Panelizing Boards The Easy Way

For reasons that will remain undisclosed until some time in the future, I recently had a need to panelize a few PCBs. Panelization is the art of taking PCB designs you already have, whether they’re KiCad board files, Eagle board files, or just Gerbers, and turning them into a single collection of PCBs that can be sent off to a fab house.

Now this is panel racing

If you’re still wondering what this means, take a look at the last board you got from OSH Park, Seeed, Itead, or Dirty PCBs. Around the perimeter of your board, you’ll find some rough spots. These are ‘mouse bites’ and tabs, places where the boards are strung together to form a gigantic rectangular panel sent off to a manufacturer. You can check out this great interview with [Laen] from OSH Park to get an idea of how this works, but the basic process is to take a bunch of Gerbers, add tabs and mouse bites, solve the knapsack problem, and send the completed panel off to a board house.

Panelizing boards is something most of us won’t have to do often. Really, you only want a panel of boards when you’re manufacturing something. For small-scale production and prototypes, bare boards will do just fine. Simply by virtue of the fact that panelizing boards is far less common than throwing some Gerbers at OSH Park or Seeed, there aren’t many (good) tutorials, and even fewer (good) tools to do so. This is how you panelize boards quickly and easily using Open Source tools.

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Friday Hack Chat: Perfect Purple PCBs

Every Friday, we gather ’round the hot air gun over on Hackaday.io, invite some cool people over, and get them to talk about what they do. This is the Hack Chat. It’s become a tradition, and already we’ve had a ton of awesome people walk through our doors.

This Friday, we’re going to sit down with the purveyors of perfect purple PCBs. Over the last decade or so, a lot has changed in the space of small-run PCB production. Ten years ago, PCBs were expensive, and it wouldn’t be abnormal to spend hundreds of dollars on a small run of tiny boards. Now, The DEF CON 24 badge, in a panel are cheaper than ever, giving industrious hardware creators access to professional quality manufacturing at a fraction of the price seen just a few years ago.

For the last few years, OSH Park has been a mainstay of low-volume PCB fabrication. Their website is as simple as it gets: Upload some Gerbers, an Eagle board file, or a KiCad PCB, press a few buttons, and in a week or so you’ll have a perfect purple PCB in your mailbox.

This week, we’re inviting [Drew Fustini] and [Dan Sheadel] to talk about what OSH Park does, how they became the first place that comes to mind when you need a PCB. They’ll explain why the boards are purple, environmental regulations for PCB manufacturing in the US, shared projects and tips and tricks for creating the perfect board.

What would you like to see from a PCB supplier? Would you like to see OSH Park expand further into their burgeoning Pog business? How about a sticker club? Who would win in a fight, a blue robot dog or a purple robot shark? All these questions and more will be answered; if you have a question for the OSH Park team, drop it in this spreadsheet.

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, June 23rd. 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

Laser PCBs with LDGraphy

There are many, many ways to get a PCB design onto a board for etching. Even with practice however, the quality of the result varies with the process and equipment used. With QFN parts becoming the norm, the days of etch-resist transfers and a permanent marker are all but gone. Luckily, new and improved methods of Gerber transfer have be devised in recent years thanks to hackers across the world.

One such hacker, [Henner] is working on a project called LDGraphy in an attempt to bring high-resolution etching to the masses. LDGraphy is a laser lithography device that makes use of a laser and a Beaglebone green to etch the layout onto the board. The best part is that the entire BOM is claimed to cost under a $100 which makes it affordable to people on a budget.

The system is designed around a 500 mW laser and a polygon mirror scanner meant for a laser printer. The board with photoresist is linearly actuated in the X-axis using a stepper motor and the laser beam which is bounced off the rotating hexagonal mirror is responsible for the Y-axis. The time critical code for the Programmable Realtime Unit (PRU) of the AM335X processor is written in assembly for the fast laser switching. The enclosure is, naturally, a laser cut acrylic case and is made at [Henner]’s local hackerspace.

