Prototyping PCBs With Electrical Discharge Machining

Here at Hackaday, we thought we’d seen every method of making PCBs: CNC machining, masking and etching with a variety of chemicals, laser engraving, or even the crude but effective method of scratching away the copper with a utility knife. Whatever works is fine with us, really, but there still does seem to be room for improvement in the DIY PCB field. To whit, we present rapid PCB prototyping with electrical discharge machining.

Using an electric arc to selectively ablate the copper cladding on a PCB seems like a great idea. At least that’s how it seemed to [Jake Wachlin] when he realized that the old trick of cutting a sheet of aluminum foil using a nine-volt battery and a pencil lead is really just a form of EDM, and that the layer of copper on a PCB is not a million miles different from foil. A few experiments with a bench power supply and a mechanical pencil lead showed that it’s relatively easy to blast the copper from a blank board, so [Jake] took the next logical step and rigged up an old 3D-printer to move the tool. The video below shows the setup and some early tests; it’s not perfect by a long shot, but it has a lot of promise. If he can control the arc better, this homebrew EDM looks like it could very rapidly produce prototype boards.

[Jake] posted this project in its current state in the hopes of stimulating a discussion and further experimentation. That’s commendable, and we’d really love to see this one move along rapidly. You might start your brainstorming by looking at this somewhat sketchy mains-powered EDM, or look into the whole field in a little more detail.

Continue reading “Prototyping PCBs With Electrical Discharge Machining”

Machine Metal With Electricity: An EDM Attachment For 3D Printers

[SuperUnknown] has revealed a secret project he’s been working on. He’s cooked up an EDM attachment for 3D printers, or any CNC machine for that matter. Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) is a method of using sparks to machine metal. EDM isn’t a new technology, in fact commercial machines have been around since the 1960’s. If you’ve ever had an arc scar up your multimeter probes, you’ve unwittingly done a bit of EDM.

The theory behind EDM is simple: High voltage between the tool and workpiece causes sparks to jump between them. Each spark erodes the workpiece (and the tool). Big EDM machines perform their magic in a liquid which acts as both a dielectric and a flushing medium. This liquid can be anything from deionzed tap water to specially formulated oil. [SuperUnknown] is using good old-fashioned tap water.

edm-roughAs you can imagine, a single spark won’t erode much metal. EDM machines fire tens of thousands of times per second. The exact frequencies, voltages, and currents are secrets the machine manufacturers keep close to their chests. [SuperUnknown] is zeroing in on 65 volts at 2 amps, running at 35 kHz. He’s made some great progress, gouging into hardened files, removing broken taps from brass, and even eroding the impression of a coin in steel.

While we’d love to say this is a free open source project, [superUnknown] needs to pay the bills. He’s going with crowdsourced funding. No, not another Kickstarter. This project is taking a different route. The videos of the machine will be uploaded to YouTube and visible to [superUnknown’s] Patreon supporters. They will also be available for rent using YouTube’s new rental system. [SuperUnknown] has pledged to figure out a way to make the content available for starving college students and others with limited incomes.

Based upon his previous adventures with lil’ screwy, his homemade 100 ton press, and various other projects on the Arduino verses Evil YouTube channel, we think [superUnkown] has a pretty good chance of making home EDM work. Click past the break to see two videos of the 3D printer EDM toolhead in action. We should mention that [SuperUnknown] is rather colorful with his dialogue, so make sure you’re using headphones if you’re at work.

Continue reading “Machine Metal With Electricity: An EDM Attachment For 3D Printers”