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!