These Small PCBs are Made for Model Rocketry

Model rocketry hobbyists are familiar with the need to roll their own solutions when putting high-tech features into rockets, and a desire to include a microcontroller in a rocket while still keeping things flexible and modular is what led [concretedog] to design a system using 22 mm diameter stackable PCBs designed to easily fit inside rocket bodies. The system uses a couple of 2 mm threaded rods for robust mounting and provides an ATTiny85 microcontroller, power control, and an optional small prototyping area. Making self-contained modular sleds that fit easily into rocket bodies (or any tube with a roughly one-inch inner diameter) is much easier as a result.

The original goal was to ease the prototyping of microcontroller-driven functions like delayed ignition or altimeter triggers in small Estes rockets, but [concretedog] felt there were probably other uses for the boards as well and made the design files available on GitHub. (Thanks!)

We have seen stackable PCBs for rocketry before with the amazingly polished M3 Avionics project, but [concretedog]’s design is much more accessible to some hobbyist-level tinkering; especially since the ATTiny85 can be programmed using the Arduino IDE and the boards themselves are just an order from OSH Park away.

[via Dangerous Prototypes Blog]

 

What’s Coming In KiCad Version 5

Way back in the day, at least five years ago, if you wanted to design a printed circuit board your best option was Eagle. Now, Eagle is an Autodesk property, the licensing model has changed (although there’s still a free version, people) and the Open Source EDA suite KiCad is getting better and better. New developers are contributing to the project, and by some measures, KiCad is now the most popular tool to develop Open Source hardware.

At FOSDEM last week, [Wayne Stambaugh], project lead of KiCad laid out what features are due in the upcoming release of version 5. KiCad just keeps improving, and these new features are really killer features that will make everyone (unjustly) annoyed with Eagle’s new licensing very happy.

Although recent versions of KiCad have made improvements to the way part and footprint libraries are handled, the big upcoming change is that footprint libraries will be installed locally. The Github plugin for library management — a good idea in theory — is no longer the default. Spice simulation is also coming to KiCad. The best demo of the upcoming Spice integration is this relatively old video demonstrating how KiCad turns a schematic into graphs of voltage and current.

The biggest news, however, is the new ability to import Eagle projects. [Wayne] demoed this live on stage, importing an Eagle board and schematic of an Arduino Mega and turning it into a KiCad board and schematic in a matter of seconds. It’s not quite perfect yet, but it’s close and very, very good.

There are, of course, other fancy features that make designing schematics and PCBs easier. Eeschema is getting a better configuration dialog, improved bus and wire dragging, and improved junction handling. Pcbnew is getting rounded rectangle and complex pad shape support, direct export to STEP files, and you’ll soon be able to update the board from the schematic without updating the netlist file. Read that last feature again, slowly. It’s the best news we’ve ever heard.

Additionally, this is one of the rare times you get to hear [Wayne] speak. This means the argument over the pronunciation of KiCad is over. It’s ‘Key-CAD‘ not ‘Kai-CAD‘. You can check out the entirety of [Wayne]’s State of the KiCad talk below.

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Custom Parts Feeder Aims to Keep Pace with Pick and Place

When your widgets have proven so successful that building them gets to be a grind, it might be time to consider a little mechanical help in the form of a pick and place machine (PnP). If you’re going to roll your own though, there’s a lot to think about, not the least of which is how to feed your beast with parts.

Managing the appetite of a PnP is the idea behind this custom modular parts feeder, but the interesting part of [Hans Jørgen Grimstad]’s work-in-progress project has more to do with the design process. The feeders are to support a custom PnP being built in parallel, and so the needs of one dictate the specs of the other. Chief among the specs are the usual big three: cheap, fast, and reliable. But size is an issue too insofar that the PnP could be working with dozens of component reels at once. Flexibility was another design criteria, so that reels of varied width can be accommodated.

With all that in mind, [Hans] and company came up with a pretty slick design. The frame of the feeder is made out of the PCBs that house the motors for handling the tape, and the ATmega168 that controls everything. Tapes are driven by a laser-cut sprocket driven by 3D-printed worm gears. The boards have fingers that mate up to the aluminum extrusion that the PnP will be built from, and at only a few millimeters wider than the tape, lots of feeders can be nestled together. The video below shows the feeder undergoing some tests.

Alas, this build isn’t quite done, so you’ll have to check back for the final schematics and PCB files if you want to build one for yourself. While you’re waiting, you might want to build your own pick and place.

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This Tiny Motor is Built into a PCB

Mounting a motor on a PCB is nothing new, right? But how about making the PCB itself part of the motor? That’s what [Carl Bugeja] has done with his brushless DC motor in a PCB project, and we think it’s pretty cool.

