Hybrid 3D-Printer Creates Complete Circuits, Case and All

The cool kids these days all seem to think we’re on the verge of an AI apocalypse, at least judging by all the virtual ink expended on various theories. But our putative AI overlords will have a hard time taking over the world without being able to build robotic legions to impose their will. That’s why this advance in 3D printing that can incorporate electronic circuits may be a little terrifying, at least to some.

The basic idea that [Florens Wasserfall] and colleagues at the University of Hamburg have come up with is a 3D-printer with a few special modifications. One is a separate extruder than squirts a conductive silver-polymer ink, the other is a simple vacuum tip on the printer extruder for pick and place operations. The bed of the printer also has a tray for storing SMD parts and cameras for the pick-and-place to locate parts and orient them before placing them into the uncured conductive ink traces.

The key to making the hardware work together though is a toolchain that allows circuits to be integrated into the print. It starts with a schematic in Eagle, which joins with the CAD model of the part to be printed in a modified version of Slic3r, the open-source slicing package. Locations for SMD components are defined, traces are routed, and the hybrid printer builds the whole assembly at once. The video below shows it in action, and we’ve got to say it’s pretty slick.

Sure, it’s all academic for now, with simple blinky light circuits and the like. But team this up with something like these PCB motors, and you’ve got the makings of a robotic nightmare. Or not.

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Practical Plasma for Thin-Film Deposition

[Nixie] wants to sputter. We know, who doesn’t? But [Nixie] has a specific purpose for his sputtering: thin-film deposition, presumably in support of awesome science. But getting to that point requires a set of tools that aren’t exactly off-the-shelf items, so he’s building out a DIY sputtering rig on the cheap.

If you’re not familiar with sputtering, that’s understandable. In this context, sputtering is a process that transfers particles from one solid to another by bombarding the first solid with some sort of energetic particles, usually electrons or a plasma. When properly controlled, sputtering has applications from mass spectrometry to the semiconductor industry, where it’s used to either deposit thin films on silicon wafers or etch them away selectively.

No matter the application, sputtering needs a stable stream of plasma. [Nixie] has posted a series of articles on his blog walking us through his plasma experiments, from pulling a really strong vacuum to building a high-voltage power supply from a microwave oven transformer. It’s a project that needs a deep well of skills and tools, like glassworking, machining, and high-voltage electronics. Check out the plasma in the video below.

Will [Nixie] be using this for a DIY fab lab? Will it be used to make homebrew LEDs? The world waits to hear.

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Simple Mechanism Gives Support for SMT Assembly

With the fine work needed for surface-mount technology, most of the job entails overcoming the limits of the human body. Eyes more than a couple of decades old need help to see what’s going on, and fingers that are fine for manipulating relatively large objects need mechanical assistance to grasp tiny SMT components. But where it can really fall apart is when you get the shakes, those involuntary tiny muscle movements that we rarely notice in the real world, but wreak havoc as we try to place components on a PCB.

To fight the shakes, you can do one of two things: remove the human, or improve the human. Unable to justify a pick and place robot for the former, [Tom] opted to build a quick hand support for surface-mount work, and the results are impressive considering it’s built entirely of scrap. It’s just a three-piece arm with standard butt hinges for joints; mounted so the hinge pins are perpendicular to the work surface and fitted with a horizontal hand rest, it constrains movement to a plane above the PCB. A hole in the hand rest for a small vacuum tip allows [Tom] to pick up a part and place it on the board — he reports that the tackiness of the solder paste is enough to remove the SMD from the tip. The video below shows it in action with decent results, but we wonder if an acrylic hand rest might provide better visibility.

Not ready for your own pick and place? That’s understandable; not every shop needs that scale of production. But we think this is a great idea for making SMT approachable to a wider audience.

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A Freeze Dryer You Can Build in Your Garage

What do trail mix, astronaut ice-cream, and cryogel have in common? This may sound like the introduction to a corny riddle, but they are all things you can make in your garage with a homemade freeze dryer. [The Thought Emporium] built his own freeze dryer with minimum fuss and only a few exotic components like a vacuum pump and a high-quality pressure gauge. The video is also posted after the break which contains a list for the parts and where they can be purchased.

Freeze drying uses a process called cryodesiccation or lyophilization. Below a certain pressure, water skips the liquid phase and goes directly to a gas, so frozen items can transition from ice to dry without a soggy step. When you jump the liquid phase, objects hold their shape when they were frozen, and since no heat is used, you don’t carmelize your sugars.

A freeze-dryer like this has three parts. The first is the pump which doesn’t need any explanation. Next to the pump there must be a water trap. This chilly compartment recondenses the water vapor, so it doesn’t get inside the pump or saturate the things you’re trying to dry. Lastly, there is the drying chamber where your items are placed to have their moisture taken out.

