Tag Archives: PCB

Prometheus lets you make circuit boards in minutes

While it may look like a 3D printer, Prometheus is a PCB milling machine that carves, drills and shapes your PCBs so you don’t have to wait for a delivery truck.

While open source hardware has dramatically reduced the time and cost associated with product development, there are still a few speed bumps that Makers and designers must endure en route to taking their idea from prototype to mass production. Looking to change that is Rocco Tuccio, who together with his Zippy Robotics team, has built a desktop machine that can create real circuit boards in a matter of minutes. Meet Prometheus.


“When we’re prototyping, we need a tool that can give us nearly instant feedback — not feedback that comes in a few week’s time in the form of a PCB delivery. Let the PCB manufacturers make the hundreds or thousands of boards for your production run — not your prototypes. If production is your goal, Prometheus will help get you there faster,” Tuccio explains.

Prometheus works by carving through the copper layer of a standard copper-clad board (FR-4 or FR-1). Essentially, it can be thought of as mechanically etching the PCB as opposed to dealing with chemicals to perform the etching. Prometheus can also drill holes and route the shape of the board itself if you need it to fit a specific enclosure.


Surely the ongoing desktop fabrication revolution has yielded similar equipment, but what makes Prometheus stand out from others on the market is its unique spindle. This mechanical part’s incredible specs speak for themselves — 45,000 RPM and a static Total Indicated Runout (TIR) of less than 2.5 microns (.0001 inches), measured 10mm below the spindle bearing.

“TIR is important because it determines the minimum bit diameter we can run. Too much runout (wobble) and a micro end mill will just snap instead of milling copper as intended. Prometheus can reliably run bits as small as .007 inches in diameter, so you can use (with few exceptions) any surface mount components in your designs — not just ‘giant’ SOIC packages. This is a major differentiator with what’s available in our price class today,” Tuccio adds.


And they didn’t stop there, either. No other manufacturer makes a PCB milling machine and the design software to go with it. Zippy Robotics’ Circuit Factory program works seamlessly with Prometheus, enabling you to devise your schematic and board layout quickly and easily, even if you’ve never designed a PCB before. Once completed with your mockup on Circuit Factory, simply click the ‘carve’ button and Prometheus will take care of the rest. 

In terms of hardware, Prometheus boasts its own custom motor controller which is built around an Atmel | SMART SAM4S Cortex-M4 MCU. The machine features USB plug-and-play connectivity and will soon come with its own free Java API that will let anyone write their own software using a set of commands called ZippyTalk. (This is how Circuit Factory communicates with Prometheus.)

“It will allow a software developer to control Prometheus so that they can write their own apps to make particular tasks easy. They can then give those apps away or sell them, without restriction, to the benefit of all Prometheus users. You don’t have to know anything about G-code. G-code is a relic from the ’70s and it’s time we moved on to better things,” Tuccio explains.


With its incredible XY resolution and its ability to mill out traces and spaces as fine as 0.007 inches from any standard copper-clad PCB material, Prometheus is arguably one of the most advanced gadgets in its class. These traits will put Zippy Robotics toe-to-toe with other professional grade machines out there, which keep in mind, cost more than $8,000. This unit’s price tag, however, is a fraction of that.

Not only a great product, but an outstanding team behind it as well. We’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Tuccio and the New York-based startup for several years now, and have witnessed the progression of the desktop-friendly device — from its earlier and bulkier versions to its latest compact, commercial-ready form factor.

Tired of waiting for delivery and rather have your own PCBs just a click away? Head over to Prometheus’ Kickstarter campaign, where the Zippy Robotics crew is currently seeking $95,000. Delivery is slated for sometime next fall. Trust us, it’ll be worth the wait!

Argentum is like a 3D printer for PCBs

Cartesian Co.’s rapid prototyping machine is putting the “print” back in printed circuit boards.

Despite how far 3D printing has come over the past couple of years, a number of startups have been looking for new ways to take it one step further. Rather than just spit out odds and ends in plastic, what if you could quickly extrude something a bit smarter, like circuit boards, on demand? That’s the idea behind Cartesian Co.’s rapid prototyping machine dubbed Argentum.


While it admittedly may not be the first startup to come up the idea of putting the “print” back in printed circuit boards, it is among the very few that have squeezed the price down to Maker-friendly levels. If the New York-based company sounds familiar, that’s because there’s a good chance you may have come across their incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2013 — called EX¹ at the time — which garnered over $137,000. Since then, Cartesian Co. has shipped nearly 200 units and has worked diligently on improving the reliability of its inks and substrates

Simply put, Cartesian Co. is hoping that Argentum will transform electronics and prototyping in the same way that conventional 3D printing revolutionized traditional manufacturing. The gadget works by layering down silver nano-particles through an inkjet process onto almost any substrate you could imagine.


