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I am an EE professor at an University and I was asked to provide a solution (machine) for PCB prototyping. Specs are milling down to about 8 mil (0.2032 mm) trace thickness, 8 mil trace clearance, 8 mil drilling/hole size, just 2 layers, material is standard FR-4 PCB. Vias and holes can be fulfilled with conductive epoxy if needed, although metal plating is of course a better choice. Finishing is not a concern, really.

Students and professors will use this solution. A dedicated technician will account for the operation, no students will lay hands unless authorized and accompanied. Before you say board houses are a no brainer, I am in South America and pcb houses are not that cheap or common as in USA or Europe. Also, it is a chance for students to get in touch with the full process.

Chemicals are absolutely off list. I also put aside all of those desktop lpkf, t tech, etc machines. All reviews I've seen show they are impractical, lousy software, parts break easily, double side is still a pain, etc.

Our budget, although not really set, is actually interesting: I'd say we are around USD 12k top. Demand is not high, there is no need for large output, just small volumes, but I can't account for a solution at this price range that brings us problems: it has to work fine and up to specs!

Given the budget, I am also considering a different approach: a full CNC milling machine, capable of mechanical works and capable of working on steel and wood - given the right drill bits and tools. PCB prototyping needs are fulfilled (?), and the investment is not restricted to that purpose.

Advice on the approach?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What about ciqoid? :) \$\endgroup\$ – Arjun Aug 12 '15 at 7:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Roland DG make some CNC routers at that price. It would allow you to machine plastic enclosures as well which is always useful for project work. With a full metal cutting CNC mill (eg Tormach, or even a second hand Haas) the trouble you will have is a lack of spindle speed. For the small cutters/drills used for PCB work you need 20kRPM+. \$\endgroup\$ – Jon Aug 12 '15 at 8:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Datron also make some very nice small mills, but I think the price would be well above your budget. \$\endgroup\$ – Jon Aug 12 '15 at 8:41
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Why don't you look at www.linuxcnc.com. The students could also learn to wire some actuators and sensors, with 12k$ budged you can build good quality router with ballscrews and precise linear guides. Perhaps the PCB milling needs somehow lighter spindle for fast movements compared to metal working, that would also require liquid coolant.

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