Supercon SMD Challenge Gets 3D Printed Probes: Build Your Own

This year was the second SMD challenge at Supercon, so it stands to reason we probably learned a few things from last year. If you aren’t familiar with the challenge, you are served some pretty conventional tools and have to solder a board with LEDs getting progressively smaller until you get to 0201 components. Those are challenging even with proper tools, but a surprising number of people have managed to build them even using the clunky, large irons we provide.

During the first challenge, we did find one problem though. The LEDs are all marked for polarity. However, since we don’t provide super high power magnification, it was often difficult to determine the polarity, especially on the smaller parts. Last year, [xBeau] produced some quick LED testers to help overcome this problem. This year we refined them a bit.

As you can see, the 2018 model was a very clever use of what was on hand. A CR2032 holder powered the probes and the probes themselves were two resistors. If you can get the LED to light with the probes you know which lead is the anode and which is the cathode. A little red ink makes it even more obvious. Continue reading “Supercon SMD Challenge Gets 3D Printed Probes: Build Your Own”

Creating Easy Glass Circuit Boards At Home

This tip for creating glass substrate circuit boards at home might hew a bit closer to arts and crafts than the traditional Hackaday post, but the final results of the method demonstrated by [Heliox] in her recent video are simply too gorgeous to ignore. The video is in French, but between YouTube’s attempted automatic translation and the formidable mental powers of our beloved readers, we don’t think it will be too hard for you to follow along after the break.

The short version is that [Heliox] loads her Silhouette Cameo, a computer-controlled cutting machine generally used for paper and vinyl, with a thin sheet of copper adhered to a backing sheet to give it some mechanical strength. With the cutting pressure of the Cameo dialed back, the circuit is cut out of the copper but not the sheet underneath, and the excess can be carefully peeled away.

Using transfer paper, [Heliox] then lifts the copper traces off the sheet and sticks them down to a cut piece of glass. Once it’s been smoothed out and pushed down, she pulls the transfer paper off and the copper is left behind.

From there, it’s just a matter of soldering on the SMD components. To make it a little safer to handle she wet sands the edges of the glass to round them off, but it’s still glass, so we wouldn’t recommend this construction for anything heavy duty. While it might not be the ideal choice for your next build, it certainly does looks fantastic when mounted in a stand and blinking away like [Heliox] shows off at the end.

Ironically, when compared to some of the other methods of making professional looking PCBs at home that we’ve seen over the years, this one might actually be one of the easiest. Who knew?

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A Newbie Takes The SMD Challenge At Supercon

First-time visitors to Disneyworld often naively think they’re going to “do” the park in three days: one day for the Magic Kingdom, one day for Epcot, and one day for everything else. It’s easy to spot such people, collapsed on a bench or dragging exhausted kids around while trying to make their way to the next must-see attraction. Supercon is something like that — a Disney-esque theme park for hackers that will exhaust you if you don’t have a plan, and if you don’t set reasonable expectations. Which is why I was glad that I set only one real goal for my first Supercon: take the SMD Soldering Challenge.

Now, while I’m pretty handy with a soldering iron, I was under no illusion that I would be at all competitive. All my soldering experience has been with through-hole components, and while I also used to doing some production soldering on fine-pitch connectors, the whole surface-mount thing is new to me. I entered mainly because I wanted to see what was possible coming in raw. At best I’d learn what my limits are, and at worst I’d fail spectacularly and provide grist for a “Fail of the Supercon” post. It’s a win either way.

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How To Design A BGA Breakout Module

Surface mount devices can take some adjusting to for hackers primarily used to working with through-hole components. Despite this, the lure of the hottest new parts has enticed even the most reticent to learn to work with the technology. Of course, time rolls on and BGA parts bring further difficulties. [Nate] from SparkFun worked on the development of the RedBoard Artemis, and broke down the challenges involved.

The RedBoard Artemis is an Arduino-compatible devboard built around the Ambiq Apollo3 chip. In addition to packing Bluetooth and 1 MB of Flash, it’s also capable of running TensorFlow models and using tiny amounts of power. The chip comes in an 81-Ball Grid Array at 0.5mm pitch, which meant SparkFun’s usual PCB fabrication methods weren’t going to cut it.

