Hackaday Prize Entry: A PCB To Emulate Coin Cells

The Coin Cell Emulator CR2016/CR2032 by [bobricius] homes in on a problem some hardware developers don’t realize they have: when working on hardware powered by the near-ubiquitous CR2016 or CR2032 format 3V coin cells, power can be a bit troublesome. Either the device is kept fed with coin cells as needed during development, or the developer installs some breakout wires to provide power from a more convenient source.

[bobricius]’s solution to all this is a small PCB designed to be inserted into most coin cell holders just like the cell itself. It integrates a micro USB connector with a 3V regulator for using USB as an external power source. The board also provides points for attaching alligator clips, should one wish to conveniently measure current consumption. It’s a tool with a purpose, and cleverly uses the physical shape of the PCB itself as an integral part of the function, much like another of [bobricius]’s projects: the Charlieplexed 7-segment LED display.

The components are INSIDE the circuit board

Through-hole assembly means bending leads on components and putting the leads through holes in the circuit board, then soldering them in place, and trimming the wires. That took up too much space and assembly time and labor, so the next step was surface mount, in which components are placed on top of the circuit board and then solder paste melts and solders the parts together. This made assembly much faster and cheaper and smaller.

Now we have embedded components, where in order to save even more, the components are embedded inside the circuit board itself. While this is not yet a technology that is available (or probably even desirable) for the Hackaday community, reading about it made my “holy cow!” hairs tingle, so here’s more on a new technology that has recently reached an availability level that more and more companies are finding acceptable, and a bit on some usable design techniques for saving space and components.

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How To Do PCB Art In Eagle

Last month I had the pleasure of creating a new piece of hardware for Tindie. [Jasmine], the queen bee of Tindie, and I designed, developed, and kitted three hundred Tindie badges in ten days leading up to DEF CON. The badges were a complete success, they introduced soldering to a lot of people, and were loved by all.

This badge was such a rousing success, it’s now official Tindie swag. We’ll be handing out a few of these blinky badges at upcoming events. But as of right now we’ve already handed out our entire stock, that means we need to build more. The second run meant ordering a thousand PCBs.

We could just do another run, and order a few more PCBs from the Gerbers I’ve already designed. I’m not really happy with the first version of this badge, though, and this is an opportunity to improve my design. This also gives me an opportunity to demonstrate my workflow for creating artistic boards in Eagle.

Effectively, what I’ll be demonstrating here is the creation of the Benchoff Nickel. A few months ago, [Andrew Sowa] took a portrait of yours truly, changed the colors to what is available on a normal OSHPark PCB, and turned that into different layers in KiCad. There are a few differences here. Firstly, I’ll be using a blue solder mask, although the same technique can be applied to green, red, yellow, white, or black soldermask. Secondly, this is Eagle, and I’m going to do the majority of the work with a BMP import. This is the fast and easy way to do things; if you want a KiCad tutorial, check out [Andrew]’s work, or my overly-involved multiple silkscreen process for KiCad. I don’t recommend this overly-involved process if you can help it. It took 20 hours to do the art for my previous project in KiCad, and I estimate it would have taken two in Eagle.

With that said, here’s the easy, cheap, and fast way of doing artistic boards in Eagle.

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Laser Etching PCBs

A while ago, [Marco] mounted a powerful laser diode to a CNC machine in an attempt to etch copper clad board and create a few PCBs. The results weren’t that great, but the technique was promising. In a new experiment, [Marco] purchased a very cheap laser engraver kit from China, and now this technique looks like it might be a winner.

[Marco] sourced his laser engraver from Banggood, and it’s pretty much exactly what you would expect for a CNC machine that costs under $200. The frame is aluminum extrusion, the motors are off-the-shelf steppers, the electronics are just Pololu-like drivers, and the software is somewhere between abysmal and terrible. Nevertheless, this machine can cut wood, leather, fabric, and can remove spray paint with a big blue laser diode.

To create his PCBs, [Marco] is first cleaning a piece of copper clad board, coating it with spray paint, then blasting it with a laser. The preferred software for this is LaserWeb, and the results are pretty good for a cheap machine.

There are a few extra steps to creating the PCB once the board has been coated with paint and blasted with a laser. This process still requires etching in either ferric chloride or some other mess of acid, but the results are good. So good, in fact, that [Marco] is experimenting with copper foil and Kapton to create flexible circuit boards. You can check out the video of these experiments below.

