Oscilloscope And Microscope Augmented With Ghosts

Augmented reality saw a huge boom a few years ago, where an image of the real world has some virtual element layer displayed on top of it. To get this effect to work, however, you don’t need a suite of software and smart devices. [elad] was able to augment a microscope with the output from an oscilloscope, allowing him to see waveforms while working on small printed circuit boards with the microscope.

The build relies on a simplified version of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion. This works by separating two images with a semi-transparent material such as glass, placed at an angle. When looking through the material, the two images appear to blend together. [elad] was able to build a box that attaches to the microscope with a projection of the oscilloscope image augmented on the view of the microscope.

This looks like it would be incredibly useful for PCBs, especially when dealing with small SMD components. The project is split across two entries, the second of which is here. In one demonstration the oscilloscope image is replaced with a visual of a computer monitor, so it could be used for a lot more applications than just the oscilloscope, too. There aren’t a lot of details on the project page though, but with an understanding of Pepper’s Ghost this should be easily repeatable. If you need more examples, there are plenty of other builds that use this technique.

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Drill Thrice, Solder Once

If you design printed circuit boards, then you will have also redesigned printed circuit boards. Nobody gets it right the first time, every time. Sometimes you can solder a scrap of 30gauge wire, flip a component 180°, or make a TO-92 transistor do that little pirouette thing where the legs go every-which-way. If you angered the PCB deities, you may have to access a component pad far from an edge. [Nathan Seidle], the founder of Sparkfun, finds himself in this situation, but all hope is not lost.

Our first thought is to desolder everything, then take a hot iron and tiny wires to each pad. Of course, this opens up a lot of potential for damage to the chip, cold joints, and radio interference. Accessing the pin in vivo has risks, but they are calculated. The idea is to locate the pin, then systematically drill from the backside and expose the copper. [Nate] also discovers that alcohol will make the PCB transparent so you can peer at the underside to confirm you have found your mark.

In a real, “fight fire with fire” idea, you can rework with flex PCBs or push your PCB Fu to the next level and use PCBs as your enclosure.

Hackaday Superconference: Nick Poole On Boggling The Boardhouse

By now we are all used to the role of the printed circuit board in artwork, because of the burgeoning creativity in the conference and unofficial #BadgeLife electronic badge scenes. When the masters of electronic design tools turn their hand to producing for aesthetic rather than technical reasons, the results were always going to be something rather special.

Nick Poole is an ace wrangler of electrons working for SparkFun, and as such is someone with an impressive pedigree when it comes to PCB design. Coming on stage sporting a beret with an awesome cap badge, his talk at the recent Hackaday Superconference concerned his experience in pushing the boundaries of what is possible in PCB manufacture. It was a primer in the techniques required to create special work in the medium of printed circuit boards, and it should be essential viewing for anybody with an interest in this field.

Though he starts with the basics of importing graphics into a PCB design package, the meat of his talk lies in going beyond the mere two dimensions of a single PCB into the third dimension either by creating PCBs that interlock, or by stacking boards.

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A Complete Desktop PCB Etching Station

Right now you can get a custom circuit board delivered to your door in about a week for just a few dollars. There’s little reason to make your own circuit boards at home anymore, but when you need a board now, you want to have that capability. [Tuval Ben Dosa] designed a complete PCB etching station that is the perfect tool for making printed circuit boards at home. It’s got everything you need for the perfect etch, and with this setup you can make a board in hours instead of waiting for days.

The chemistry for any etching setup is important, and in recent years the entire community has moved from ferric chloride to copper chloride for a very good reason: you can recharge copper chloride etchant by bubbling oxygen (or air) through it, whereas ferric chloride is a one-use etchant.

The mechanical part of this build consists of an airtight glass food container sitting on top of a PCB heating element not unlike the heated bed of a 3D printer. Along with that is an I2C temperature sensor encased in a silicone tube, a stir bar, diaphram pump, and a few pumps to blow air into the etchant and pump out the chlorine gas generated. This is controlled by a small microcontroller with a UI consisting of just an encoder and OLED display.

If you’re looking for builds that will etch copper and brass at home, this has been something that has been done before. The Etchinator is a fantastic build capable of making everything from printmaking plates to printed circuit boards. That’s a build that requires a lot of work, and this small, compact etching station does everything you need without taking up too much space in the shop. Check out the video below.

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What’s The Deal With Square Traces On PCBs

When designing a printed circuit board, there are certain rules. You should place decoupling capacitors near the power pins to each chip. Your ground planes should be one gigantic fill of copper; two ground planes connected by a single trace is better known as an antenna. Analog sections should be kept separate from digital sections, and if you’re dealing with high voltage, that section needs to be isolated.

One that I hear a lot is that you must never put a 90-degree angle on a trace. Some fear the mere sight of a 90-degree angle on a PCB tells everyone you don’t know what you’re doing. But is there is really no greater sin than a 90-degree trace on a circuit board?

This conventional wisdom of eschewing 90-degree traces is baked into everything we know about circuit board design. It is the first thing you’re taught, and it’s the first thing you’ll criticize when you find a board with 90-degree traces. Do square traces actually matter? The short answer is no, but there’s still a reason we don’t do it.

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CNC Your Own PCB With This Tutorial

It is getting so easy to order a finished printed circuit board that it is tough to justify building your own. But sometimes you really need a board right now. Or maybe you need a lot of fast iterations so you can’t wait for the postal service. [Thomas Sanladerer] shows how he makes PCBs with a CNC machine and has a lot of good advice in the video below.

He starts with Eagle, although, you could use any creation package. He shows what parameters he changes to make sure the traces don’t get eaten away and how to do the CAM job to get the files required to make the boards. If you don’t use Eagle, you’ll need to infer how to do similar changes and get the same kind of output.

We’ve only heard a few people pronounce Gerber (as in Gerber file) with a soft G sound, but we still knew what he meant. We have the same problem with GIF files. However, once you have Gebers, you can join the video’s workflow about 5 minutes in.

At that point, he uses FlatCAM to convert the Gerbers to a single G-code file that integrates the paths and drill files. There were a few tricks he used to make sure all the tracks are picked up. Other tricks include leveling a spoil board by just milling it down and mounting different size bits. He also has ideas on aligning the Z axis.

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Epoxy Fix For A Combusted PCB

When the Magic Smoke is released, chances are pretty good that you’ve got some component-level diagnosis to do. It’s usually not that hard to find the faulty part, charred and crusty as it likely appears. In that case, some snips, a new non-crusty part, and a little solder are usually enough to get you back in business.

But what if the smoke came not from a component but from the PCB itself? [Happymacer] chanced upon this sorry situation in a power supply for an electric gate opener. Basking in the Australian sunshine for a few years, the opener started acting fussy at first, then not acting at all. Inspection of its innards revealed that some unlucky ants had shorted across line and neutral on the power supply board, which burned not only the traces but the FR4 of the board as well. Rather than replace the entire board, [Happymacer] carefully removed the carbonized (and therefore conductive) fiberglass and resin, leaving a gaping hole in the board. He fastened a patch for the hole from some epoxy glue; Araldite is the brand he used, but any two-part epoxy, like JB Weld, should work. One side of the hole was covered with tape and the epoxy was smeared into the hole, and after a week of curing and a little cleanup, it was ready for duty. The components were placed into freshly drilled holes, missing traces were replaced with wire, and it seems to be working fine.

This seems like a great tip to keep in mind for when catastrophe strikes your boards. There are more extreme ways to do it, of course, but perhaps none so flexible. After all, epoxy is versatile stuff.