Description:

UPDATE: BOTH APACHE AL13P & TRULAM TL-320B compatible.


I've taken a robust document laminator (AL13P or TL-320B) that features all metal construction with metal gears, silicone rollers and temperature control, and added features to make it more suitable and safer for toner transfer using readily available papers, especially magazine paper or http://PCBFX.com PULSAR products & Dry Transfers! Yellow EBAY Toner transfer paper works quite well. Note the thermal image indicating a 6% high roller temperature. Helps for precision work when presetting temperatures to suit different Toner brands. My Printer is an HP1102W. OEM or substitute Toner works fine.


Background:
I have been frequently frustrated by having to use a combination of clothing iron and document laminator as reliable results are ever elusive.
Converting a laser printer to direct PCB printing is complex and not a project I wish to entertain. It would be heavily mechanical and the results would still require post printing 'fusing' of the print onto the copper. I decided to bite the bullet and purchase the easy to modify Apache AL13P from Amazon to simplify and streamline my PCB making using non photographic methods. Have a look at my SMT PCB prototyping Hackaday project for more detailed usage pics & videos.


Powerful Capabilities:

Reliable, repeatable, cost effective and time effective toner transfer to single or double sided copper clad board up to 1/16" (or thicker) (1.6 mm) thick. The detail of the toner transfer method can be as good as 5 mil! http://PCBFX.com explains how to do this with 5mil detail with their enhanced papers. Thus, it is suitable for a lot of SMT applications as well. Yellow EBAY toner paper is also excellent.

I do single pass, double sided transfers, aligned/registered via 0.5mm - 0.8mm 'pinhole vias', built in to the layout at each PCB corner and then simple etching of both sides at once. This beats the multiple step, direct printing method which requires tricky, flip over & reprint alignment & resist curing for both sides of the printed board by baking or additional chemical baths before the etching. Also, direct printing requires a dedicated printer to hack apart, literally, as well as additional dedicated inks or toner/roller cartridges adding costs. This project only adds capability, it does not defeat the original purpose of the laminator and does not require expensive supplies, only paper!

Features:
1) Thermal sensor failure protection.
2) Speed control using multiple automatic fwd/rev passes suitable for synchronous AC motors.
3) Cool down function for rollers that over rides the heater AND keeps the rollers in motion for a fixed 16 minute period with an alert to shutdown after.
4) No other mods required . No roller tensioning required!
5) It takes less than 2 hours to make the modifications including building the kit.
6) It achieves 10 mil traces with 1 oz copper reliably.
7) Plug-n-Play operation, no soldering or modifications to laminator circuitry.
8) Fully reversible modifications.
9) Optimized for http://PCBFX.COM & magazine paper (eg. Pop. science mags or Harbor Freight Catalogs). Yellow EBAY toner paper is also excellent.

Specifications:
It o
perates between 320 F and 350 F to span the range of board stock from scissors cut-table thru 1/16" (or thicker) double sided transfers. HP Toner temps. Other brands may be a bit different. Use 380F for Brother Toner.
Net speed reduction is approximately 12:1 achieved by using recurring 5/8" forward and 1/2" linear reverse motions cycle with the rollers. Heater is OFF during reverse part of cycle to prevent roller hotspots.
This has the effects of applying multiple pressure and heat cycles to the toner transfer ensuring a good result without tampering with the 60 Hz synchronous motor operation & torque levels.
The net result is a single automated COMPLETE pass of the copper clad via multiple sub passes during the process.
The speed reduction can be altered by adjusting the trimmer potentiometer clockwise (CW increases net speed, Maximum CCW is the default speed).

Usage/operation:
Turn on, allow preheat to desired temperature plus 5 minutes for roller temperature homogeneity.
Activate the speed reduction/overlapping passes via a click of the modifications tactile push button. A second click reverts to 'normal' speed.
Insert the copper-clad firmly with the laser printed (http://PCBFX.com, magazine or Yellow EBAY toner paper is also )paper secured via blue painters tape so that the rollers pull it in. Double sided can be done if you need it.
Return after a couple minutes to collect the finished transfer.
A long press of the tactile switch for a 1/2 second to trigger the cool down timing...there is a chirping sound during this 16 minute period. Rollers keep running to prevent flat spots developing due to heat softened silicone.
The heater and any speed reduction is disabled until power reset.
The chirping becomes a longer beep after 16 minutes signifying that the laminator can be powered down safely.




Construction:

No mechanical items, just the single 2" x 2.5" PCB with a pair of female 6 pin headers to connect to the laminator's male 6 pin headers located on its LED display and its Relay boards.

Installation:

Open the UNPLUGGED laminator at the bottom by removing the 4 corner screws, flip over and remove the display's 2 screws allowing the LED display to fall inside then remove the cover.
The modification PCB is installed via a pair of 6x32 x 1/2" machine screws into the pre-existing fan cutout at the rear of the laminator's cover so that the tactile push button and the trimmer potentiometer are accessible.
The short 6 pin, F2F, OEM jumper cable between the OEM relay & LED display is removed and the modification cables are installed, inserting the modification into the circuit. this will require hot air (eg. Hair dryer to soften hot glue on the connectors)
Re-install the LED display and reassemble the laminator.

Adjustments:
None are required for default operation- trimmer set to minimum (counterclockwise). Adjust the trimmer pot if you don't see roller reversal!
You may speed up the speed reduction for volume PCB manufacture via the trimmer pot. This would have to be optimized by increasing operation temperatures (trial/error). It is for advanced use or for use with professional Pulsar TTF paper and similar. Parchment paper works as is.

Don't tighten the Apache's rollers more than a turn or two of the bottom screws. Overdoing this can stall the motor.

Schematic:

Schematic and Layout (EAGLECAD) supplied. BOM supplied. Hex or Source code available from the sidebar dropbox link under the project photos.

Credit to http://PCBFX.Com (Frank Miller) for their prior research into optimum lamination of toner for PCB use and suggesting the rugged APACHE AL13P laminator.