Making Printed Circuit Boards with the Fab Lab

Marc Boon, Feb 2008

Objectives

The goal is to fabricate a single-sided, through-hole printed circuit board (PCB) using the Fab Lab's milling machine: the Roland Modela MDX-20. There are already several published methods to accomplish this, but I developed a workflow that requires less steps to follow, and less software packages to install.

A main objective is to create a workflow that uses free and/or open-source software and will run on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms.

The only software tool I use is the freeware version of the Eagle Layout Editor, a software package for designing electronic circuit schematics and printed circuit board layouts. The freeware version is limited to non-commercial use and to maximum board dimensions of 100x80 mm. The output files of Eagle can directly drive the Roland Modela milling machine.

For a short introduction, watch the 3 minute video of my Fab Lab workshop.

Requirements

Depending on your platform, the following software has to be installed on your computer:

Windows (2000/XP/Vista):
  Eagle 4.16r2 for Windows

Mac OS-X (10.3 or higher):
  X11 update for OS-X (might already be installed)
  Eagle 4.16r2 for Mac OS-X X11

Linux:
  Eagle 4.16r2 for Linux

Workflow

Example project

As an example project, I use the Micro Silent TV circuit by Tetsuo Kogawa. This is a very simple TV transmitter circuit which will broadcast a composite video signal in the VHF band. Using this circuit, the composite video signal from a camcorder or from the TV-out socket of a pc can be received on a nearby (max. 10m distance) portable TV equipped with an antenna.

Tetsuo Kogawa developed a very simple and effective way to build this or any other circuit, without the need for computers, software or a Fab Lab, but for those of you insisting on using the Fab Lab, follow these steps:

Step 1: Creating a PCB layout in Eagle

Using Eagle for schematic entry and pcb layout, with design rules for milling with the Fab Lab.

Step 2: Creating a toolpath for milling and drilling

Defining the contours of pcb traces and holes to be milled and drilled.

Step 3: Creating files for driving the Roland Modela milling machine

Using Eagle's CAM Processor to generate output files for the Roland Modela milling machine.

Step 4: Milling and drilling the pcb

Sending the files to the milling machine, which will fabricate the boards.

Step 5: Soldering and testing

Soldering components to the board, hooking up a video source and start broadcasting!