Tidy Laser Cut Packaging For PCBs With KiCAD

A laser cutter is a useful tool to have in any workshop. While many hackers use them for their cutting abilities, it’s important to remember that they can be great as engravers, too. [Wrickert] was well aware of this when he set his to work, producing attractive packaging for his Tindie orders.

[Wrickert] sells a variety of small PCB-based devices on Tindie, and it’s nice to have something to package them up with, rather than just sending a bare board. To do this quickly and effectively, KiCAD is used to help generate the packaging from the original PCB geometry itself. The board outlines are exported as an SVG file, reopened in KiCAD, and then used to create the required cardboard parts. The laser can then also be used to engrave the cardboard too.

It’s a tidy packaging solution that requires no messy inks or printers, and can be designed in the same software as the device itself. We’ve covered this area before, talking about what it takes to go from a home project to a saleable kit. If you’re in the game, you might find [Wrickert]’s hack to be just the ticket!

Hinge Brings New Meaning To Flexible PCB

It is not a secret that flexible PC boards can bend. But despite the substrate’s flexibility, you can’t really fold them completely over. That bothered [Carl] so he developed a hinge design so that he can fold a board completely in half. You can watch a video showing an example, FlexBox, below.

Normal boards can fold over, but the copper traces can’t tolerate a very tight bend radius. [Carl’s] trick is to make the folding part have no traces at all. Only a small bridge carries traces between the two halves and it is allowed to bend almost like an interconnecting cable.

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How CERN Made High Quality Electronics In The 1970s

We’re suckers for some retro electronics here at Hackaday, so we were fascinated when Daniel Valuch wrote to us with some pictures of his findings in his CERN lab’s archive. He works on Linear Accelerator 3, which has had an extended downtime after many decades of continuous operation, for major upgrades and overhauls. Part of the upgrade involves the removal of electronic assemblies dating back as far as the 1970s, and he’s shared his fascination with them as he trawls through dusty filing cabinets in the lab basement.

What it reveals is a world before the CAD and microcontrollers we know, instead here are circuits using the electronic building blocks of logic gates, discretes, and op-amps. PCBs are laid out not with the KiCad that CERN are famous in our community for today, but on acetate, with transfers and tape. A ground plane is even hand-carved from a red sheet. Oddly though it isn’t a world without CNC, because in the pouch with a design from 1974 is a roll of punched paper tape. If you have ever pondered the “Numerical” in “Computer Numerical Control”, here are the numbers in physical form.

For those of us who were trained in this type of electronic design, the convenience of a PCB CAD package and a professionally-made PCB at the click of a mouse is nothing short of miraculous. But seeing personally laid boards of this quality reminds us that seeing the hand of the designer in them is something few engineers today (with the possible exception of Boldport) manage to recreate.

Soon… Inkjet Your Circuit Boards

Printed circuit board fabrication — especially in basements and garages — have been transformed by the computer revolution. Before that, people would use a permanent marker or little decals to layout circuit boards prior to etching. Sometimes, they’d do it on film and use a photo process, but they did make decals that you applied directly to the board to resist the etch. Now a team from Georgia Tech, University of Tokyo, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Nebraska has brought things full circle. Their process inkjet prints silver traces on a substrate that they can then transfer to a circuit board — no etching required.

They start with a standard Epson inkjet with cartridges that have silver-bearing ink. The patterns print on a transfer paper that ensures the particles fuse so there’s no sintering step required to make sure the traces are all conductive. A sticky backing is applied and peels the pattern off the transfer paper. You can see more in the video below.

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Hackaday Links: June 7, 2020

For many of us who were in college at the time, the 1989 release of Will Wright’s classic SimCity sounded the death knell of our GPAs. Being able to create virtual worlds and then smite them with a tornado or a kaiju attack was the stuff of a procrastinator’s dreams. We always liked the industrial side of the game best, and took great pains in laying out the factory zones, power plants, and seaports. Those of a similar bent will be happy to know that Maxis, the studio behind the game, had a business simulations division, and one of their products was a complete refinery simulator the studio built for Chevron called, unsurprisingly, SimRefinery. The game, which bears a striking resemblance to SimCity, has been recovered and is now available for download, which means endless procrastination by playing virtual petrochemical engineer is only a mouse click away.