Astronaut ice cream has been made on Hackaday before. [The Thought Emporium] has also been seen including a piece on making your own graphene.

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Vacuum Molding with Kitchen Materials

Vacuum pumps are powerful tools because the atmospheric pressure on our planet’s surface is strong. That pressure is enough to crush evacuated vessels with impressive implosive force. At less extreme pressure differences, [hopsenrobsen] shows us how to cleverly use kitchen materials for vacuum molding fiberglass parts in a video can be seen after the break. The same technique will also work for carbon fiber molding.

We’ve seen these techniques used with commercially available vacuum bags and a wet/dry vac but in the video, we see how to make an ordinary trash bag into a container capable of forming a professional looking longboard battery cover. If the garbage bag isn’t enough of a hack, a ball of steel wool is used to keep the bag from interfering with the air hose. Some of us keep these common kitchen materials in the same cabinet so gathering them should ’t be a problem.

Epoxy should be mixed according to the directions and even though it wasn’t shown in the video, some epoxies necessitate a respirator. If you’re not sure, wear one. Lungs are important.

Fiberglass parts are not just functional, they can be beautiful. If plastic is your jam, vacuums form those parts as well. If you came simply for vacuums, how about MATLAB on a Roomba?

Thank you [Jim] who gave us this tip in the comments section about an electric longboard.

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Alan Yates: Introduction To Vacuum Technology

When we mention vacuum technology, it’s not impossible that many of you will instantly turn your minds to vacuum tubes, and think about triodes, or pentodes. But while there is a lot to interest the curious in the electronics of yesteryear, they are not the only facet of vacuum technology that should capture your attention.

When [Alan Yates] gave his talk at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference entitled “Introduction To Vacuum Technology”, he was speaking in a much more literal sense. Instead of a technology that happens to use a vacuum, his subject was the technologies surrounding working with vacuums; examining the equipment and terminology surrounding them while remaining within the bounds of what is possible for the experimenter. You can watch it yourself below the break, or read on for our precis.

In the first instance, he introduces us to the concept of a vacuum, starting with the work of [Evangelista Torricelli] on mercury barometers in the 17th century Italy, and continuing to explain how pressure, and thus vacuum, is quantified. Along the way, he informs us that a Pascal can be explained in layman’s terms as roughly the pressure exerted by an American dollar bill on the hand of someone holding it, and introduces us to a few legacy units of vacuum measurement.

In classifying the different types of vacuum he starts with weak vacuum sources such as a domestic vacuum cleaner and goes on to say that the vacuum he’s dealing with is classified as medium, between 3kPa and 100mPa. Higher vacuum is beyond the capabilities of the equipment available outside high-end laboratories.

Introduction over, he starts on the subject of equipment with a quick word about safety, before giving an overview of the components a typical small-scale vacuum experimenter’s set-up. We see the different types of vacuum gauges, we’re introduced to two different types of service pumps for air conditioning engineers, and we learn about vacuum manifolds. Tips such as smelling the oil in a vacuum pump to assess its quality are mentioned, and how to make a simple mist trap for a cheaper pump. There is a fascinating description of the more exotic pumps for higher vacuums, even though these will be out of reach of the experimenter it is still of great interest to have some exposure to them. He takes us through vacuum chambers, with a warning against cheap bell jars not intended for vacuum use, but suggests that some preserving jars can make an adequate chamber.

We are then introduced to home-made gas discharge tubes, showing us a home-made one that lights up simply by proximity to a high voltage source. Something as simple as one of the cheap Tesla coil kits to be found online can be enough to excite these tubes, giving a simple project for the vacuum experimenter that delivers quick results.

Finally, we’re taken through some of the tools and sundries of the vacuum experimenter, the different types of gas torches for glass work, and consumables such as vacuum grease. Some of them aren’t cheap, but notwithstanding those, he shows us that vacuum experiments can be made within a reasonable budget.

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Less Than Production, More than One-Offs

We build things we think are cool. Sometimes, other people agree with us and they want a copy of what we’ve built. If you’re lucky enough to have an enviable product but you’re not ready for full-scale manufacturing, you may be looking at a low-volume production run. [Eric Strebel] walks us through one such instance where he makes some custom color swatches for a show. Video after the break.

[Eric Strebel] is an industrial designer so he plays to his strengths by designing the swatch shape, jig, tool, and hangers. He hires out the painting, laser cutting, and CNC machining. This may seem like a simple statement but some of us have a hard time paying other people for things we’re capable of learning. In some cases, we just have to pay the professionals to do it correctly and keep our focus.

The mentality of small runs in this video is perfect for people who sell on Tindie or want to make more than a handful of consistently nice parts. Our own [Lewin Day] recently talked about his experience with a run of 200 mixers called gMix.

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