First, a user must generate the artwork for their electronics design. From there, the image is exported and processed by the Argentum’s custom control software, which generates code that the printer can directly interpret. The printer can then receive the command file via a USB interface, through the stock SD card port or even through a web interface if the user has the RasPiFi add-on. This enables a Maker to go from a circuit board design to reflowing solderable PCBs in a matter of minutes, without all the overhead costs of low production runs — something that is tremendously valuable for hobbyists, engineers and startups on a limited budget with time constraints.

“This lets you create electronics, just as you’ve envisioned — wearable electronics, paper circuits, printed computers or whatever you imagine. A 3D printer creates the objects of your imagination; the Argentum lets you create the electronics of your imagination,” company co-founder Ariel Briner explains.

Argentum - Carrier

So, how does the innovative machine work? Essentially, two inkjet cartridges (similar to the ones in a standard printer) print images on a substrate, but instead of ink they lay down two different chemicals. When these two chemicals mix, a reaction occurs, producing silver nano-particles, leaving a silver image. Aside from only conventional circuit board materials, the Argentum can employ a variety of other substrates that might not be commonly associated with electronic circuitry. These include paper, wood, ceramic, Kapton, fiberglass, and looking ahead, fabric.

Take this “Simon Says” game, for example, that the team printed on fiberglass. It has an ATtiny4313 running Arduino and capacitive touchpads for user input.

“One capability of the Argentum that we’re really excited about is the ability to print straight onto fabric. Anyone who has used conductive thread will tell you how frustrating it is when the thread breaks but you can’t find the break! With the Argentum, you can print circuits straight onto the material of your choice,” Briner adds.

The electronics, including an ATmega2560 at its core, are housed inside a sleek, black acrylic enclosure that would be an aesthetically-pleasing mainstay in any Makerspace. The Argentum boasts a build area of 6.7” x 4” with an overall footprint of 16.9” x 14.1” x 5.2” — meaning, it will fit perfectly on a workbench or desktop. On top of that, the Cartesian Co. crew offers complete flexibility with its software from importing an image with default settings and clicking print, to exerting control over every printing variable.


The device prints at a native resolution of 300DPI, which can be enhanced to 600DPI using its software. What’s more, Argentum can print, assemble and test a circuit board in less than two hours, while eliminating the hassle and dangers typically associated with hazardous chemicals.

“This means you will be able print footprints as fine as TSSOP (0.65mm pitch) on our treated G10 substrate and SOIC (0.8mm pitch) on all our other materials including polyimide, linen paper, stone paper and more,” the team writes.

Circuits printed on G10, polyimide and paper can be hand soldered as well. This will, of course, require a bit more skill and needs to be done relatively fast to avoid damaging the silver traces.

Intrigued? Head over to Cartesian Co.’s official site to learn more, and pre-order your own unit for $1,599. Delivery of the next batch is slated for September 2015.


Creating a see-through Arduino with an ATmega328P

CIT is hoping to put the ‘printed’ back into printed circuit boards.

CIT Technology is a manufacturer of digitally printed flexible electronic circuits. The crew is on a mission to develop low-cost, flexible circuits that will spur the imagination of the next generation of designers. In doing so, they aspire to put the ‘printed’ back into printed circuit boards by using a unique two-stage additive print-and-plate process that deposits solid copper onto low-cost flexible substrates. Building a board on these materials can have some significant advantages over conventionally manufactured PCBs.


If you follow along with our (*cough industry-leading cough*) Twitter account, then you saw how well the audience received CIT’s recent tweet of a see-through Arduino. Created as an example of a module built on low-cost PET, the ‘duino featured 50 micron clear PET and was based on an ATmega328P MCU, enabling it to be linked to other modules to devise entire systems.

“Our see-through Arduino was made to show how quick and simple it is to create your own modules, either as one-offs or in volume,” the team notes.


As part of this project, CIT also made a Bluetooth LE module, a capacitive touchpad set and LED indicator modules. By piecing these components together, you will have all the elements required to construct a Bluetooth widget – what that widget does is entirely up to you.

“This is where we can help you create the next module by printing the designs on PET. The flex circuits are printed on clear or white PET from 50 to 125 microns thick. The tracks are copper so you can solder SMT devices to the tracks using low temperature Tin Bismuth solder.”


PET flexible circuits open up interesting options when it comes to low-cost sensors for lightweight applications, including drones where every gram counts. And of course, these circuits can be folded into awkward shapes.

CIT first began crafting these modules as a sort of “educational” process so that they could document the steps when evolving a modular project to a final dedicated circuit and show how current digital printing processes are now mainstream. Today, the company can print flexible PCBs by the kilometer, and given that the process is completely digital, there are no masks or expensive tooling involved in the setup.

