Artistic PCB Design and Fabrication

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Video in TIB AV-Portal: Artistic PCB Design and Fabrication

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Artistic PCB Design and Fabrication
From doodle to manufacture: how I make mechanically complicated PCBs.
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When a electrical device needs to be a piece of art or used as a mechanical component, a printed circuit board is more than a piece of fiberglass with wires embedded in it. In chemical engineering applications internal holes which allow fluids to be transported through the PCB need to be placed in complex precise patterns. As art, holes can be used to create positive and negative space, allowing you to see a charlieplexed LED display as a snowflake. Creating complex shapes in PCB design software is difficult to impossible. However, it is easy in CAD software. In this talk I will present the project workflow I use to design and manufacture my PCBs. Additionally, I will discuss the problems I have run into during manufacturing and how these problems were resolved.
Keywords Hardware, Making

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[Music] our next speaker got hit by a car really really bad and she wasn't able to do anything for around half a year and what do you do if you're running out of books to read and games to play well if you're
already a PhD in manufacturing you probably turn around and think what can I do in my home and what you can do in your home without many tools is actually getting into electronics and well electronics can be functional but electronics can also be very very beautiful so we'll going to look at the beautiful side of electronics today with our most excellent speaker Emily hammers [Applause]
so yeah so I'm gonna talk to you guys
about artistic PCB design and fabrication and like you said I'm a manufacturing engineer and a bioengineer I'm really not an electrical engineer nor am I a programmer I literally had one programming class in my 16 years at a university and I had two Electronics
classes so really not much more than gymnasium for everybody my first PCB that I ever designed was
actually during my PhD in manufacturing I had no idea what I was doing so I designed it completely in SolidWorks which is a man you are a basically a mechanical engineering software where I built a 3d model and included layers that were gonna be the copper and then I went to an electrical engineer and I was like so how do I turn this into a file that an electrical engineer can use and he just laughed at me so the purpose of that was actually of that particular PCB so if I can get the mouse to work actually I can just walk over here but basically in this column this is a column used in chemical chromatography or liquid chromatography to separate chemicals by different properties and what I needed to do was buffer humidity that was reaching poison gas sensors without losing the poison gas measurements because the sensors that my colleagues were designing were cross sensitive to humidity and to the poison gas we were measuring so is my job to build a zero energy system that could remove the humidity or at least buffer it so the signals wouldn't reach those sensors at the same time so what I did is I sort of inspired by a bathtub drain as I built this PCB with the humidity and temperature sensor in the middle and then slits in it so that the air could go through and that's sort of how me building holes in PCBs got started and building holes and PCBs is not really normal for fabrication companies so when I took that PCB to EPFL and ask their fab to build it they were not happy with me so
then after the accident that he mentioned I decided I wanted to basically I was living with my now husband and he runs a embedded systems engineering company and so our apartment is a stack of oscilloscopes and multiple soldering irons and I knew very little about how to work with these things but I was like you know what what you're doing is way cooler than reading books so I'm gonna figure this out so I started with simple things and basically then got into more complex things and on the far side is a image of a PCB just taped to the window that I've embedded plastic in I have a video online of how I did that for those actually those are the examples and that's the end slide of that video and then this is what it looks like in the dark so you can see that it blinks and it also has this stained glass window property so they're just 2d art so then this is my most
recent PCB and it's a Christmas tree and it's three-dimensional they basically the dragonfly and the Christmas tree have the same schematic so electrically they're identical it's just there's four of them on the Christmas tree but mechanically they're very different so that's a little bit of my background in the type of PCBs that I actually end up building
so this talk is gonna be about my workflow it's not gonna be about like all the different software's I'll mention the software's that I use that are free I've used non free software's but those aren't as interesting because you have to do those for a company if you want to do it on your own you need the free software so I'll mention which ones I use but it's not an introduction on how to use those it's an introduction
on how to fuse them together because that's the really complicated part that I had to figure out on my own there's tons of YouTube videos on everything else so basically it's mechanical design that's coupled with the electrical design so the first thing I'm gonna talk about is actually an interplay between the CAD software which
is what architects and mechanical engineers use and PCB software which is what electrical engineers use so basically it's not about how to use any given software so the first thing that I
