Friday, December 12, 2008

Cool Tool: PCB "Fab-In-A-Box"

So I broke down and bought myself a present, and while the system is by no means fool proof, the PCB "Fab-In-A-Box" from Pulsar ProFX is the solution to making PCB boards you may have been looking for, if you wanted to make PCB boards.

The process is pretty quick and low effort, however there are a few tips.
0) Just buy the laminator, once you know it works you will want to make a lot of boards so using an iron will quickly become annoying. They also offer a money back guarantee, which I did not need to use, but I assume works since their product works. So they probably never have to return any money. I would have been frustrated if I did not get the laminator and would say it is critical to making the system work.
1) Get gloves
2) Get tweezers or tongs to grab the circuit board out of the ferric chloride.
3) Buy three easy to open airtight plastic containers with a flat bottom big enough for your boards, use one for water, one for ferric chloride, and one for acetone.
4) Do not attempt to make a circuit board without verifying the orientation, I strongly suggest putting words on the copper layer somewhere in your ground plane.
5) In the instructions it instructs you to leave 2" of Green Toner Reactive Foil but does not explain why, so you might be tempted to try to economize. The length of 2 inches is required to slide it into the laminator and hold the foil tightly to remove wrinkles.
6) Clear Scotch Tape worked better then regular masking tape at removing extra green TRF debris.
7) Cover the board in acetone and agitate for a few seconds until the green layer starts to separate, before scrubbing.

I also tried using the proper tooling for milling PCBs, however the CNC Mill I was using is just slightly out of level enough to make the results useless. Also, milling a PCB takes hours, even for a small one.

Using the PCB "Fab-In-A-Box", I was able to produce a circuit board with 8mil traces in about 30-40 minutes. I was able to verify good results using a microscope for one of my tests, the other test had process issues due to my attempts to use less Green TRF than was suggested.


Actually works
Chemical mess is minimal and containable
Less then 8mil traces, The vendor shows examples of 6mil traces
Fast results

No solder mask
Only 1/2 Oz. Copper Pour is recommended 1 Oz Copper is the maximum.
The recommended board is .032” thick so it lacks some of the typical stiffness one would expect from a PCB so it cannot be used as a structural element. Tested with 0.064" boards. You need to give it a little push but it seems to work fine.

While the board thickness and copper thickness are of interest to those who are working with power or antennas, for the most part this system is unbeatable and I am glad I spent the money on it.

Total cost was under $150 without shipping. I bought mine from Digi-Key to save on shipping.

I'll post a video of the process in the next week or two.

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