Laser Blasts Out High-Quality PCBs

With how cheap and how fast custom PCBs have gotten, it almost doesn’t make sense to roll your own anymore, especially when you factor in the messy etching steps and the less than stellar results. That’s not the only way to create a PCB, of course, and if you happen to have access to a 20-Watt fiber laser, you can get some fantastic homemade PCBs that are hard to tell from commercial boards.

Lucikly, [Saulius Lukse] of Kurokesu fame has just such a laser on hand, and with a well-tuned toolchain and a few compromises, he’s able to turn out 0.1-mm pitch PCBs in 30 minutes. The compromises include single-sided boards and no through-holes, but that should still allow for a lot of different useful designs. The process starts with Gerbers going through FlatCAM and then getting imported into EZCAD for the laser. There’s a fair bit of manual tweaking before the laser starts burning away the copper between the traces, which took about 20 passes for 0.035-mm foil on FR4. We have to admit that watching the cutting proceed in the video below is pretty cool.

Once the traces are cut, UV-curable solder resist is applied to the whole board. After curing, the board goes back to the laser for another pass to expose the pads. A final few passes with the laser turned up to 11 cuts the finished board free. We wonder why the laser isn’t used to drill holes; we understand that vias would be hard to connect to the other side, but it seems like through-hole components could be supported. Maybe that’s where [Saulius] is headed with this eventually, since there are traces that terminate in what appears to be via pads.

Whatever the goal, these boards are really slick. We usually see lasers used to remove resist prior to traditional etching, so this is a nice change.

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Circuit Board Origami Puts You Face-to-Face With Low-Poly Electronics

Paper craft has been around almost as long as paper itself. It’s fun to mimic paper craft and origami with low-poly 3D prints, and [Stephen Hawes] wondered whether it could be done with copper-clad PCBs. Two years after the question arose, we have the answer in the form of a fantastical mask with light-up eyes. Check it out in the video below.

[Stephen] started with a model (Update: [kongorilla’s] 2012 low poly mask model from back in 2012 was the starting point for this hack) from the papercraft program Pepakura Designer, then milled out dozens of boards. Only a few of them support circuitry, but it was still quite the time-consuming process. The ATMega32u4 on the forehead along with the fold-traversing circuitry serve to light up the WS2812B eyes. Power runs up the copper tube, which doubles as a handy mounting rod to connect to the 3D-printed base.

To be fair, eighteen months out of the two years this project took was spent hand-sanding a chamfer on every edge of every panel so that they could be glued together. Soldering the edges together didn’t work as well as you might think, so [Stephen] used Superglue mixed with baking soda to give it body and make it dry faster. The result is a low-poly human face of shiny copper with TQFP-44 chip package a the all-seeing eye in the middle of its forehead like something from Tron come to life.

Just a reminder — we have a circuit sculpture contest running now until Tuesday, November 10, 2020 at 12:00 pm PST. We’d love to see what you can do, whether it’s in brass rod, copper clad, or a combination of the two. Take a look at the submissions we’ve received so far, and then show us what you’ve got.

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Hackaday Podcast 069: Calculator Controversy, Socketing SOIC, Metal On The Moon, And Basking In Bench Tools

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams march to the beat of the hardware hacking drum as they recount the greatest hacks to hit the ‘net this week. First up: Casio stepped in it with a spurious DMCA takedown notice. There’s a finite matrix of resistors that form a glorious clock now on display at CERN. Will a patio paver solve your 3D printer noise problems? And if you ever build with copper clad, you can’t miss this speedrun of priceless prototyping protips.

Direct download (~65 MB)

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Ironclad Tips For Copper-Clad Prototyping

The idea of trying to prototype with SMD parts on the fly sounds like insanity, right? But then we watched [Leo Fernekes] walk calmly and carefully through his process (video, embedded below). Suddenly, SMD prototyping jumped onto our list of things to try soon.

[Leo] speaks from a lot of experience and tight client timelines, so this video is a fourteen-minute masterclass in using copper-clad board as a Manhattan-style scratch pad. He starts by making a renewable tool for scraping away copper by grinding down and shaping an old X-Acto blade into a kind of sharpened Swiss Army knife bottle opener shape. That alone is mind-blowing, but [Leo] keeps on going.

