Most of us who have dabbled a little in electronics will have made our own printed circuit boards at some point. We’ll have rubbed on sticky transfers, laser-printed onto acetate, covered our clothing with ferric chloride stains, and applied ourselves to the many complex and tricky processes involved. And after all that, there’s a chance we’ll have ended up with boards that were over or under-etched, and had faults. For many the arrival of affordable online small-run professional PCB production from those mostly-overseas suppliers has been a step-change to our electronic construction abilities.
[Fran Blanche] used to make her own boards for her Frantone effects pedals, but as she admits it was a process that could at times be tedious. With increased production she had to move to using a board house, and for her that means a very high-quality local operation rather than one on the other side of the world. In the video below the break she takes us through each step of the PCB production process as it’s done by the professionals with a human input rather than by robots or ferric-stained dilettantes.
Though it’s twenty minutes or so long it’s an extremely interesting watch, as while we’re all used to casually specifying the parameters of the different layers and holes in our CAD packages we may not have seen how they translate to the real-world processes that deliver our finished boards. Some operations are very different from those you’d do at home, for example the holes are drilled as a first step rather than at the end because as you might imagine the through-plating process needs a hole to plate. The etching is a negative process rather than a positive one, because it serves to expose the tracks for the plating process before etching, and the plating becomes the etch resist.
If you’re used to packages from far afield containing your prototype PCBs landing on your doorstep as if by magic, take a look. It’s as well to know a little more detail about how they were made.
This is how V-Grooves are cut into PCBs. V-Grooves are half-cuts into the PCBs that allow them to be snapped apart easily. Minimum V-Groove cut length in generally 8cm due to machine cutting length. V-Grooves must be cut across the entire PCB length, it is not possible to make short internal cuts.
This is from our PCB documentation at DirtyPCBs.com about check it out for more PCB manufacturing details.
PCB etching seems to be a subject that sharply divides our community into those who are experts in it and etch themselves every PCB they use, and those who have significant quantities of ferric chloride stained clothing in their past and for whom the advent of cheap commercial PCB manufacture and CNC milled PCB prototyping have been the best thing since sliced bread.
Your likely success when etching your own boards is most dependent on the quality of your preparation and your equipment. If you began your PCB career with etch-resist transfers and a permanent marker with a Tupperware tub of etchant, then later progressed to laser toner or photographic masking and a bubble etcher, you’ll understand this.
[Jan Henrik] has drawn our attention to his very nicely built PCB etching suite (Translation, German original) at the Warpzone hackerspace (Translation, German original) in Münster, Germany. The foil pattern is printed on transparency and exposed to UV light over a photoresist coated board with a vacuum pump arrangement to ensure as good a contact as possible to the board for the sharpest result. They have two exposers, one for single sided and the other for double-sided boards, both are very well-built from what looks like plywood.
The attention to detail continues with a home-made magnetic stirrer and heated bubble etching tank Their etchant of choice is sodium persulphate, so there are none of those brown ferric chloride stains.
PCB etching is nothing new, indeed we have covered the subject extensively over the years. But we think you’ll agree, if you’re going to etch your own PCBs you should have as good a set-up as you can, and Warpzone’s PCB suite is rather well put together. Those of us in spaces with lesser facilities should be getting ideas from it.
The single gate-type NAND version was put onto a PCB and tested. It works like a charm. There were only 74AC00 chips available at the time, but they are just about the same as HC chips. You can get the design files, which are made with KiCad. The layout is kept as symmetrical as possible and the A/B buttons are next to the LEDs. Power is supplied using three AA batteries in a standard battery-holder and the PCB is stuck onto the battery-holder with double-sided sticky tape.
I finally found some time to check out the UCload project. A couple of weeks ago I quickly soldered the PCB and wrote a quick’n’dirty firmware for it. The basic functionality was working, but it wouldn’t do good for the shiny display.
Today I locked myself in my mancave and shut myself off from the world. Turned the light down, pulled loud music from the speakers and started coding like hell!! Not exactly but I found some time to write some more decent firmware for this load. In a previous revision of the PCB I forget the pull up resistors and swapped the SDA and SCL signals. I corrected that and made some small other changes (still ****ed up the silkscreen) in revision 2. The hardware is quite OK and rock solid (prolly more due to the robust FET then my analogue skills :)). However I managed to use a 1n4148 diode to measure the temperature. Connect it to the heat sink and if that one gets to hot turn on a fan. It accuracy is terrible but capable of detecting over temperature :)
Black Mesa Labs has been using a $20 hot plate for a year now for soldering QFN ICs to PCBs. Only issue so far has been the size ( 10″x10″x3″ ) and thermal mass of the thing as it consumes precious microscope work area and unfortunately stays quite hot for 30+ minutes after a quick 4 minute reflow job. BML boards are mostly 1″x1″, so a 800W hot plate with a 6″ diameter heating surface is overkill for most jobs.
Wanting something much smaller for a typical BML PCB – stumbled across this 24V DC heating element on Amazon for only $14. It is rated for 24V at 5-7 ohms ( or 4.8Amps ). A surplus 19.5V DC 5A laptop power brick laying around BML seemed like a perfect match for this element. BML has safety rules avoiding designs above 48V – so the 100Watt 20V DC supply coupled with the 24V element seemed like a great way to make a lot of heat in a small surface area in a short amount of time.