Details on [Carl]’s Hackaday.io page are a bit sparse at this point, but we’ve been in contact with him and he filled us in a little. The PCB contains the stator of the BLDC and acts as a mechanical support for the rotor’s bearing. There are six spiral coils etched into the PCB, each with about 40 turns. The coils are distributed around the axis; connected in a wye configuration, they drive a 3D-printed rotor that has four magnets pressed into it. You can see a brief test in the video below; it seems to suffer from a little axial wobble due to the single bearing, but that could be handled with a hat board supporting an upper bearing.

We see a lot of potential in this design. [Carl] mentions that the lack of cores in the coil limit it to low-torque applications, but it seems feasible to bore out the center of the coils and press-fit a ferrite slug. Adding SMD Hall sensors to the board for feedback would be feasible, too — in fact, an entire ESC and motor on one PCB could be possible as well. [Carl] has promised to keep the project page updated, and we’re looking forward to more on this one.

For a more traditional approach to printed motors, check out this giant 3D-printed BLDC.

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PCB Production on the Sienci Mill One

A complete start to finish electronics prototyping workshop is nirvana for many of us: being able to go from design on the computer to real hardware without having to get up from your rolling chair. The falling prices of 3D printers have helped make at least part of this a reality: $200 USD is enough to get you a printer that can churn out decent looking enclosures. But there’s more to producing your own hardware than creating slick looking project boxes; at some point you’ll need to put some electronics in there.

For [Chuck Hellebuyck] at least, the last piece of the puzzle has just fallen into place. He’s recently put up a YouTube video describing how he converted his $399 Sienci Mill One into a capable PCB mill. With a 3D printer and this new PCB mill, he’s happy to say he can now go from concept to production all on the same workbench.

The Sienci Mill One is a solid enough mill in its own right but did need some modification to attain the accuracy necessary for cutting at a depth of only .9 mm. First, a block of wood was cut to the same size as the original plastic bed of the Sienci, and then the mill itself was used to drill holes through the wood block and plastic bed. The wood was attached to the bed using a nut and bolt in each corner, being sure to torque it down enough that the head of the bolt is pulled down flush with the surface of the wood.

Pulling the head of the bolts flush wasn’t just to keep the surface free of any snags, [Chuck] uses them in conjunction with a probe in the mill’s chuck as a simple way of adjusting the Z height. With a continuity meter attached between the two, he could lower the probe down until they were touching just enough to make a circuit.

Click through the break for the rest of the story!

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Guide: Why Etch a PCB When You Can Mill?

I recall the point I started taking electronics seriously, although excited, a sense of dread followed upon the thought of facing the two main obstacles faced by hobbyists and even professionals: Fabricating you own PCB’s and fiddling with the ever decreasing surface mount footprints. Any resistance to the latter proves futile, expensive, and frankly a bit silly in retrospect. Cheap SMD tools have made it extremely easy to store, place, and solder all things SMD.

Once you’ve restricted all your hobbyist designs/experiments to SMD, how do you go about producing the PCBs needed for prototyping? Personally, I dread the thought of etching my own boards. The process is laborious and involves messy chemicals and specially sensitized PCB’s — none of which interest me. I’ve only ever done it a few times, and have promised myself never to do it again. Professional but cheap PCB manufacturing is more like it board pooling services such as OSH park have made this both easy and affordable — if you can wait for the turnaround.

So what are the alternatives? If you are really serious about swift prototyping from your own Lab, I put forth the case of milling your own PCB’s. Read on as I take you through the typical workflow from design to prototype and convince you to put up with the relatively high start up cost of purchasing a PCB mill.

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Exporting Eagle Libraries to FOSS Tools

Since Autodesk’s acquisition, Eagle has been making waves in the community. The de facto standard for Open Hardware PCB design is now getting push-and-shove routing, a button that flips the board over to the back (genius!), integration with Fusion360, automated 3D renderings of components, and a bunch of other neat tools. However, Eagle is not without its warts, and there is a desire to port those innumerable Eagle board layouts and libraries to other PCB design packages. This tool does just that.

The tool is an extension of pcb-rnd, a FOSS tool for circuit board editing, and this update massively extends support for Eagle boards and libraries. As an example, [VK5HSE] loaded up an Eagle .brd file of a transceiver, selected a pin header, and exported that component to a KiCad library. It worked the first time. For another experiment, the ever popular TV-B-Gone .brd file was exported directly to pcb-rnd. This is a mostly complete solution for Eagle to KiCad, Eagle to Autotrax, and Eagle to gEDA PCB, with a few minimal caveats relating to copper pours and silkscreen — nothing that can’t be dealt with if you’re not mindlessly using the tool.

While it must be noted that most Open Hardware projects fit inside a 80 cm2 board area, and can therefore be opened and modified with the free-to-use version of Autodesk’s Eagle, this is a very capable tool to turn Eagle boards and libraries into designs that can be built with FOSS tools.

Thanks [Erich] for the tip.