersHackaday is crashing a pub on Saturday night. There’s also a super-secret meetup on Sunday. Don’t tell anyone.

On the other side of the country, there’s an even better convention for people who build stuff.. It’s Hamvention, the largest amateur radio meetup in North America. I’m going to be there. Find me and pick up some Hackaday swag. I’ll be posting to the Hackaday Twitter all weekend.

A wooden modem and proof I can find cool stuff.
A wooden modem and proof I can find cool stuff.

The main purpose of my visit is to document the immense swap meet. There will be over a thousand vendors hocking their wares, from antique radios to gauges and other electronic paraphernalia. It is the biggest draw to Hamvention, and by every account I’ve heard, it’s impossible to look at everything.

It might be impossible to look at everything, but apparently I’ve very good at separating the wheat from the chaff at ham swaps. During my last visit to the W6TRW swap meet in Redondo Beach, I found an UltraSPARC laptop (!), and a wooden modem from the mid 60s. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, it will be my job to document all the oddities of Hamvention.

Depending on how many people I meet at Hamvention, there might be a semi-official Hackaday get together after the show. The US Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson would be cool, but Ihop or Denny’s would be far more realistic. Look for the guy in the Hackaday hoodie flying a Hackaday flag and he’ll give you some sweet stickers and swag.

Hacklet 107 – 3D Printing Projects

3D printers have forever changed the hardware hacker movement. From the original RepRap project on up through current commercial offerings, 3D printers have become an indispensable tool for hackers, makers, and engineers. While printers may not have started a desktop manufacturing revolution, they are a desktop prototyping evolution. It’s rare for a day to go by on Hackaday without a project that uses a 3D printed part in some way shape or form. These printers also continue to evolve, with new projects pushing the technology ever forward. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best 3D printer projects on Hackaday.io!

reprapWe start with [TTN] and Icepick Delta. [TTN’s] passion is creating 3D printers as cheaply as possible. The Icepick definitely succeeds at this. Icepick’s frame is made of wood. The motors are commodity steppers. Control is via the long proven Ramps 1.4 board, which can be picked up with drivers and an Arduino Mega clone for under $35 these days. A few ball bearings and metal parts fill out the vitamins of this design. Just about everything else is 3D printed in true RepRap style. The printer is currently running Marlin firmware, but [TTN] plans to move to Repetier in the future.

Even with these humble origins, Icepick manages to print at a very respectable 50 mm/s before frame flex becomes a problem.  Prints at 0.1mm layer height look great, on par with any current commercial printer.

strataNext up is  [Machinist] with 3D printer brain retrofit. Commercial 3D printers have been available for decades now. This means some of the older models are getting a bit long in the tooth. [Machinist] has a very tired 15 year old Stratasys Dimension 768. The mechanics of the Dimension are still in good shape, but the electronics have seen better days. [Machinist] is ditching all the old electronic hardware (and the DRM which goes with it) and setting this machine up with a Smoothieboard 5X. So far the Dimension has been gutted, and [Machinist] has gotten the monster stepper motors playing sweet music with his new control board. I can’t wait to see how this project progresses.

coffeeNext we have [jcchurch’s] Coffee Maker Delta 3D Printer. [jcchurch] has managed to convert an old Norelco coffee maker into a mini sized 3D printer. The warmer plate has even become a heated bed for ABS prints. Unlike Icepick up top, the aim of this design is to use as few 3D printed parts as possible. The idea is that this would be the first printer to build when you don’t have another printer handy. Think of it as a caffeinated RepStrap. According to [jcchurch], this printer has been running strong at Tropical Labs for over a year. You can even pull the delta assembly off and make a pot of coffee! The coffee maker printer is still somewhat of a teaser project. If you see [jcchurch] online, tell him to head over and give us more details!

linearFinally, we have [DeepSOIC] with linear stepper motor 3d printer. 3D printers all use good old fashioned rotary stepper motors. [DeepSOIC] is trying to eliminate all that rotary motion, along with the belts and pulleys required to convert to linear motion. Linear stepper motors can be thought of as regular stepper motors, just unrolled. They tend to be very expensive though, so [DeepSOIC] is building DIY versions. His first attempt was to print motor parts using BlackMagic3D’s ferromagnetic filament. This lead to a whole separate project to measure the permeability of the filament. Unfortunately, the filament isn’t permeable enough to act as a motor for a printer. [DeepSOIC] hasn’t given up though. This is the type of project we love – one that might not work out, but really gets people thinking. Check out the comment thread on the project to see Hackaday.io collaboration at work!

If you want to see more 3D printer projects, check out our updated 3D printer list! If I didn’t wake up early enough to catch your project, don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

The Ultimate Traveler’s Toolkit

Looking for a better way to store your tools during transportation? While we certainly wouldn’t recommend trying to check this thing as a carry-on (oh and prepare for it to be searched even in checked luggage), this clever use of a road case is probably one of the best tool boxes we’ve ever seen.

This is [Robb Godshaw’s] tool box. It’s been developed over the past five years as he’s become a skilled maker. You might remember him best from his ironic project “Why are we limited to C-Clamps?” — a clamp offering of the entire alphabet.

He also picked up the road case close to home for Hackaday — at Apex Electronics Surplus in LA — one of our favorite places to find parts. But the most clever part of the project is the way he’s divided the case for different tools.

Continue reading “The Ultimate Traveler’s Toolkit”