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I am looking for a machine for PCB fabrication.

Can you help me understanding the type of machines available on the market for a hobbyst use?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You MAY get some good leads here, but that sort of question is not permitted by the rules. Try asking at here \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Jan 1 '12 at 6:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Russell's advice is good, I'm sure the folk at PicList will provide some help. I think you are looking for a CNC mill ( you can call it a PCB milling machine) This cuts out the unnecessary copper to form a circuit. If this is not what you mean it may be an etching tank with a UV exposure unit. Or a plotter or possibly laser printer and iron on transfer. These all work by covering the copper with a resist and then etching (using acid) away the exposed parts. Mega in the UK are probably the sort of company you are looking for, they sell all the above. \$\endgroup\$ – Oli Glaser Jan 1 '12 at 7:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you load molten copper into your injet printer? \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jan 1 '12 at 13:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ There have been experiments with 3d printers laying down conductive tracks for literally printing PCBs onto a surface. \$\endgroup\$ – Majenko Jan 1 '12 at 21:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ For one example of what Majenko is talking of check out the PCB making page from the 3D printer RepRap. Some very interesting ideas there, like printing out copper wire, molten solder or fields metal (see the alternatives to FR4 section) \$\endgroup\$ – Oli Glaser Jan 2 '12 at 10:02
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When i was at school (technical school) we had a chemical etching lab, which worked with photoresist-prepped PCBs and UV development, and ferric chloride etching. It was very bulky and involved the use of hazardous liquids.

There is also a way to do that at home, using laser printers and ironing the design directly on the copper layer, and then removing it with some acid. But AFAIK this method is not very accurate.

I've seen also a CNC (as other described) machine (of the size of a microwave oven) that use cutters to directly remove the copper layer and that works on gerber files (generated by the CAD software). It takes about an hour, depending by the complexity of the design, and i think it could cost some hundreds (thousands) bucks.

All these machines can only create single layer (at most dual face) circuits. For more complicated things (multi-layer PCB) you need to refer to a specialized company.

As ceconel mentioned, the price for manufacturers scales very badly for small numbers; could be that 1 piece costs you only a bit less than 50, and it's due to the fact that they use masks, which are the most expensive part of the process.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The method you used at school is used by tons of hobbyists as home, too. You do need some equipment (such as an UV box) for good results, but people have succeeded (also with results beating toner transfer) using regular fluorescent bulbs as the light source. Pre-sensitized PCBs (PCBs with photo-resist) are available for purchase. Also, anyone using it should obviously read up a bit on the chemistry and safety of it all as a first step. \$\endgroup\$ – exscape Apr 9 '12 at 11:38
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For the milling process, there's http://www.colinbus.com/en/pcbprototyper.html

As clabacchio noted, you can't have multi-layer, only dual face. Given the price and the limitations (consider also that it won't produce plated holes, solder mask, etc.) you really need a high volume demand to do it yourself instead of using a PCB fab service. It's quite easy to find providers to do a batch for around $100 with a 2-week lead time.

I myself use photosensitive or thermal transfer for simple, single-side boards - when in first prototype stage - and send the more complex ones and the final versions to a fab service. I searched for machines like you but came to the conclusion that for my volume requirements it's not economically efficient. So consider it carefully. There may be less expensive options than that I mentioned, but they'll have less precision too, and in this case it's not better than photo/thermal methods. I can get good results with photosensitive boards if the vias are 0.5 mm or more; 1 mm for thermal transfer.

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