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Laser Cut Enclosures from Eagle Files

Once a project is finished, it might still need a decent enclosure. While it’s possible to throw a freshly soldered PCB in a standard enclosure, or piece of Tupperware, or cardboard box, these options don’t have the fit and finish of something custom-made. If you have a laser cutter sitting around, it’s a simple matter to cut your own enclosure, but now that process is much easier thanks to [Ray]’s latest project.

Since [Ray] was already using Eagle to design his PCBs, it seemed like a short step to using the Eagle files to design the enclosure as well. The script runs from those files and creates everything necessary to send to the laser cutter for manufacturing. Right now, [Ray] points out that the assembly time for each enclosure can be high, and this method might not be suited for large numbers of enclosures. Additionally, some of the calculations still need to be done by hand, but there are plans to automate everything in the future.

For single projects, though, this script could cut a lot of time off of designing an enclosure and building it from scratch, and could also help improve aesthetics over other options like 3D printed enclosures. Of course, if you have a quality 3D printer around but no laser cutter, there are options for custom enclosures as well.

One Person’s Experience Of Having PCB Assembly Done In China

Those of us who have our PCBs manufactured by Chinese PCB fab houses will be used to seeing tempting offers to also assemble our completed boards. Send the Gerbers as normal, but also send a BoM, and for an extra slice of cash you can receive fully assembled PCBs instead of just bare boards. It sounds alluring, but leaves a few questions for those without the experience. How much will it cost, what will the quality be like, and will my boards work? [Alexander Lang] had a limited run of ten small pressure sensor boards to make, and since his board house had started an assembly service,  decided to take the plunge and opt for full assembly.

His first step was to assemble his BoM and send it with the Gerbers. He is at pains to stress that the BoM is key to the whole project, and getting it right with the correct packages and more than one source for each component is critical. The board house first charged him £32.05 ($41.76) to make his PCBs and stencil, and assess his BoM for a build quote. A few days passed, and then he had a quote for assembly, £61.41 ($80). He placed the order, the board house processed it and made the boards, and in due course his working PCB modules arrived.

This might sound at this point like an unexciting saga, but its very smoothness is the key to what makes it interesting. Those of us who have wondered about the risks involved in taking up such a service need to hear stories like this one as surely as we do stories of failure, because without them we’re flying blind. Whether £93.46 ($121.76) for ten small boards represents good enough value is another matter, but if surface-mount soldering is not your thing you might be interested to follow [Alexander]’s example. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that getting a cheap PCB made in China was a similar leap of faith.

Friday Hack Chat: PCB Manufacturing

There’s a world of difference between building one of something and building multiples of something. The effort that goes into manufacturing does not scale linearly, and manufacturing is a skill in itself. This Friday, we’re going to be talking all about PCB manufacturing and assembly over on Hackaday.io

On deck for this Hack Chat will be [Jonathan Hirschman], the brains behind PCB:NG, a turnkey electronics manufacturing startup based around NYC. Jonathan is a self-taught hardware guy, proficient in PCB layout, 3D CAD, and manufacturing tech. PCB:NG is, essentially, taking oldskool manufacturing and making it into more of a digital process. PCB:NG makes it easy for anyone to get their designs manufactured, and to do it in the most cost-effective manner.

What is this Hack Chat going to be about? We’re going to talk about how to get started in PCB creation. What is the the best tool for the job? What is the best tool that doesn’t cost as much as a car? What are the pros and cons of each tool, and what should you know about RF before designing a board that blinks a LED?

This isn’t a Hack Chat that’s just about PCBs, though. We’re also going to be talking about manufacturing. Specifically, design for manufacturing, how to panelize boards, what happens when you forget fiducials, how to keep your designs cheap to manufacture, what happens when you put SMD components on both sides of a board.

We’re taking questions from everyone, so feel free to add something to the question sheet for the discussion.

We’re Looking For Hack Chat Hosts!

If PCB manufacturing and design isn’t your thing — or even if it is — we’re on the lookout for Hack Chat hosts. If you have some expertise in an area, give us a ring. We’ve already had a few chats with Raspberry Pi engineers, one of the brilliant people behind the ESP32, a talk on ASIC design for mixed signal oscilloscopes, and high-end audio amplifiers. We’re taking all callers, and if you have something you’d like to share with the community, send us an email. I would like to mention that it’s Burner season, and a few chats with the artists on the playa would be great, especially if they can tell us how to move the fuselage of a 747 a few hundred miles.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will take place at noon Pacific time on Friday, August 4th. Confused about where and when ‘noon’ is? Here’s a time and date converter!

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.