Friday Hack Chat: Circuit Board Art

We are now in a golden age of printed circuit boards. It wasn’t too long ago that making your own circuit boards either involved a lot of money, or slightly less money and using some proprietary garbage PCB layout tool. Now, every board house speaks Gerber, and you can get a ten-pack of PCBs from China for five bucks. This incredible cost reduction means people are making art with printed circuit boards. We’ve seen portraits, landscapes, and memes. This is truly the beginning of a new artistic medium rendered in fiberglass and soldermask.

Check out this blinky bit of art nouveau. There is a facebook group for PCB paintings, and some of the Badgelife crew are relying on woodcut and linoleum engraving techniques to create works of art in copper and fiberglass.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about PCB artwork. Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat will be [Andrew Sowa], an electrical engineer, a vocal advocate of KiCad, and the guy who made more of me money. The Benchoff Nickel was created by simply taking some of the fantastic illustrations from Hackaday’s own [Joe Kim] and applying KiCad’s Bitmap2Component tool. Since the creation of the nickel, [Andrew] has been working on extending his technique to cross-hatching, backlighting, and halftones.

In this Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about PCB artwork, including the very beginnings of PCB art where engineers hid a few easter eggs in the PCBs of Xboxen and other consumer electronics. Topics covered will be bitmap to SVG conversion (in Inkscape and Illustrator), KiCad footprint creation, and the more technical side of things with the limitations of PCB fabrication and the slightly different shades of beige FR4 comes in.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week is just like any other, and we’ll be gathering ’round our video terminals at noon, Pacific, on Friday, April 20th. How can there be time zones when the Earth has four days simultaneously for each rotation? You erroneously measure time from one corner. Here’s a clock counting down the time until the Hack Chat starts.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

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

Magic 8 Ball Business Card Will Answer All Your Questions

The PCB business card has long been a staple amongst the freelance EE set. It’s a way to show potential clients that you can do the job, as well as leave a great first impression. Some are simple blinkenlights devices, others have contact information on USB storage. We reckon that [Seamus] has really hit it out of the park with this one, though.

That’s right- this business card riffs on the classic Magic 8-ball toy. Ask a question, shake the card, and it’ll light an LED with the corresponding answer to your query. Use it as a desk toy, or break deadlocks in meetings by looking to the card for the correct course of action.

It’s a very tasteful build, showing off [Seamus]’s minimalist chops – consisting of just a decade counter, a tilt sensor, and some LEDs. When the card is shaken, the tilt sensor outputs a series of pulses to the clock line of the decade counter, whose outputs are the 8 LEDs. When the tilt sensor settles, it lands on the final answer.

We think it’s a great card, which shows off both fundamental technical skills as well as a certain flair and creativity which can be key to landing exciting projects. It doesn’t hurt that it’s good fun, to boot. For another take on the Magic 8-ball, check out this build that can give you a Yes/No answer on demand.

A Brushless Motor on a PCB, Made from PCB

At Hackaday, we really appreciate it when new projects build on projects we’ve featured in the past. It’s great to be able to track back and see what inspires people to pick up someone else’s work and bring it to the next level or take it down a totally new path.

This PCB brushless motor is a great example of the soft collaboration that makes the Hackaday community so powerful. [bobricius] says he was inspired by this tiny PCB BLDC when he came up with his design. His write-up is still sparse at this point, but it looks like his motor is going to be used to drive a small robot. As with his inspiration, this motor has the stator coils etched right into the base PCB. But there are some significant improvements, like increasing the stator coil count from six to eight, as well as increasing the overall size of the motor. [bobricius] has also done away with the 3D-printed rotor of the original, opting to fabricate his rotor from stacked PCBs with cutouts for 5-mm neodymium magnets. We like the idea of using the same material throughout the motor, and it also raises the potential for stacking a second stator on the other side of the rotor, which might help mechanically and electrically. Even still, the prototype seems to hold its own in the video below.

This is [bobricius]’ second entry in the 2018 Hackaday Prize so far, after his not-a-Nixie tube display. Have you entered anything yet? Get to it! Prizes, achievements, and glory await.

Continue reading “A Brushless Motor on a PCB, Made from PCB”

Making Fancy Dice PCBs at Home

These days, it’s easy to get high-quality custom PCBs made and shipped to your door for under $50. It’s something that was unfathomable only a decade ago, but now it’s commonplace. However, it doesn’t mean that the techniques of home PCB production are now completely obsolete. Maybe you live somewhere a little off the beaten track (Australia, even!) and need to iterate quickly on a project, or perhaps you’d like to tinker with the chemical processes involved. For your learning pleasure, [Emiliano] decided to share some tips on making SMD-ready PCBs with the TinyDice project.

The actual project is to create a small electronic dice, and [Emiliano] touches on the various necessary considerations such as how to decrease power consumption, and how to source good quality, organic random numbers from your local microcontroller. Though its far from an exhaustive discussion on either topic, it shows an understanding of the deeper factors at play here.

However, the real meat of the write-up is the PCB production process. The guide goes through several stages of etching to not only prepare the PCB but also to add solder mask and produce a solder paste stencil as well using an aluminum can. This gives the boards that colored finish we’re all used to and lets the boards be reflowed for easy SMD assembly.

It’s a tidy guide as to how to approach producing your own boards to be used with SMD components, and it’s complete with clear photos and instructions throughout. If you want to take your designs up another notch, why not consider putting your components inside the circuit board?

Friday Hack Chat: Everything PCB

It was not too long ago that all PCB design packages were proprietary. Getting PCBs made was expensive, and if you tried to do this over the Internet, the best way was to download a board house’s proprietary software, design your board in their software suite, and send your boards off to be made. A 5 cm square board would cost two hundred dollars. I know this to be true because I’ve said it before, and no one has corrected me.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re talking Everything PCB with OSH Park. OSH Park is the leading creators of perfect purple PCBs. They have POGs, and for the last two weeks, they’ve been one of the few places you can send some Gerbers to and have it manufactured in a timely manner if you live in the US. Because China was closed.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking about everything PCB. How do you do castellated holes? How do you mill slots and square or otherwise non-round holes? Internal cutouts? Stop mask expansion? Artwork? Panelization? Why purple? More POGs!

Our guests for this chat will be [Dan Sheadel] and [Drew Fustini] of OSH Park, and they’re going to be there answering all your questions. [Dan] has been around OSH Park from the beginning and enjoys designing tiny useless robots and mentoring students building better ones. [Drew] is an Open Source hardware developer, firmware designer, a BeagleBoard board member, and is usually found at hardware meetups wearing purple.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat is going down Friday, March 2nd at noon, Pacific time. Want to know what time this is happening in your neck of the woods? Have a countdown timer!

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

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

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.

Continue reading “What’s Coming In KiCad Version 5”