Inspiration

I have a Carvey! No, not a miniature Dana Carvey, a Carvey CNC Mill which I will bring to IoTHackDay.

What it does

Evidently these can be used to build PCBs by cutting out the top material on a copper lined board, exposing fiberglass underneath and isolating copper lines from one another, thereby allowing individual electrical traces to be built and creating a nice, clean professional PCB (in theory).

How I built it

I have actually never tried this previously - I have carved out a lot of wood and plastic, but have yet to try it with PCB material.

Challenges I ran into

We'll find out what kind of challenges this produces the day of - but in general what I have found from operating the CNC mill is that the "feed rate" as well as the "layer depth" have to be set according to the type of material you are cutting in order to avoid either heating up the material, creating a rough finish, or just outright breaking the bit.

Another technical challenge I anticipate is that the main interface I have used thus far to interact with the CNC mill has been the pre-built, browser-based software which comes with the machine, called, "Easel." While Easel is a nice program and is super precise from what I can tell, it's not the end-all-be-all of computer aided design and so there are various hacks and things we will likely have to do to avoid making mistakes in the physical world or wasting time.

For example, we may have to create duplicate digital files of different portions of a given PCB, to use on the same physical PCB, to try out various parts of the board without having to run through the entire board, which could waste a huge amount of time.

We will also have to, "lie to the machine" and put a baseboard below the copper board and experiment around with depths to ensure that it cuts right, and then do some electrical testing to make sure we can actually isolate the copper lines from one another, see if there are problems with burrs at various thicknesses, see what kind of electrical resistivity this crazy unknown fiberglass material might be rated at, etc.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

If we can actually build a double sided board, that will be something to behold - however I am skeptical that we will be able to get the precision down within the first day. I have some ideas on how it can be done and how it is physically possible - but with the demands and needs of translating a circuit schematic into a PCB layout, depending upon the complexity, just building the thing out may be difficult.

There may be some different software platforms that we can discover that already provide the functionality needed to create a double sided board - but we'll save that for the actual day of to create a sort of hackathon sense of urgency.

What I learned

I'm hoping to just get a feel for what it takes to actually build a frickin' PCB with the CNC mill. I have been meaning to do this for a long time and keep putting it off.

What's next for CNC Mill To Help Build Your PCB at IoTHackDay

Well, once we've successfully accomplished it, great! Then I will be able to do it going forward, it's a new skill that I have which will help me eventually accomplish my lifelong dream of living off the grid in an undisclosed location, generate all my own power, and manufacture anything that I need as well as grow my own food! I'm only kind of kidding.

Built With

  • g-code
  • svg
  • easel
  • carvey
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