Hacking A Digital Microscope Camera For Fun And Automated PCB Inspection

A desire for automated PCB inspection has led [charliex] down some deep rabbit holes. He’s written his own inspection software, he’s mounted his PCB vise on a stepper-controlled table, and now he’s hacked his digital microscope camera to allow remote and automated control.

Eakins cameras have become a relatively popular, relatively inexpensive choice for electronics hobbyists to inspect their small-scale work. The cameras have a USB port for a mouse and overlay a GUI on the HDMI output for controlling the camera’s various settings and capturing images to the SD card. Using the mouse-based GUI can feel clunky, though, so users have already endeavored to streamline the process to fit better in their workflow. [charliex] decided to take streamlining a few steps further.

One issue in microscope photography is that microscopes have an extremely tight focus plane. So, even at the minuscule scales of an SMD circuit board, the components are simply too tall. Only a sub-millimeter-thick layer can be in focus at a time. If you take just a single image, much of what you want to see will be lost in the blurry distance. Focus stacking solves this problem by taking multiple pictures with the focus set at different depths then combining their focused bits into a single sharp image.

This takes care of the focus issue, but even the most streamlined and intuitive manual controls become tedious given the multitude of pictures required. So [charliex] searched for a way to remotely control his camera, automating focus stacking and possibly even full PCB scans.

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PCB Drill Microscope

PCB Drill Press Gets A Microscopic Upgrade

If you get into more complicated PCB design, you’ll find the need to drill tiny and accurate holes much more often. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a precise way of doing that? Maybe even something as simple as strapping a $10 USB digital microscope to it?

That was [mlerman’s] thought anyway, and from the looks of it, it seems to work quite well! If you already have a PCB drill press then it’s just a matter of installing the microscope opposite the drill — align it to the center point with some cross hairs and boom you’re in business.

But if you don’t yet have a PCB drill, [mlerman’s] got you covered there too, as he explains in great detail how to modify a cheap drill press into an inverted PCB drill press.

Inverted PCB Drill Press

Wait, why is it inverted? Besides making more room for the USB microscope to sit, it also ensures the microscope lens doesn’t get covered in the PCB fairy dust that would fall on it if it were in a normal orientation.

[via Embedded-Lab]