need to think about when I start designing a PCB is what are the rules that the fab needs me to follow in order to actually have my final electrical design called a Gerber file work in the fab or actually be buildable and the green PCB is how it looks on kicad in three dimensions the purple PCB is how a lot of fabs would actually end up building it because a lot of fabs do not deal with internal holes many of them will do it but you might have to actually contact them and talk to a real person in order to make sure that they will actually build it the way you want it because their software doesn't necessarily automatically identify the routing for that when they actually go
to the milling process the other thing that I have to think about is what are
the design rules on V cuts so V cut basically if you look at this heart that
I have an example of it's a very small heart so I can panelize it which means putting more than one heart on a board so that I can break them apart later this makes it cheaper for me because then I get four for the same price as I'd get one for from the fab but I have to incorporate a way to break them apart
and those are called V cuts and a V cut is just they basically take a blade and
they run the PCB through it and it causes a small cut to be made in the board and it's often on both sides of the board but in order to do that they
need a flat surface so it's difficult to see in I'll use the pointer although I don't think it shows up online so basically on this red PCB where there's the four hearts they don't have a way of making this yellow line because or without these small edges because there's no flat surface for them to use as a guide so then I got an email back from my that they were like we can't build this the way you want it so you have to add some part that's flat so that we can actually manufacture this
for you which is why I ended up having to add this so it's a really important
design rule in this case it wasn't a problem because I had this space to make it flat but if you don't design it with that in mind it might not end up working
so then in order for that extra part to be removable I needed to do something called adding Mouse bytes there's a couple other names that these go by but at least in Switzerland everybody I know calls them Mouse bytes so basically that's this small square and this is what it looks like when you zoom in and there's these small or these three small holes that make it very weak in that part so you can just snap it apart and break it and this is what they look like on the Christmas tree to break the separate branches apart so the other
thing you need to think about you can't just make things infinitely thin you're gonna have to put the wires in somewhere and you're gonna have to put the components in somewhere and so you need to think about how big those wires need
to be how close to the edge can they be and design with that in mind so this is the Christmas tree that I did and this side is actually it's not the mirror image it's like the rotated image like if you flip a pancake over you turn a book over so this is the back side and this is the front side of each other so
when I go and I zoom in on the center
what you're seeing is actually this is the back side that would be on here this is the back side that would be over here and what you can see is that up here it's really tight and so you have to think about how many wires do I kind of expect how big are these components and design so that it really will eventually fit and sometimes you have to redesign things because you need more wires than you originally thought about and then
there's also mechanical properties so
PCBs come in different thicknesses in the case of my PhD when I built this I needed a very very thin PCB because I had a very tight restriction on this component and actually all of these measurements are minimized as much as possible for clearance and manufacturability and stability so in this case this PCB was really really stable once it was in the column but a number of people were not careful in my collaborators because this was delivered all over the European Union a number of my collaborators were not very careful with this PCB and they would bend it or break it which made my fab even more happy with me because basically they kept having to rebuild them so you just need to think about the
manufacturability and like once you start removing the inside how strong will it be and will I be able to bend it like paper because if you can do that it's not gonna last very long so then
you also just need to think about the tolerances and a lot of these are online
so for example holes and pin headers I recently had a PCB that I designed and the pin headers were a really good tight fit they they basically you stuck them in and they were pretty much a right angle in the first round and then I ordered more and the holes didn't fit anymore so you need to always allow for you know some tolerance in your manufacturing site and err on a bigger hole that you fill in with solder at least in the artistic side then a small hole that you have a perfect fit with also wires new
the edges can sometimes cause problems and and that happens because the tool might not be perfectly aligned so if you put your wires further away from the edge you're gonna have a more likely chance of having a lot of really good PCBs rather than difficulty with your fab and if you're already asking your fab to do special stuff for you you probably don't want to make their life even harder and then tool radius so in this first version of the dragonfly I sometimes had problems with this particular joint and you can kind of see a blown up sort of out-of-focus image here where you can see that they had trouble with the tool because they were using one milling tool for this outside part and then they had to go in with a smaller tool to sort of get this part out and it was difficult for them so that's why in the Christmas tree I made the Philips so that's the curves on the inner so I'll fill it in men are in manufacturing or in mechanical engineering is when you have a tight joint and you make a small radius that's the size of the tool bit or larger so I made bigger ones and later designs for that reason so now that you kind of have
