Tiny Prisms Let You See What Lies Beneath A BGA Chip

Compared to through-hole construction, inspecting SMD construction is a whole other game. Things you thought were small before are almost invisible now, and making sure solder got where it’s supposed to go can be a real chore. Add some ball grid array (BGA) chips into the mix, where the solder joints are not visible by design, and inspection is more a leap of faith than objective proof of results.

How it works.

Unless, of course, you put the power of optics to work, as [Petteri Aimonen] does with this clever BGA inspection tool. It relies on a pair of tiny prisms to bounce light under one side of a BGA chip and back up the other. The prisms are made from thin sheets of acrylic; [Petteri] didn’t have any 1-mm acrylic sheet on hand, so he harvested material from a razor blade package. The edge of each piece was ground to a 45-degree angle and polished with successively finer grits until the surfaces were highly reflective. One prism was affixed to a small scrap of PCB with eleven SMD LEDs in a row, forming a light pipe that turns the light through 90 degrees. The light source is held along one edge of a BGA, shining light underneath to the other prism, bouncing light through the forest of solder balls and back toward the observer.

The results aren’t exactly crystal clear, which is understandable given the expedient nature of the materials and construction employed. But it’s certainly more than enough to see any gross problems lying below a BGA, like shorts or insufficiently melted solder. [Petteri] reports that flux can be a problem, too, as excess of the stuff can crystalize between pads under the BGA and obstruct the light. A little extra cleaning should help in such cases.

Haven’t tackled a BGA job yet? You might want to get up to speed on that.

RCA’s Clear Plastic TV Wowed Crowds In 1939

In the United States in 1939, television sets still had a long way to go before they pretty much sold themselves. Efforts to do just that are what led to RCA’s Lucite Phantom Telereceiver, which aimed to show people a new way to receive broadcast media.

Created for the 1939 World’s Fair, the TRK-12 Lucite Phantom Telereceiver introduced people to the concept of television. Production models were housed in contemporary wood cabinets, but the clear acrylic (itself also a relatively new thing) units allowed curious potential customers to gaze within, and see what was inside these devices.

One interesting feature is the vertically-mounted cathode ray tube, which reflects off a mirror in the top cover of the cabinet for viewing. This meant that much of the bulk of the TRK-12 could be vertical instead of horizontal. Important, because the TRK-12 was just over a meter tall and weighed 91 kilograms (or just over 200 lbs.)

Clearly a luxury item, the TRK-12 sold for $600 which was an eye-watering sum for the time. But it was a glimpse of the future, and as usual, the future is made available a few ticks early to those who can afford the cost.

Want to see one in person? You might be in luck, because an original resides at the MZTV Museum of Television in Toronto, Canada.

Stop Silicone Cure Inhibition, No Fancy Or Expensive Products Required

Casting parts in silicone is great, and 3D printing in resin is fantastic for making clean shapes, so it’s natural for an enterprising hacker to want to put the two together: 3D print the mold, pour in the silicone, receive parts! But silicone’s curing process can be inhibited by impurities. What’s cure inhibition? It’s a gross mess as shown in the image above, that’s what it is. Sadly, SLA-printed resin molds are notorious for causing exactly that. What’s a hacker to do?

Firstly: there are tin-cure and platinum-cure silicones, and for the most part tin-cure silicone works just fine in resin-printed molds. Platinum-cure silicones have better properties, but are much more susceptible to cure inhibition. Most workarounds rely on adding some kind of barrier coating to molds, but [Jan Mrázek] has a cheap and scalable method of avoiding this issue that we haven’t seen before. Continue reading “Stop Silicone Cure Inhibition, No Fancy Or Expensive Products Required”

fiber matrix

Big LED Matrix Becomes Tiny LED Matrix Thanks To Fiber Optics

Everyone loves LED matrices, and even if you can’t find what you like commercially, it’s pretty easy to make just what you want. Need it big? No problem; just order a big PCB and some WS2812s. Need something tiny? There are ridiculously small LEDs that will test your SMD skills, as well as your vision.