Speaking of time wasters, we stumbled upon another simulation this week that sucked away a couple of hours of productivity. As RTL-SDR.com reports, YouTuber called Information Zulu has a 24/7 live stream showing arrivals and departures at Los Angeles International Airport. That may sound boring, but the cameras used to watch the runways are virtual, and the planes are animated based on ADS-B data being scooped up by an RTL-SDR dongle. We pinged Information Zulu and asked for a rundown of the gear behind the system, but never heard back. If we do, we’ll post a full article on what we learned, because the level of detail is amazing. The arriving and departing planes sport the correct livery for the airline, the current weather conditions are shown, taxiing is shown in real time, and there’s even an audio feed from air traffic control.

If you’re looking to gain back a little of the productivity lost to the last two items, Digi-Key might be able to help with their new PCB Builder service. All you have to do is upload your gerbers and select your materials, and they’ll give you options for a bunch of different quick-turn fabrication houses. Looks mighty convenient.

Steve Mould dropped a video this week about vibration analysis. That might not sound very exciting, but the fascinating bit is how companies are now using motion amplification video techniques to show how and where industrial equipment is moving, even if those motions are too subtle to be seen by the naked eye. It’s frankly terrifying to see how pipes flex and tanks expand and contract, and how pumps and motors move relative to each other. The technique used is similar to the way a person’s pulse can be detected on a video by the subtle color change as blood rushes into capillaries. We’d love to see someone tackle a homebrew version of this so we can all see what’s going on around us.

And finally, we want to remind everyone that the Hackaday Prize is back, and that you should get your entries going. What’s new this year is the Dream Team challenges, where four worthy non-profits organizations will each assemble a three-person team to work on a specific pain-point in their process. The application deadline has been extended to June 9, and there are two $3,000 microgrants, one in June and one in July, for each team member. So look through the design briefs and see if your skills match their needs.

Milling A Custom 6-Pin DIN Connector

When [Charles Ouweland] found himself in need of a DIN connector that had a somewhat unusual pin arrangement, he figured he could fashion his own in less time than it would take to have a replacement shipped to him. In the end it sounds as though it took a lot longer than expected, but given the worldwide situation, we don’t doubt this bespoke connector was still put to work before its eBay counterpart would have arrived.

More importantly, the connector [Charles] produced looks fantastic. If we weren’t told otherwise, we’d have assumed the finished product was commercially produced. Although to be fair, he did have a little help there. The housing and pins themselves were pulled from a sacrificial connector; his primary contribution was the insulating block that holds the pins in their proper position.

So how did he make it? He had considered using a piece of scrap material and just putting the holes in it with a drill press, but he was worried getting the aliment right. Instead, he decided to call his cheap CNC router into service. By routing his design out of copper clad PCB, he was even able to tie the appropriate pins together right in the connector.

Admittedly, we don’t see a lot of hardware that still uses DIN connectors these days. But this tip is certainly worth filing away just in case. You never know when you might find an old piece of hardware that just needs a little TLC to get up and running again. Who knows, you might even find a dumpster full of them.

Cheap Alternative Solvents For PCB Cleaning

If you’re in the habit of using isopropyl alcohol to clean your PCBs after soldering, you probably have a nice big jug of the stuff stashed away. If you don’t, you’re probably out of luck, since the COVID-19 pandemic has pretty much cleared IPA out of the retail market. But don’t fret: depending on where you live, alternative PCB cleaning solutions may be as close as your nearest auto parts store.

[Steven]’s search for a cheaper and perhaps more readily available substitute for his usual dedicated flux cleaner lead him to try automotive brake cleaner on a few test boards. He suspected that they might contain acetone, which is prone to yield unfortunate results with solder resist and silkscreen on PCBs, so some tests were in order. The brand he tried was Normfest Bremsenreiniger MC-1, a German brand that according to its Safety Data Sheet contains only hydrocarbons like alkanes, butane, and propane. It did a fine job cleaning all but the crustiest rosin flux without collateral damage.

In the video below, [Steven] goes through a few more brands with similar results, and we were encouraged enough by his results to check brake cleaners made for the US market. Alas, almost all of the cheap and readily available aerosols have acetone as the principle ingredient, mixed in with methanol, ethanol, and assorted ingredients that together will probably make for a bad day. About the only US-sold brand without acetone that we could find was Keller-Heartt, which lists only naptha and ethanol on its SDS. There may be others, but make sure you test whatever you find.

Aerosol solvents aren’t the only way to clean a PCB, of course. Ultrasonic cleaners do a great job, and as [Steven] discovered, they’re generally safe for most components.

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