a background in all the different things you have to keep in the back of your mind when you're actually gonna try and have this fabricated now I'm gonna get to my workflow which is what I actually go through when I'm trying to design something new so the first thing I do is I actually got a piece of paper and a pen and I just start sketching what I think it's gonna look like it's so much faster to draw it on paper even though I'm really not a great artist than it is to try and draw it in CAD with exact dimensions and so on then I make a schematic in kicad schematics are basically the the electronics and saying you know I need a resistor I need a capacitor and so on then I pick the components so that's like not just I need a capacitor but I need this type of capacitor that's this big and this wide and this tall and then once I have that I now have the maximum size that all my parts need to be that it need to fit on the board to
actually do something so then I can go in to a CAD model which is what the mechanical engineers and the manufacturing engineers and the civil engineers and the architects use to start building the PCB outline so that electrical circuit board outline then I import that model and I use the outlines that I drew as the edge cuts so that's actually the end of where the milling tool will go during the manufacturing process and then I place the components where I want them to be and then I connect all the wires how they need to be and then I optionally will penalize them depending on how big that PCB is going to be so that means putting more than one of the same thing on the same board and then if I need to in order to have it be manufacturable just like the heart then I have to add break offs which is all those parts that I'll eventually throw away just so that they can do V cuts and so on so this is me
sketching what I think my Christmas tree
will look like so what I did as I started and I literally got a piece of paper and I started drawing triangles that are the size I wanted it to be so this is 10 centimeters tall and then each one of those small triangles is 5 centimeters and then I started sort of sketching this trying to keep it at about 3 millimeters because I've done so many trial II flexing um led things at this point I know that if it's less than 3 millimeters it's gonna be hard to route a lot of wires so it's a good starting point at my from my side all my components I also know will be able to fit on that 3 millimeters except the microcontroller so that means somewhere I'm gonna have to make something bigger than that 3 centimeters or at 3 millimeter no three centimeters sorry right that's wrong it should be centimeters not millimeters no it should yes millimeters sorry sometimes I think in inches I'm American I haven't quite converted so basically I also think about what it should do electrically so is this blinky lights is there a motor is there what's it gonna have on it and then is it gonna be 2d or 3d and I start
thinking about if it's 3d how am I gonna get ground and five volts from one side to another do I need to get a signal somewhere like is there one microcontroller on this 3d object and therefore the branches are of the Christmas tree are all going to have to get the all the signals from the microcontroller or I'm gonna have separate microcontrollers on each branch how is it gonna work then this is the
schematic actually and it's the same schematic I've used for the dragonfly the heart and the Christmas tree where I basically go in and I say okay I have that sketch that I drew by hand and I'm gonna need a capacitor that goes between five volts and ground I'm going to need
the microcontroller that's gonna tell all these LEDs what to do and because these are LEDs I'm gonna need resistors so I connect them all the way that I want them to be and the way they need to be to work and then the next thing I do
is I actually go through and I get on like a distributor for electronics and I actually pick components so this is an O 603 capacitor these are taken from digi-key this is an eighty tiny these are resistors this is the LED and so on and that way I have a physical idea of how big these things need to be and then
again footprints so the the pads that those components are going to be soldered on are actually bigger than the components itself logical so I need to figure out exactly how big those need to be because if it's a perfect fit for the resistor somewhere that means it's not gonna be a perfect fit for the compressor it's not gonna be a perfect fit for the pads so I need to really think about the pads and at this point sometimes I design new footprints so maybe I want instead of the resistor to look like this maybe I want it to be a Christmas tree so the ball needs to be actually a ball like I want these to be the ornaments so then I just would make some silkscreen marks around it that make it look like a ball for example so then I have to go ahead
and actually build the CAD model so that means I go into fusion 360 M you could use other software I've used SolidWorks before as well and then I start drawing things and these are all three millimeters and this is actually where the microcontroller goes because it has to be big enough for the microcontroller and so this was the logical place to put it in the dragonfly it's actually in the center where the wings come together and the snowflake it's in the center as well and some other PCBs it might be on the stem of a shamrock because those are logical places to be bigger so this is
the snowflake that I was talking about so sometimes I also and this is like actually they're one of my earlier PCBs I actually modeled the components to make sure that it would make sense and it would look okay and I don't have the back shown but I also modeled this component and if you look it's kind of a tight squeeze there and I needed to make sure it would fit so then once you have