Intrigued? Head over to CIT’s official page here.

Tinusaur dev board packs an ATtiny85 MCU

The Tinusaur — powered by an ATtiny85 MCU — is a simple, inexpensive and quick-start platform targeted at both Makers and developers alike.

“The Tinusaur is a minimal microcontroller hardware configuration based on Atmel’s AVR ATtiny family of products, and more specifically, those with DIP-8 case such as ATtiny25/ATtiny45/ATtiny85, ATtiny13 as well as their variations,” project creator Neven Boyanov explained in a recent Hackster.io post.

Aside from the ATtiny85, additional key platform specs include:

  • DIP-8 socket
  • H1 header
  • H2 header
ISP header
Reset button
  • Power header
  • Battery header
  • Battery jumper
  • C1 capacitor
  • C2 capacitor
  • C2 capacitor
  • R1 resistor
Battery holder
  • 3V battery

“All the components are easy to find, and of course, cheap. Only the minimum required components should be part of the circuit.”

In addition, the two-row headers H1 and H2 can be used as a breadboard, or to facilitate the placement of a shield. Tinusaur also includes an optional mount for a button cell battery on the bottom and a jumper to toggle the unit on or off.

On the software side, the board offers cross-platform support, as well as compatibility with the official Arduino IDE.


According to Boyanov, the goal of the Tinusaur project is to offer a simple, cheap and accessible quick-start platform for everyone interested in learning and making things. Sound like you? You can check out the project’s official page and its Hackster.io post here.

Printing circuit boards at your desk

Squink – which recently hit Kickstarter – allows Makers to create circuit boards from the comforts of their own homes for less than the price of the average iced coffee.


“Building electronics has always been a compromise between cost, flexibility and time. Squink was created to provide all three, anywhere and to everyone,” a company rep explained on its official Kickstarter page, which has already collected upwards of $55,000 towards their $100,000 goal.

Led by Botfactory computer engineer Carlos Ospina, the team says Squink will allow home innovators to “unleash their creativity, test their ideas on the spot, improve them quickly, and use a range of materials to make their circuits.”

Squink prints conductive ink on specific material, such as photo paper or glass, enabling Makers to create their own functional circuit boards using conductive ink and glue. The all-in-one printer then goes one step further than just producing out the intricate designs that connect all of the electronic components on a circuit board together. Furthermore, it will then actually pick and place those components onto the board, as specified in a design you mockup on a computer. This process takes a matter of minutes and can be completed for a revolutionary low price of around $2. This makes the prototyping process easier and faster than ever before.


According to its Kickstarter page, the company aspires to lower the knowledge threshold required to play with electronics. “By allowing you to share your designs and easily find schematics online, anyone can learn how to dwell in the land of the electrons, and finally bring to life your inanimate items.”

Though the printer remains a prototype and the design is incomplete, you can head over to their Kickstarter page.


M-One is an open source DLP 3D printer

As previously reported on Bits & Pieces, M-One is described by its creators (the MakeX team) as a “personal desktop factory” for Makers, designers, artists and engineers. Since its debut in June, the open source DLP 3D printer attained 134 backers and over $180,000 in funds, exceeding its initial $100,000 target.

Key features include:


Compact, 380x320x490mm (14.9″x12.6″x19.3″)
  • 145x110x170mm (5.7″x4.3″x6.7″) build area
  • Up to 20 micron layer thickness and 140 micron min. feature size
  • Fast output
  • Customized software
  • Tilt mechanism
  • Flex soft vat system
  • Supports third-party material

“We developed our electronics and PCB board on [an Atmel-based] Arduino board – [helping] to extend the benefits of M-One’s technology [and] accelerate 3D printing community development,” an MakeX rep explained.

Its creators decided to leave the design of the main control system and the electronics (PCB Board) open source, in hopes that the ever-growing Maker community would be able to further develop and improve upon the technology.

“MakeX supports the freedom of development. That’s why the M-One DLP 3D printer is the first open source project of its kind. By promoting transparency and collaboration, we hope to foster an open community, where developers can work together and creativity grows. Along with providing open access of M-One’s source code to the 3D printing community, MakeX will promote the rich possibilities of opensource through its mailing list, educational videos, and instructions available online. We believe in the free market of ideas and its ability to modify and improve the M-One system.”

“As an open source project, parts and instructions will be available to our supporters to make their own M-One system, which allows them to use their own projectors in the future. Users will then just need to screw the projector onto the frame and the printer will be ready to use,” its creators note.


With the funding round now closed, M-One becomes the latest Atmel-based Kickstarter device to join the list of successfully crowdfunded projects.

Interested in learning more? You can check out the project’s official Kickstarter page here.

