Scotty Allen’s PCB Fab Tour is Like Willy Wonka’s for Hardware Geeks

The availability of low-cost, insanely high-quality PCBs has really changed how we do electronics. Here at Hackaday we see people ditching home fabrication with increasing frequency, and going to small-run fab for their prototypes and projects. Today you can get a look at the types of factory processes that make that possible. [Scotty Allen] just published a (sponsored) tour of a PCB fab house that shows off the incredible machine tools and chemical baths that are never pondered by the world’s electronics consumers. If you have an appreciation PCBs, it’s a joy to follow a design through the process so take your coffee break and let this video roll.

Several parts of this will be very familiar. The photo-resist and etching process for 2-layer boards is more or less the same as it would be in your own workshop. Of course the panels are much larger than you’d ever try at home, and they’re not using a food storage container and homemade etchant. In fact the processes are by and large automated which makes sense considering the volume a factory like this is churning through. Even moving stacks of boards around the factory is show with automated trolleys.

Six headed PCB drilling machine (four heads in use here).

What we find most interesting about this tour is the multi-layer board process, the drilling machines, and the solder mask application. For boards that use more than two layers, the designs are built from the inside out, adding substrate and copper foil layers as they go. It’s neat to watch but we’re still left wondering how the inner layers are aligned with the outer. If you have insight on this please sound off in the comments below.

The drilling process isn’t so much a surprise as it is a marvel to see huge machines with six drill heads working on multiple boards at one time. It sure beats a Dremel drill press. The solder mask process is one that we don’t often see shown off. The ink for the mask is applied to the entire board and baked just to make it tacky. A photo process is then utilized which works much in the same way photoresist works for copper etching. Transparent film with patterns printed on it cures the solder mask that should stay, while the rest is washed away in the next step.

Boards continue through the process to get silk screen, surface treatment, and routing to separate individual boards from panels. Electrical testing is performed and the candy making PCB fab process is complete. From start to finish, seeing the consistency and speed of each step is very satisfying.

Looking to do a big run of boards? You may find [Brian Benchoff’s] panelization guide of interest.

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Joe Grand is Hiding Data in Plain Sight: LEDs that Look Solid but Send a Message

Thursday night was a real treat. I got to see both Joe Grand and Kitty Yeung at the HDDG meetup, each speaking about their recent work.

Joe walked us through the OpticSpy, his newest hardware product that had its genesis in some of the earliest days of data leakage. Remember those lights on old modems that would blink when data is being transmitted or received? The easiest way to design this circuit is to tie the status LEDs directly to the RX and TX lines of a serial port, but it turns out that’s broadcasting your data out to anyone with a camera. You can’t see the light blinking so fast with your eyes of course, but with the right gear you most certainly could read out the ones and zeros. Joe built an homage to that time using a BPW21R photodiode.

Transmitting data over light is something that television manufacturers have been doing for decades, too. How do they work in a room full of light sources? They filter for the carrier signal (usually 38 kHz). But what if you’re interested in finding an arbitrary signal? Joe’s bag of tricks does it without the carrier and across a large spectrum. It feels a bit like magic, but even if you know how it works, his explanation of the hardware is worth a watch!

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Power Harvesting Challenge: Scavenge Some Power, Win Prizes

It’s a brand new day as the Power Harvesting Challenge begins. This is the newest part of the 2018 Hackaday Prize and we’re looking for 20 entries who will each receive $1,000 and move onto the finals to compete for the top five spots, scoring cash prizes of $50k, $25k, $15k, $10k, and $5k.

Put simply, Power Harvesting is anything you can do that will pull some of the energy you need from a source other than wall-power or traditional battery tech. The most obvious power harvesting technologies are solar and wind. Ditch the battery in your doorbell for a solar panel, or turn your time-lapse camera rig into one that tops its battery with a tiny wind turbine. On the other end of the spectrum you could go nuts with chemistry and develop your own take on harvesting power from saltwater, or sip off the ambient RF waves all around us.