a CAD model that you're happy with then this is sort of a weird step that it took me a while to figure out but I already had a lot of experience dealing with the quirkiness of machining tools and 3d software so basically I export it from fusion 360 as a DXF but because there's multiple different formats that DXF scan have so DXF is just a two-dimensional drawing format there's multiple forms that it can have I actually have to open it in another software because fusion 360 doesn't save it in a format that kicad can read I open it in a different free software and then just save it as an art well vasc you file that's a form of DXF and then I can open it in kicad if I don't do that what ends up happening is only the straight lines show up and some of the circles might but none of these complicated curves will show up as edge cuts so then
I just go through once I have the edge cuts put on my board because this is what I'm starting to actually design the board I import all of the LEDs and so on that I did in the schematic and then I start placing them where I want them to go in some cases I might have if I'm really gonna be very specific about where an LED needs to be I wasn't so much on the Christmas tree I'll also have exported the LEDs as part of the edge cuts and I'll just delete them later and that way I know exactly where I want that led to be and then I need to
route them so all electrical software's have routing as far as I know that you can do and it usually comes out in like a 45 degree angle or maybe 30 so often I will do it by hand this is a different kit that I built and I wanted the routing to sort of make a heart shape in the Tralee flexed heart and so I did it by hand the other option it also if you do it by hand you are less likely to make really dumb mistakes so for example when you use an auto router Auto routers know where the components are but they really
don't care about anything you would learn in like a physics class so they have no problem with making an insanely long line from a capacitor to a microcontroller and you want that line to be really really short because it's supposed to buffer voltage changes and provide like basically buffer fluctuations in the amount of energy that the microcontroller is receiving from the main power source because maybe
more LEDs are drawing more energy but anyway it'll make those lines not the way they should be so doing it by hand is often better but
with some of my designs like the Christmas tree it's just not possible because this isn't an angle that kicad can do and that most software's can do I actually export the file that has all of the components on it placed in the correct location and the edge cuts and Topa router will go through it and it will make curvy lines by making lots of tiny straight line segments and one problem with that is that a lot of these auto routing software's have no ability to work with a giant hole in the middle of the PCB so they'll just connect like this to that just through the hole so that doesn't work either so there's a script on my github page it's actually not on there right now I will put it up there by the end of Congress but I just didn't have time over the holidays and then once I do that I also need to check for stupid electrical errors not because they won't be connected but because sometimes you have components that are close to another component and the lines
need to be very very short so you might have to fix that on your own so then at that point you're basically done except
if you want to penalize so in the case of the Christmas tree I had one and I wanted to make four so in order to make it penalize well because this is basically just a triangle and I needed to know how long it was and how tall it was and in my mind it was the full five centimeters but in reality because I'd cut off this corner it wasn't five centimeters so I took a like a marking edge so something that the manufacturing process doesn't use for anything and it doesn't end up in the Gerber files and I extended this line out to where it should have ended so that it would be the right shape so then I could rotate it and flip it and so on and have it turn into this pattern the other thing is that I had to remove extra and duplicate lines so in the process of making one I needed to close all of the lines so on this Mouse bite there's a line here so actually the arrows will show it so the blue lines are the blue arrows show where these mouse bites are closed and they're actually going to flip and connect to each other so I had to remove them in the final panelized version over here so you can see it four times with this edge removed and then there were a couple of Mouse bites that were close to that edge so they weren't completely closed and it also had problems with that so I had to just replace them with circles or close them manually and then the next step
when you're penalizing is also to add break offs for the manufacturing process so in this case that was these small edges because the V cuts needed the flat surface so that is the end of my talk
and if you have questions I'm open to questions you can also if you're online and you're watching this later you can leave a comment on my youtube channel I try and get back to people and make videos based on their comments I have a 10 deep age and I have a web page and then if you want to learn how to solder but you don't know how come over to the hardware hacking area because I'm gonna be teaching a workshop on that thank you very much for this most excellent talk if you have quite please round of applause
[Applause] if you have any questions there's microphones 6 distributed through the room please just walk up to them and I'll point you out are there any questions from the Internet no questions from the Internet are there any questions from the audience in the SOL come on guys I know it's early there is one please walk up to the microphone there in the aisle Center from microphone please let's see if this works sounds good so I'm also very fascinated of the idea of Charlie playing circuits and I'm wondering do you sell any of your PCBs kids or something yeah I have all of them as kids with me so go over to the hardware hacking area okay that's cool thank you yeah even the ones that aren't on tindy so basically anything on my webpage tried to get all of it here again center front microphone please yeah hi why didn't use the PCB layout software to create the outline because kicad doesn't like splines and so if I did the so basically PCB software is often designed for straight lines or arcs so just circles and straight lines to define more complex shapes is significantly harder also with like standard manufacturing software or