But what if you want a small matrix that’s actually a big matrix in disguise? For that, you’ll want to follow [elliotmade]’s lead and incorporate fiber optics into your LED matrix. The build starts with a 16×16 matrix of WS2812B addressable LEDs, with fairly tight spacing but still 160 mm on a side. The flexible matrix was sandwiched between a metal backing plate and a plastic bezel with holes directly over each LED. Each hole accepts one end of a generous length of flexible 1.5-mm acrylic light pipe material; the other end plugs into a block of aluminum with a 35 by 7 matrix of similar holes. The small block is supported above the baseplate by standoffs, but it looks like the graceful bundle of fibers is holding up the smaller display.

A Raspberry Pi Pico running a CircutPython program does the job of controlling the LEDs, and as you can see in the video below, the effect is quite lovely. Just enough light leaks out from the fibers to make a fascinating show in the background while the small display does its thing. We’ve seen a few practical uses for such a thing, but we’re OK with this just being pretty. It does give one ideas about adding fiber optics to circuit sculptures, though.

Continue reading “Big LED Matrix Becomes Tiny LED Matrix Thanks To Fiber Optics”

Clock-of-Clocks Adds Light-Pipe Hands For Beauty And Function

We’ve gotten used to seeing “meta clocks,” clocks that use an array of analog clock faces and piece together characters using the hands of the clocks. They’re very clever, and we always like to see them, especially when they come with detailed build instructions like this one does.

What’s also nice about [Erich Styger]’s “MetaClockClock” display is the twist on the original concept. Where most clock-of-clocks depend on the contrast between the hands and the faces of the analog movements, [Erich] added light to the mix. Hidden inside the bezel of each clock is a strip of RGB LEDs; coupled with the clear acrylic hands of the clock, which act as light pipes, each clock can contribute different shapes of different colors to the display. Each clock is built around a dual-shaft stepper motor of the kind used in car dashboard gauges; the motors each live on a custom PCB, while the LEDs are mounted on a ring-shaped PCB of their own. Twenty-four of the clocks are mounted in a very nice walnut panel, which works really well with the light-pipe hands. The video below shows just some of the display possibilities.

[Erich] has documented his build process in extreme detail, and has all the design files up on GitHub. We won’t say that recreating his build will be easy — there are a lot of skills needed here, from electronics to woodworking — but at least all the information is there. We think this is a beautiful upgrade to [Erich]’s earlier version, and we’d love to see more of these built.

Continue reading “Clock-of-Clocks Adds Light-Pipe Hands For Beauty And Function”

Programmable Wrist Synth Pushes The Envelope

Synths are a ton of fun no matter how good or bad they sound. Really, there are no bad-sounding ones, it’s just that some are more annoying to listen than others to if you’re not the one making the beep boops. [Clem] had built a tiny LDR-based synth into a watch case a few years back and took it to many a Maker Faire, where it delighted and annoyed until it ultimately broke.

Naturally, it was time to make a new version that’s more capable. Whereas the first one was Atari-punk-console-meets-light-Theremin, this one has a bunch of inputs and can be programmed on the fly to record and play back bendable tones. It’s driven by an Arduino MKR, and the inputs are managed by an impressively squash bug-wired shift register. [Clem] used beefy switches this time in the hopes that this one will last longer. We think the slide pots are a great touch, as are the candy-colored knobs printed in PMMA.

Our favorite part is that [Clem] took advantage of the random states the microcontroller pins are in when it’s first powered on. If you don’t want to program any notes, you can use the ones generated at boot and just play around with those. Be sure to check out the build video after the break.

We’ve seen our share of synths, but few as delicious-looking as KELPIE from this year’s Hackaday Prize.

Continue reading “Programmable Wrist Synth Pushes The Envelope”

Plastics: Acrylic

If anything ends up on the beds of hobbyist-grade laser cutters more often than birch plywood, it’s probably sheets of acrylic. There’s something strangely satisfying about watching a laser beam trace over a sheet of the crystal-clear stuff, vaporizing a hairs-breadth line while it goes, and (hopefully) leaving a flame-polished cut in its wake.

Acrylic, more properly known as poly(methyl methacrylate) or PMMA, is a wonder material that helped win a war before being developed for peacetime use. It has some interesting chemistry and properties that position it well for use in the home shop as everything from simple enclosures to laser-cut parts like gears and sprockets.

Continue reading “Plastics: Acrylic”