Every Idea Matters

We live in an amazing time as chip manufacturers have squeezed every low power trick out of their silicon dies that they possibly can. The Power Harvesting Challenge is the complement to those achievements: can we now squeeze as much energy out of non-traditional sources as possible to further reduce our energy footprints?

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A Wild Hackaday Belgrade Confirms Status as One of World’s Greatest Hardware Cons

Hackers, Designers, and Engineers flooded into Dom Omladine on Saturday for what can only be described as an epic celebration of hardware culture. This is the second time Hackaday has organized a huge conference in Belgrade, and lightning really did strike twice.

A Gathering of New Friends and Old

We got things started off with a meetup the night before the conference. The first Hackaday Belgrade was held in 2016 and we didn’t reserve a bar on Friday night — we ended up taking over one just through sheer numbers. This year we called ahead for a large outdoor space, then made good use of it.

Everyone was giddy with anticipation of the next day to come. There is always a sizzling energy of meeting up in real life. Most of this group hangs out on Hackaday.io, but only some of them have met in person. Add to that the reunions of those who became friends at the previous Hackaday Belgrade and at other cons around Europe and you have the feeling of coming home. These really are your people.

Yes, a Conference. But the Cool Kind

Hackaday conferences are more than just parties… they’re conferences. If you approach it the right way you can get your employer on board with you attending because you’re going to meet incredible people, learn lots of stuff, and come back excited to take on the Universe. Actually, bring your boss along for the ride too!

This year we had thirteen incredible talks. As is our practice, we started off with a super-technical talk as Rachel Wong (aka @konichiwakitty) discussed her Ph.D research which involves growing eye tissue in the lab. But like all incredibly brilliant minds, she has a creative outlet which she also covered as part of her Keynote address. Rachel has a passion for building wearables that are reaching for the future by embracing things we really do need in our garments and gear.

From drone monitoring networks to robot soldering machines, and concepts for designing meaningful hardware to using code to automate tedious PCB layout, there was plenty in these talks for everyone.

I really enjoyed Elliot Williams’ talk on Logic Noise for his live demos using simple logic chips to build up complex music. Marcel van Kervinck took us on a journey of TTL computer design. And Sophi Kravitz’s talk on building non-rigid airships had at least two people at the con get inspired and spin their own blimp design during the conference! There was a live-feed of the talks so keep your eye on Hackaday as we pull those out to be featured individually.

Some of the demo hardware: Acoustic levitation for lab work

The workshops were standing room only as people who weren’t able to grab a ticket audited the course. We had three hands-on session that built wearable circuitry, brough art to PCB design, and dove into the world of FPGAs.

Welcome, Here’s Your Neck-Mounted Retro Computer

Everyone through the door received a custom electronic badge to hack on during Hackaday Belgrade. Voja Antonic designed the hardware and oversaw the manufacture. We had excellent yield which is great because we had nearly (if not more than) 100% attendance at the conference. We ended the day with just 5 badges to spare!

Hackaday Belgrade badge and user guide put to use

These handheld computers are truly hot! The badges each have 55 really clicky keys. With at least 350 people in the room, that’s approaching 20k momentary push switches and at one point, a brief “silence” fell and all that could be heard were clicking buttons. That and we asked everyone to play the Mario Overworld tune at the same time as hundreds of badges rose in a glorious chorus. There’s also a 16-page user manual to go along with them which included sample code to get started.

Hacking went on throughout the day but as the talk session wrapped up we transformed the hall into a Hacker Village. Tables were brought in and immediately filled. Live music filled the room as Bogdan Rosu and Richard Hogben each played IDM sets. If you’ve been watching Hackaday videos you’ve heard their work and their performances this night were epic.

There was food, there was beer, and there were the tools of our lifestyle; laptops, programmers, jumper wires, blinky add-ons, and the excitement that goes along with all of them. The badge hacking presentations began at midnight and the place was still alive with excitement. It is truly great to see how supportive our community is of exploring hardware and trying things out. Publish your badge hacks and stories from the conference on Hackaday.io as we’ll be featuring those in the coming days and want to make sure we have all the juicy details.