standard mechanical engineering software they're designed so that you can parameterize things so actually with like the snowflake or the Christmas tree in the in the fusion 360 version I have numbers that say you know three millimeters this is three millimeters and so if I decide later I need it to be four millimeters I just go for and then exported it again it's much faster it sounds harder but it's much faster again center front microphone please absolutely newbie so I'm only wondering if you prefer eagle as well so I've never used eagle and the reason that I haven't is well there's two reasons first right now it's only free for smaller PCBs than the Christmas tree so I don't want to spend money because I'm currently unemployed and don't have that kind of money second my husband runs an embedded systems company and he uses kicad so I have a professional that lives with me that I can go I don't understand and it can be like here's how it works so on that side it was easier for me to use the software that was already in my house when I was working professionally we used a professional software so it's just basically I started learning when Eagle went from open source and free to being bought by Autodesk again center front microphone please thanks for this interesting talk so I knew about PCB design but the artistic part of my question is how do you deal with so I like to use kit or some version control and with kicad it's easy you have it if it's a XML file but with other tools you have binary files of any way to deal with Tiff's of binary files or so with most mechanical software there's version control as well so you like for example in fusion 360 every time I save it'll save the same file as version 1 or version 2 or version 3 or 4 so it's not really github but it does have a way to regress backward in what you want so you're safe at this version 1 and version 2 or do it automatically actually does it every time you save it it sort of appends a new version to it because this is also a problem industrial ii with mechanical engineering designs where multiple people need to be working towards getting maybe a probe to be stable so they also have to deal with version control because I'm trying to do the switch from eager to kike tenth and eagle I just have version 1 version 200-300 yeah so with kicad I don't really do so much version control yeah I he would be the person to ask because he's the professional the guy I'm that shirt with the donut panic is really the person I end up asking all of my really tough electrical questions too we have another question on the front right microphone yes hi everybody thanks for the talk not really a question but just the heads up there's going to be according to my knowledge a geek at beginner workshop on Friday in at 9 in the evening just for those interested cool another question you show up as well another question from the center front microphone and to the usual PCB interested person how would you recommend to find and select the fab for a regular PCB like if you're just trying to like make a square I think any of them will probably work for me like when I was trying to do the Christmas tree I sent it to three different fabs and one of them I have a contact there because I actually visited that fab at one point and so that worked out but when I actually the purple picture is from ash Park and they say somewhere that they don't deal with internal holes yeah so I would just contact people just email people if you have something weird email people and see if they can do it because most people who have a PCB fab want money and will work for money next question again Center from microphone please yeah very very specific to your talk you said that the DXF format that fusion puts out is not directly readable without loss by kicad I missed the software you use it's draft sight so this this set it
this slide so that's how it's spelled yeah and in that software they have I don't know maybe 20 different types of DXF and other formats you can save things in so when I worked for the Swiss watch industry we would have to take all our files and save it in the right one from customers next question Center from microphone hi everybody if I wanted to
find a lot of people who already know key card where would be the best place to look the workshop yeah well I guess I'm talking about people who already know key ket it's like is there like one main discussion group in Usenet or something like central point on the Internet to find these people yeah the audience says go to IRC there should be a key cap channel again like we unfree know like he mentioned I was a broken person who couldn't leave my apartment for actually it was a very very long time but he was my answer for everything I was just like I don't understand after an hour can you fix it it's like okay so I'm not knowledgeable on that next question from our signal angel handling the Watchers at home Thanks next question Center from microphone hi thanks for your talk I just have question about the mouth bite how do you convert them from the edge get format to to drilling actually so I just leave them as edge cuts honestly and they magically work okay not the answer I expected that thanks are there any more questions last call for questions no doesn't look like it well please give Emily Hamas nice round of applause for her excellent [Applause] [Music]
yep and if if you're watching online not during Congress you can contact me that way
[Music] [Music]