Check out this $10 PicoDuino on Tindie

The PicoDuino – targeted at both Makers and engineers – is an uber-mini development board powered by Atmel’s ATtiny85 microcontroller (MCU).

“With the ability to use the familiar Arduino IDE (Digispark version is highly recommended), the PicoDuino is a great way to jump into electronics,” Tindie vendor bobricius explained in a product post.

Aside from the MCU, key board specs include:

  • Support for the Arduino IDE 1.0 and later (OS X, Windows, and Linux)
  • Built-in USB
5 I/O pins (two are used for USB only if program actively communicates over USB)
8 KB flash memory (about 6 KB after bootloader)
  • I2C and SPI (vis USI)
  • PWM on three pins (more possible with software PWM)
ADC on 4 pins
  • Internal temperature sensor
On-board RGB LED
Keyboard and HID device emulation
Programmable via USBASP
12×22 mm
  • Smart pinout
  • Partially breadboard compatible
Supports four types of USB connector 0 PCB, USB-A, MiniUSB and MicroUSB
  • Optional Power LED (full model only)
Optional Reset button (full model only)

Interested in learning more? You can check out the product’s official Tindie page here.

minDUINO v1.5 (ATmega328) goes live

Steve Smith of Project AVR has published the design files and relevant data for the Atmel-powered minDUINO v1.5 board – with the information released under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license.

According to Smith, the ATmega328-based minDUINO is relatively easy to assemble, featuring a two layer through-hole design, along with headers for FTDI, ISCP and port breakouts.

“The board has two LEDs, one red, as seen above, for power indication and one green for testing,” Smith explained in a recent blog post.

“I chose to connect the green test LED to pin D10 (physical pin 16) because it is capable of PWM output. I used a shrouded connector for the ICSP connection which matches the plug from my USBASP programmer.”

The minDUINO boards were fabricated by the Hackvana crew, with the relevant gerber files available here.

“I have been using Hackvana for a while and they have fabricated several boards for me,” he added.

“Their customer service is second to none and the end result is a high quality, professional PCB that would be at home in any commercial equipment.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out minDUINO’s official project page here.

ATtiny45 drives this optical theremin

A Maker by the name of Derek recently created an optical theremin to illustrate the types of devices typically found in hacker and Maker spaces.

As HackADay’s Rick Osgood reports, the solderless Noise-o-Tron kit is powered by Atmel’s ATtiny45 microcontroller (MCU).

“Arduino libraries have already been ported to this chip, so all [Derek] had to do was write a few simple lines of code and he was up and running,” writes Osgood.

“The chip is connected to a photocell so the pitch will vary with the amount of light that reaches the cell. The user can then change the pitch by moving their hand closer or further away, achieving a similar effect to a theremin.”

According to Osgood, Derek designed a simple PCB out of acrylic, with laser cut holes to fit the components and leads twisted together.

“I learned a lot with this project and I think some other people did too. I had kids as young as 5 assemble these boards with guidance, some of them with surprisingly little help,” notes Derek.

“Everyone seemed to like them and I ran out of components for kits. I’m calling it a huge success and I hope that this project is replicated and taken to Maker Faires, expos and ‘learn electronics’ nights.”

Interested in learning more about the solderless Noise-o-Tron kit? You can check out Derek’s blog post here and the relevant Github files here.

Dual port RAM interface debugs NES games

While writing a game for his old-school NES console, Andrew Reitano realized that live debugging on real hardware would definitely be a step up from the usual software-based fare.

The original solution? Firing variable information out the second controller port to serial every NMI. However, Reitano ultimately decided to take a shot at designing a new Atmel-powered PCB to interface with the console.

“The board routes the left port of the dual port RAM (Cypress CY7C136) to the DIP footprint on the NES and the right port to an AVR (ATmega164 MCU), this allows me to read and write any location at runtime without bus conflicts,” Reitano explained in a recent blog post.

“Control is provided through the UART and two additional pins are soldered directly to the 2A03 to control /NMI and /RESET. AVR control code was written mainly in C with some assembly sprinkled across for the memory control portions.”

The ATmega164 – tasked with “waiting” for serial commands – performs a number of functions including:

  • Read/write of any memory location
  • Quick dump of an entire 256-byte page
  • Freezing of memory addresses (rewriting a single value constantly in the busy loop)
  • Single frame stepping by controlling the NMI
  • Remote reset of console
  • Applying auto increment to tables to a single variable (fun for sine waves on x/y positions)

“[I] had pretty great results with using 250000 baud with the Genesis flasher project which is plenty fast for what I’m trying to do here,” he added. “As far as I can tell from the datasheet leaving CE low shouldn’t have an effect on the opposite port but it most certainly does. Next revision could definitely use a few pullups on the AVR side, other than that I’m pretty happy with the layout.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out the project’s official page here.