Why Belgrade?

Keep your eye on Hackaday as there is much more coverage to come on this wonderful event. Many have asked: “Why Belgrade?”. It’s a fantastic city and the engineering community in the area is passionate about getting together to learn and share ideas. This includes the Supplyframe engineers who live in Belgrade and did the heavy lifting to organize and staff Hackaday Belgrade. You all did an amazing job and everyone at the con owes you a debt of gratitude, thank you so much! We also want to thank Supplyframe and SevenBridges, our sponsors for the event.

To all who attended, it wouldn’t have happened without you! I can speak for everyone on the Hackaday crew in saying the culture we share is energizing, encouraging, and humbling. It’s exactly the kind of recharge everyone looks for to keep life interesting! We’ll see you at the next one. Now over the next five months we have our sights set on the Hackaday Superconference. See you there!

LayerOne InfoSec Conference Returns Next Weekend

This year’s LayerOne conference is May 25-27 in Los Angeles and Hackaday will be there! Hurry and get your ticket now as today is the last day for pre-registration.

As the InfoSec community takes over the Pasadena Hilton next weekend you’ll wish you had a week instead of just three days to take part in all that is offered. There are organized talks and workshops on pen testing, being the bad guy, and DevOps Security. Learn or improve on your lockpicking skills in the Lockpicking Village. The conference hardware badge will be hacking in every direction in the Hardware Village, and new this year is an Internet of Things Village.

If you ask us, the L1 Demo Party is where it’s at. We love seeing what kind of audio and video demos can be squeezed out of a microcontroller board. If you want one of your own, LayerOne is selling the L1 Demoscene Board on Tindie, and you can dig into the hardware on the Hackaday.io page. Take a look back at the results of the 2015 Demo Party for some of the highlights.

This con has an incredible community supporting it, many of the people you’ll meet have been at every LayerOne since it started back in 2004. Supplyframe, Hackaday’s parent company, has been a sponsor since 2015 and is once again proud to support the event and sponsor the hardware badge. Members of the Hackaday and Tindie crew will be on site so come say hello and don’t be afraid to bring a hack to show off!

Retro Computer Badge for Hackaday Belgrade Has Everything You Wished for Back in the Day

The hardware badge for the Hackaday Belgrade conference is a Retro Computer that you wear around your neck. I have one in my hands and it’s truly a work of art. It’s beautiful, it’s fun to play with, and it will be an epic platform for a glorious weekend of badge hacking! Check out the first look video, then join me below as I drill down into the details.

Get your ticket now for Hackaday Belgrade, our premier European hardware conference at the end of this month. It’s a day filled with talks, works, food, fun, and of course everyone through the door gets one of these incredible badges. The best part is the community that turns out for this event and that includes the Hacker Village that takes hold in the evening. We’ll be hacking the badges until the wee hours of the morning alongside hardware demos, presentations, lightning talks, and live IDM and DJ sets.

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San Francisco: Let’s Learn to Build Some Robots!

Hone your skills at basic robot building. You’re invited to join Hackaday for a Beginner Robotics Workshop on Saturday, May 12.

For this workshop we’re pairing up with FIRST robotics mentors and students from the Bay Area. FIRST is an international high school robotics competition and you won’t believe what these teams can do. The workshop will start with an overview of the three major parts that go into a robot project: mechanical design, electronic design, and programming. From there, choose one of the three you want to focus on for the afternoon and let the hands-on fun begin as we break out into small groups to tackle some robotics problems!

The mechanical group will explore robot building using OnShape CAD software. The electronic group will work hands-on with Arduino-based prototyping and breakout boards. The programming group will utilize the Arduino IDE. Workshops will wrap up with a group discussion of how these three concepts are integrated in a single robotics effort.

Right now the Robotics Module Challenge of the 2018 Hackaday Prize is in full swing. We’re excited to see more roboticists in the world and are happy to bring you a workshop that is both technical and accessible. Come build some ‘bots and take home some new knowledge to pour into your project, and your Hackaday Prize entries!