An initial run of prototype boards was run using 4 layers, blind and buried vias, and other fancy tricks to break out all the necessary signals. While this worked well, it was expensive and inefficient. The only part of the board that needed such fabrication was around the chip itself; the rest of the board could be produced with cheaper 2-layer methods. To improve this for mass production, instead, an SMD module was created to house the Apollo3, which could then be dropped into new designs on cheaper boards as necessary.

[Nate] does a great job of explaining the engineering involved, as well as sharing useful tips for others going down a similar path. So far, this is just part 1, with future posts promising to cover the RF shield design and FCC certification process. [Nate] has always been keen to share his wisdom, and we can’t wait to see what comes next!

3D-Printed Magazines Tame The SMD Tape Beast

Chances are pretty good that you’ve got a box or a bin somewhere in your shop with coils of SMD component tapes in it. If you’re lucky, the coils are somewhat contained in their conductive Mylar bags; if you’re more like us, the tapes are flopping around loose in an attempt to seemingly tie themselves together. In either case, these 3D-printed SMD magazines will bring a little order to the chaos, and make board assembly a little bit easier.

When we saw [Robin Reiter]’s build, we thought these would be cassettes for some sort of pick-and-place machine. But while they certainly look like they could be adapted to an automated PnP setup, [Robin]’s main goal was to provide organized storage for loose tapes. Each magazine has a circular reservoir to hold the coiled tape, with an exit slot at the front and a wedge that directs the cover tape in the opposite direction. This removes the cover tape to expose the components, clears it away from the pickup area, and as a bonus, allows the component tape to be advanced just by pulling back on the cover. Each magazine has a spring-loaded latch that clips onto a base that looks a bit like a DIN-rail; the weighted base holds several magazines and makes it easy to set up a manual pick-and-place session. The video below shows all the details.

For certain personality types, this really scratches an itch. We love the modular design, and the organization that these would bring to our shop would really help clean things up a bit. And if [Robin] were ever to take this design to the next level, adding something like this could be useful.

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Fail Of The Week: How Not To Re-Reflow

There’s no question that surface-mount technology has been a game-changer for PCB design. It means easier automated component placement and soldering, and it’s a big reason why electronics have gotten so cheap. It’s not without problems, though, particularly when you have no choice but to include through-hole components on your SMT boards.

[James Clough] ran into this problem recently, and he tried to solve it by reflowing through-hole connectors onto assembled SMT boards. The boards are part of his electronic lead screw project, an accessory for lathes that makes threading operations easier and more flexible. We covered the proof-of-concept for the project; he’s come a long way since then and is almost ready to start offering the ELS for sale. The PCBs were partially assembled by the board vendor, leaving off a couple of through-hole connectors and the power jack. [James]’ thought was to run the boards back through his reflow oven to add the connectors, so he tried a few experiments first on the non-reflow rated connectors. The Phoenix-style connectors discolored and changed dimensionally after a trip through the oven, and the plastic on the pin headers loosened its grip on the pins. The female header socket and the power jack fared better, so he tried reflowing them, but it didn’t work out too well, at least for the headers. He blames poor heat conduction due to the lack of contact between the board and the reflow oven plate, and we agree; perhaps an aluminum block milled to fit snugly between the header sockets would help.

Hats off to [James] for trying to save his future customers a few steps on assembly, but it’s pretty clear there are no good shortcuts here. And we highly recommend the electronic leadscrew playlist to anyone interested in the convergence of machine tools and electronics.

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Cheap Stereo Microscope Helps With SMD

Soldering is best done under magnification. Parts become ever smaller and eyes get weaker, so even if you don’t need magnification now, you will. [Makzumi] didn’t want to shell out $400 or more for a good microscope so he hacked one from some cheap binoculars from the toy section on Amazon.

A lot of magnifiers aren’t really good for soldering because the distance between the work and the lens isn’t very large. The hacked ‘scope has about 4 inches of working distance, which is plenty of room to stick some solder and a hot iron under there. The resulting magnification is about 12 or 15X and he claims that the cell phone pictures he’s included aren’t as good as really looking through the eyepieces yourself.

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