[Henner] has been hard at work calibrating his design and compensating for the inaccuracies of the components used. In the demo video below he presents a working version with a resolution of 6 mils which is wonderful considering the cost of the machine. He also shares his code on GitHub if you want to help out and you can track his updates on Google+. Continue reading “Laser PCBs with LDGraphy”

540 PCBs Make a Giant LED Cube

Just about anyone can make a simple LED cube. But what if you want to make a 1-meter cube using 512 LEDs? [Hari] wanted to do it, so he created two different kinds of LED boards using EasyEDA. There are 270  of each type of board, for a total of 540 (there are only 512 LEDs, so we guess he got some spares due to how the small boards panelized). The goal is to combine these boards to form a cube measuring over three feet on each side.

To simplify wiring, the boards are made to daisy chain like a cordwood module. However, to get things to line up, each column of LED boards have to rotate 90 degrees. You can see several videos about the project below.

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Designing for Fab: a Heads-Up before Designing PCBs for Professional Assembly

Designing pcbs for assembly is easy, right? We just squirt all the footprints onto a board layout, connect all the traces, send out the gerbers and position files, and we’re done–right?

Whoa, hold the phone, there, young rogue! Just like we can hack together some working source code with variables named after our best friends, we can also design our PCBs in ways that make it fairly difficult to assemble.

However, by following the agreed-upon design specs, we’ll put ourselves on track for success with automated assembly. If we want another party to put components on our boards, we need to clearly communicate the needed steps to get there. The best way to do so is by following the standards.

Proper Footprint Orientation

Now, for a momImage Credit: https://encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQBEztpnSxpN_IRjq3y8GbetrMHKuoSu_s6myiFOHilL2FlQKyLrgent, let’s imagine ourselves as the tip of a vacuum pickup tool on a pick-and-place machine. These tools are designed to pick up components on the reel from their centroid and plunk them on their corresponding land pattern. Seems pretty straightforward, right? It is, provided that we design our footprints knowing that they’ll one day come face-to-face with the pick-and-place machine.

To get from the reel to the board, we, the designers, need two bits of information from out part’s datasheet: the part centroid and the reel orientation.

The part centroid is an X-Y location that calls out the center-of-mass of the part. It basically tells the machine: “pick me up from here!” As designers, it’s our responsibility to design all of our footprints such that the footprint origin is set at the part’s centroid. If we forget to do so, the pick-and-place will try to suck up our parts from a location that may not stick very well to the package, such as: the corner.

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Learn Advanced PCB Design for $200–Worth It?

[Helentronica] has been using Altium Designer to lay out PC boards since he was a student. Now as a freelancer, he felt like he didn’t quite know all that he wanted to know. Keep in mind he’d done multilayer boards with BGAs and LVDS routing, so he was no neophyte. He decided to spend about $200 on an advanced course from Fedevel Academy. In this day where everything is free on the Internet, is it worth paying $200 to watch some videos?

[Helentronica] probably weighed the same question. However, he was interested in the course project which is an open-source computer module with an i.MX6 processor, 1 GB of DDR3 SDRAM and lots of expansion options. In fact, the ad copy that sold him was:

You will be practicing on a real high-speed board with 1.2GHz CPU and DDR3, PCIE, SATA, HDMI, LVDS, 1Gb Ethernet and more

He completed the course. Was it worth it? We won’t spoil the story, but you should check out his post and find out. Even if you don’t want to drop $200 or you don’t use Altium, you will probably pick up some tips on PC board layout.

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A Tool For KiCad Board Renderings

If you’re producing documentation for a PCB project, you might as well make the board renders look good. But then, that’s a lot of work and you’re not an artist. Enter [Jan]’s new tool that takes KiCad board files, replaces each footprint with (custom) graphics, and provides a nice SVG representation, ready for labelling. If you like the output of a Fritzing layout, but have higher expectations of the PCB tool, this is just the ticket.

We all love [pighixx]’s pinout diagrams. Here’s his take on the Arduino Uno, for instance. It turns out that he does these largely by hand. That’s art for ya.

Sparkfun has taken a stab at replicating the graphical style for the pin labels, but then they toss in a photo of the real item. [Jan]’s graphic PCB generator fills in the last step toward almost putting [pighixx] out of a job. Get the code for yourself on GitHub.