In these prototypes, he uses the through-hole version of whatever microcontroller is in the design. For everything else, he uses the exact SMT part that will end up on the PCB that someone else is busy designing in the meantime.

After laying the board out on paper, [Leo] carves out the islands of conductivity, beep-checks them for shorts, shines the whole thing with steel wool, and goes to town.

The tips and tricks keep coming as he makes jumps and joins ground planes with bare copper wire insulated with heat-proof Teflon tubing, and lays out the benefits of building up a stash of connectors and shelling out the money for a good crimp tool.

And why do you need a good crimp tool? Because when they’re done properly, crimped connections are stronger and more reliable than solder. There’s a lot more to them than you might think.

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Turning A Cheap Engraver Into A Decent PCB Mill

We know, we know. Getting PCBs professionally fabricated anymore is so cheap and easy that making them in-house is increasingly becoming something of a lost art. Like developing your own film. Or even using a camera that has film, for that matter. But when you’re in Brazil and it takes months for shipments to arrive like [Robson Couto] is, sometimes you’re better off sticking with the old ways.

[Robson] writes in to tell us how he decided to buy a ~$150 CNC “engraver” kit from an import site, in hopes that it would allow him to prototype his designs without having to use breadboards all the time. The kit turned out to be decent, but with a series of modifications and a bit of trial and error, he’s improved the performance significantly and is now putting out some very nice looking boards.

The primary hardware issues [Robson] ran into were in the Z axis, as some poor component selections made the stock configuration wobble a bit too much. He replaced some flimsy standoffs as well as swapping in some bushings he salvaged from dead inkjet printers, and the movement got a lot tighter.

Despite the fact that the version of Grbl flashed onto the engraver’s cloned Arduino Uno supports Z leveling, it’s not actually enabled out of the box. [Robson] just needed to add some extra wiring to use the spindle’s bit as a probe on the copper clad board. He also went ahead and updated to the latest version of Grbl, as the one which ships with the machine is fairly old.

He wraps up the post by going through his software workflow on GNU/Linux, which is useful information even if you’ve taken the completely DIY route for your PCB mill. If you’d like to know more about the ins and outs of milling your own boards, check out this excellent primer by [Adil Malik].

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Massive 20-oz. Copper PCB Enables Electric Racing

Is twenty times the copper twenty times as much fun to work with? Ask [limpkin] and follow along as he fabricates a DC/DC block for a Formula E race car on 20-oz copper PCBs.

The typical boards you order from OSH Park and the like usually come with 1-ounce copper – that’s one ounce of copper cladding per square foot of board. For those averse to Imperial units, that’s a copper layer 34 micrometers thick. [limpkin]’s Formula E control board needs to carry a lot of current, so he specified 700-micrometer thick cladding, or 20-oz per square foot. The board pictured cost $2250, so you’d figure soldering on the components would be an exotic process, but aside from preheating the board, [limpkin] took it in stride. Check out the image gallery of the session and you’ll see nothing but a couple of regular high-wattage soldering irons, with dirty tips to boot.

It’s pretty neat comparing what’s needed for power electronics versus the normal small signal stuff we usually see. We’d recommend looking at [Brian Benchoff]’s “Creating a PCB in Everything” series for design tips, but we’re not sure traditional tools will work for boards like these. And just for fun, check out the Formula E highlights video below the break to see what this build is part of.

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Cyclone PCB Factory: 3d Printable Circuit Board Mill

printable-cyclone-pcb-factory

If you can 3D print most of the parts for another 3D printer, why not also for a PCB mill? That’s the question answered by the Cyclone PCB Factory. It will help you kiss those toner transfer or photo resist days goodbye.

Homemade circuit boards tend to be rather small, which really helps keep the cost and scope of this project down. Most of the mounting parts, as well as the gears, are 3D printed. Of course there’s the usual machine tool items which you pretty much have to purchase: the ball screws, precision rod, stepper motors, and a motor to spin the routing tool.

Check out the video below to see where the project is right now. One of the crucial aspects of PCB milling is to have a level build table. The cutter head tends to be ‘V’ shaped so cutting just a bit too deep can blow out the traces you’re trying to isolate. The demo shows that this can automatically calibrate the software to account for any variances in the height of the copper clad.

We remember seeing a snap-together PCB mill. But we’re pretty sure that that one used parts milled from HDPE rather than 3D printed components.

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