Chemistry and Lasers Turn Any Plastic Surface Into a PCB

On the face of it, PCB production seems to pretty much have been reduced to practice. Hobbyists have been etching their own boards forever, and the custom PCB fabrication market is rich with vendors whose capabilities span the gamut from dead simple one-side through-hole boards to the finest pitch multilayer SMD boards imaginable.

So why on Earth would we need yet another way to make PCBs? Because as [Ben Krasnow] points out, the ability to turn almost any plastic surface into a PCB can be really handy, and is not necessarily something the fab houses handle right now. The video below shows how [Ben] came up with his method, which went down a non-obvious path that was part chemistry experiment, part materials science. The basic idea is to use electroless copper plating, a method of depositing copper onto a substrate without using electrolysis.

This allows non-conductive substrates — [Ben] used small parts printed with a Formlabs SLA printer — to be plated with enough copper to form solderable traces. The chemistry involved in this is not trivial; there are catalysts and surfactants and saturated solutions of copper sulfate to manage. And even once he dialed that in, he had to figure out how to make traces and vias with a laser cutter. It was eventually successful, but it took a lot of work. Check out the video below to see how he got there, and where he plans to go next.

You’ve got to hand it to [Ben]; when he decides to explore something, he goes all in. We appreciate his dedication, whether he’s using candles to explore magnetohydrodynamics or making plasma with a high-speed jet of water.

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The wedding band: milling titanium and wrapping it in palladium

You’ve got to admit that custom milling your own wedding band is pretty hard-core. In this case [Jeremy Swerdlow] is making it for his friend, but that doesn’t diminish the fun of the project. After the break you can watch him mill a titanium ring and wrap it with a palladium inlay.

To solder palladium to titanium [Jeremy] would need special equipment, so he found another way to mate the dissimilar metals. He milled a dovetail groove in the center of the titanium band. To do that, he had to make a special cutting tool that was just the right size. Once had milled the ring’s rough dimensions, he had to fabricate a custom mandrel to hold the ring for the rest of the job. The dovetail was then filled with a palladium strip using a combination of heat and hammering. The two ends are soldered together using palladium solder. The ring in the middle shows this solder joint. To the right is a ring after the inlay is milled flush but before the final polishing which will bring out the best qualities of both metals.

If you don’t have the machine shop skills to pull this off you could always try your hand at 3d printed rings.

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