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CircuitMega: Ultimate desktop PCB manufacturing

Be empowered to turn any circuit design, in an easy, fast and cost-effective way, into something real

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CircuitMega is a fully integrated desktop PCB manufacturing platform.

With today’s technology is not understandable why we still depend on cumbersome chemical processes as well as hard to manage and expensive machines to prototype circuits in-house.

This project's goal is to allow people not to waste time and resources when prototyping PCBs. It aims to let you just focussing on design and iteration. A machine whose learning curve will be unboxing it, loading the design files, and push print. Empower anyone, from young students to professional individuals, to turn almost any electrical circuit, in a cost-effective way, into something real in matter of minutes. All these supported by an open philosophy so PCB printing can be democratized.

This is a brief abstract of the project specifications found in the second log. If you are interested in deepening, check out the logs! 

This project aims to solve the difficulties we still find when prototyping PCBs doing it reducing prices and  time. The solution would include a user experience with almost no interaction: out of the box use + load a design + press print. The idea is that the user can get an almost finished product, even solder paste dispensing and component solder, with minimal interaction.

Main platform characteristics

To achieve this, the PCB manufacturing platform would include at least this characteristics:

  • Minimal assembly when unboxing
  • Affordable: under 500usd
  • Fast: Less than 45 minute process
  • Professional end: Double sided layer, 0.1mm traces, drilling, cutting, solder mask, minimal silk screen
  • Solder paste dispensing
  • Solder reflow
  • Auto-level
  • Auto tool changer
  • Protections: shutdown recovery, over voltage, lost step count and more

This list is open, it may change and it will be growing as the project moves along and new challenges are encountered. It is mostly illustrative and intended to show the main goal characteristics.

Technology used

Having analyzed between options like toner transfer, material deposition, laser engraving, uv light curing and others, the conclusion is that CNC+milling is the best of all options.  It allows to have a fully integrated process, is easy to replace and find parts, and, if well designed it could lead to low price, usage simplicity, speed an quality. Therefore, the main technology that will be used in this project is CNC+milling. This technology still has plenty of room for improving (even those categories where it failed ) which is what this project aims to solve.

Process

Once we have our manufacturing technology, next steps involves process operation. The design process is pretty simple. A PCB is a bunch of traces forming the desired circuit, including holes for TH components and vias. After that, you have to cut the board into the desired shape, apply solder, place components and reflow everything. 

This process will also include a solder mask option, but in a different way as usual. Instead of using a UV curable mask and a transparent sheet to expose it to light, we'll be directly starting the milling process with a fully masked copper board and milling away pad areas as well as the rest of the circuit. For this we will need a really well calibrated system.

This manufacturing process is fully integrated, from a user perspective, you will get a complete functional prototype in a two step process

Here you can see, the schematic process operation we would have with our CNC technology. As you can observe, there is a minimal interaction from the user that could induce into an inaccurate operation or errors. This will also allow to operate the machine with no additional learning processes involved leading to a better user experience. 

  • Deep technology analysis

    Victor Dedios7 days ago 0 comments

    Forget about yourself, capture user feelings

    Sometimes, as hackers, engineers or designers, we fall in love with the most technical side of a project getting to justify it from that perspective. But we forget that, when building things beyond our own pleasure, technology is just a tool to solve that problem our customers have to face.

    Which one scares you more?

    Last log, I explained the main problem this project aims to solve which we could summarize in the difficulties we still find when prototyping PCB at affordable prices and in fast times. The solution would include a user experience with almost no interaction: out of the box use + load a design + press print. The idea is that the user can get an almost finished product, even solder paste dispense and component solder, with minimal interaction.

    To get this, the PCB manufacturing platform should include at least this characteristics

    • Minimal assembly when unboxing

    • Affordable: under 500usd

    • Fast: Less than 45 minute process

    • Professional end: Double sided layer, 0.1mm traces, drilling, cutting, solder mask, minimal silkscreen

    • Solder paste dispensing

    • Solder reflow

    • Auto-level

    • Auto tool changer

    • Protections: shutdown recovery, over voltage, lost step count and more 

    This list is open, it may change and it will be growing as the project moves along and new challenges are encountered. It is mostly illustrative and intended to show the main goal characteristics.

    Ok, but what about the different technologies?

    I ́ve done a lot of research of the main techniques used when prototyping PCBs and made this brief summary comparison table with the main ones: 

    CNC milling
    CNC + milling
    Direct ink/ iron/ uv printing
    Conductive material deposition
    UV curing
    Laser engraving

    And what about the user?

    Now that we know the main techniques as well as their main weaknesses/strengths, they are compared from a user-perspective point of view, supposing that we want a fully ended PCB with minimal human interaction. We have talked about the main user problems and minimal characteristics, those get summarized in this main categories:

    • Full integrated process: most of manufacturing steps are automatic so user gets to interact as little as possible.

    • Accessible and open technology: Easy to find, replace and repare parts/consumables

    • Simple to use: Almost no additional knowledge needed to operate.

