CNC Machine Most Satisfyingly Mills Double-Sided PCBs

We know that by this point in the development of CNC technology, nothing should amaze us. We’ve seen CNC machines perform feats of precision that shouldn’t be possible, whether it be milling a complex jet engine turbine blade or just squirting out hot plastic. But you’ve just got to watch this PCB milling CNC machine go through its paces!

The machine is from an outfit called WEGSTR, based in the Czech Republic. While it appears to be optimized for PCB milling and drilling, the company also shows it milling metals, wood, plastic, and even glass. The first video below shows the machine milling 0.1 mm traces in FR4; the scale of the operation only becomes apparent when a gigantic toothbrush enters the frame to clear away a little swarf. As if that weren’t enough, the machine then cuts traces on the other side of the board; vias created by filling drilled holes with copper rivets and peening them over with a mandrel and a few light hammer taps connect the two sides.

Prefer your boards with solder resist and silkscreening? Not a problem, at least judging by the second video, which shows a finished board getting coated with UV-cure resist and then having the machine mill away just the resist on the solder pads. We’re not sure how they deal with variations in board thickness or warping, but they sure have it dialed in. Regardless of how they optimized the process, it’s a pleasure to watch.

At about $2,600, these are not cheap machines, but they may make sense for someone needing high-quality boards with rapid turnaround. And who’s to say a DIY machine couldn’t do as good a job? We’ve seen plenty of them before, and covered the pros and cons of etching versus milling too.

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Via press crushes copper to make a mechanical connection


[Jay] was looking for a way to make his own vias on homemade double-sided PCBs when he stumbled across this post from about five years ago. The technique shown here makes mechanical vias and was developed by [Retromaster]. There’s no soldering involved, instead he uses some solid core copper wire and a press to crush it tightly against the board.

The press is made from aluminum stock, with a couple of plates of stainless steel which come in contact with the board. The aluminum stock is easy to work with, but it’s relatively soft which is the reason for the addition of steel. He uses copper wire which already fits tightly in the hole through the substrate. After clipping off the excess as near to the board as possible a trip through the press leaves each side flat as shown in the inset image.

We looked through some of the other projects we’ve seen from [Retromaster] like the Atari 2600 in an FPGA and this emulated Amiga floppy drive. But we didn’t see any diy boards where he used this crushing technique.

Know thy enemy: Open vias in BGA footprints

[Andrew Zonenberg] has crossed a line in his electronic hobby projects. The Ball Grid Array (BGA) is a type of chip footprint which most hobbyists leave to the professionals. But he’s learned the skills necessary to use them in his projects. Recently he ran a test batch to show off his soldering process and illustrate one of the errors a novice might make.

For those that are unfamiliar, the BGA footprint is notoriously difficult to accurately solder because it consists of a large grid of tiny points covering the bottom of the chip. There’s no way to get in there with an iron, so soldering depends on accurate placement of solder paste and chip, as well as a near-perfect reflow cycle. Often times it’s difficult for the professionals too. Many blame the heat-failure of Xbox 360 on the complications of the BGA connects for one of the console’s chips.

For this experiment [Andrew] wanted to show what happens if you include vias in the BGA footprint. It’s fine to do so, as long as they’re capped. But if a standard via is included, capillary action ends up pulling the solder down into the via instead of making a connection with the chip. The image above is a cross-section of one such uncapped via, seen on the far right.

[Thanks George]

A guide for laying out 4+ layer PCBs

Learning to lay out a printed circuit board takes some time. But after you’ve churned out a few it’s really pretty easy. If you find yourself at that point it may be time to learn about more complicated board fabrication. We think a good primer is this multi-layer PCB layout guide which [Rik te Winkel] recently put together. It’s one of the results of his internship experience.

One of the major differences with boards that have more than two layers is the ability to alter what layers are actually connected by vias. Vias are plated holes through the substrate that connect different layers of copper. In the case of a 2-layer board these just go right through and connect the top to the bottom. But as you can see above, there are additional choices when it comes to multi-layer boards. #1 is a through via connecting all of the layers. #2 is a blind via; it stops part way through the board. And #3 is a buried via; it connects internal layers but cannot be seen from either side.

The guide is aimed at Eagle CAD. To use more than two layers you’ll have to purchase a license. But we think the concepts can easily be translated to other PCB layout software like Kicad.

Accessing BGA pins

[Philip] developed a method of tracking down the pins of a Ball Grid Array. He wanted to do so in order to add USB host functionality to his HP Jordan 720. The method doesn’t directly connect to the BGA but instead finds a via or other access point to serve as a solder point. He first looks up the pin in the BGA datasheet. Once located, he uses the bristle of a toothbrush (teal) to act as a backstop and feeds in some enameled wire (brown) to the appropriate ball. A multimeter is used to check connectivity between the wire and the vias around the chip.

Patience young grasshopper, this should work but it might take a while.

VIA’s EPIA Pico-ITX based robots

VIA, the Taiwan-based supplier of chipsets and low power processors, showed off its latest creations at the Taipei International Robot Show. The Lynxmotion Johnny 5 kit, based on the robot from the animated film Short Circuit, is powered by the compact VIA EPIA P700 board, and aimed at beginner robotic hobbyists. VIA claimed that its use of the latest board allows for much easier software development. VIA also showcased the Mini-ITX powered Vecna Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot (or BEAR), a cuddly-looking robot with potential uses in military and rescue operations.

[via Engadget]

Asus WL500GP audio hack

The Asus WL500GP wireless router runs Linux and has two USB ports. [equinoxfr] wanted to install audio support internally to the router though (translated). Luckily, it uses a VIA VT6212 4port USB controller. So, he was able to wire two more internal ports. A Brando USB soundcard is plugged into one of those ports and wired to an external headphone jack. He wanted dual RCA connectors, but they just wouldn’t fit. The router is running OpenWRT Kamikaze. MPD is used to serve music with the wymypy frontend since it has its own lightweight webserver.