    • High-end definition: Good end meets minimal testing requirements

    • Affordable: under 500USD

    • Less than 45 minute process considering all steps involved to get a fully ended PCB: etching circuit, making holes, cutting board etc. 

    The following table establishes if the main techniques shown above comply or not with each category (*all the comparisons are made having in mind a user with no additional skills and considering average market technology) : 

    A decision has to be made

    As we can observe, CNC+milling gets the highest score, 4/6. Nonetheless there are still two categories, “simple to use” and “affordable”, where it fails, although it still can be improved to meet the minimum requirements.

    Having analyzed all the options and seeing the results, the main technology that will be used in this project is CNC+milling. This technology still has plenty of room for improving (even those categories where it failed ) which is what this project aims to solve. It allows to have a fully integrated process, is easy to replace and find parts, and, if well designed it could lead to low price, usage simplicity, speed an quality. CNC allows us, apart from milling and drilling, do additional tasks in a 3d environment...

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  • First project thoughts

    Victor Dedios7 days ago 0 comments

    Every project starts with a personal frustration

    When designing and building my previous product, a device that attached to a smartphone turned it into a retro gaming console, I encountered many difficulties when designing hardware. As a newbie (I am still ) I made a lot of mistakes an needed to iterate the design tons of times. Through this experience I realized how inefficient hardware design was and, thanks to the uncountable days lost, I became with the idea of designing and building this project. Let me explain it to you:

    What about in-house circuit manufacturing? Far from the state of the art

    One of the main revolutions over the last decade has been the democratization of 3d printing. Through this technology many individuals have achieved to bring their ideas into reality, something that a few years earlier was unthinkable. Lots of businesses and startups have been able to reduce time and, therefore, costs in manufacturing and prototyping phases. But, above all, a great community around this technology has been created. A community that brings people together to work on improving and making it as accessible and cheap as it is today.

    Most products we use everyday have both a mechanical and electrical system. 3D printing has revolutionized the mechanical side but, has the same thing happened with electronics? Not at the same level of simplicity and flexibility.

    The truth is that, in the prototyping phase, platforms like Arduino have made very accessible this engineering field: we can easily find tons of sensor and actuator modules as well as development boards for almost any application we can imagine. But, despite all this, there is still a huge gap between this early prototype phase and a mid/final hardware state that perfectly fits our projects and needs.

    How cool is this?

    This is still a challenging step for students, makers and businesses. We still depend on long waiting times when manufacturing professionally-made PCBs apart from the high costs involved sometimes. This makes hardware design costly and inefficient. If you want to move forward from this slow iteration process you could jump to different in-house options like cnc milling machines or some other cumbersome chemical processes. All these techniques have a steep learning curve in addition to the fact that you will have to spend a couple of thousands if you aim to get decent results when going for a high end machine option. In summary, all very far from the state of the art of 3d printing.

    Typical toner transfer + ferric chloride etching process

    We have to definitely change this

    Hardware design has to be fast, with today’s technology is not understandable why we still cannot cheaply jump from a digital to a physical design in a matter of minutes when designing circuits. This project aims to solve this situation building a fully integrated desktop PCB manufacturing platform focussed on the user first as its main goal. It is going to allow people not to waste time or resources when prototyping PCBs and just focussing on design and iteration. A machine whose learning curve will be just unboxing it, loading the design files, and push print. I aim to empower anyone, from young students to professional individuals, to turn an electrical circuit, in a cost-effective way, into something real in matter of minutes. All these supported by an open philosophy so the project can grow fast and democratize PCB printing. 

    Welcome to a new era

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Discussions

Blo0dygeek wrote 05/15/2019 at 06:53 point

Wonder which technology you are going to use and look forward to more details.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Victor Dedios wrote 7 days ago point

@Blo0dygeek already have updated specs info, check it out! Thanks for your interest!

  Are you sure? yes | no

Ken Yap wrote 05/12/2019 at 06:16 point

Care to reveal what technology you will be using? You ruled out chemicals. Milling? Electrodeposition? Electroetching? Sure, I'd buy two if the price is right but this prospectus is a bit short on details.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Daren Schwenke wrote 05/12/2019 at 07:04 point

I am right here with you...  Pretty good tagline I gotta say, and the pseudo  360 view of 'something' leaves me wondering, but still I'm with Ken.  Show me the money...

  Are you sure? yes | no

Victor Dedios wrote 05/12/2019 at 07:56 point

@Ken Yap @Daren Schwenke  Thank you for your interest! Just started to fill this project out and I will be updating it with more info like technology involved, mechanical design etc in the upcoming days. Still ton of work to do!

  Are you sure? yes | no

Daren Schwenke wrote 05/12/2019 at 08:31 point

@Victor Dedios fair enough. :) Following.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Victor Dedios wrote 05/12/2019 at 19:24 point

thanks!!

  Are you sure? yes | no

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