Hacked Gadgets Forum

May 15, 2011

PCB Milling using a MakerBot

at 8:21 am. Filed under DIY Hacks, Electronic Hacks


Rolling your own PCBs is something that is great to speed up the development time when designing a new circuit. Even now that there are quick and fairly cheap board houses that can make production quality boards it still takes days instead of the hours it would take if you made your own in your home lab. Keith Neufeld has perfected the isolation method of PCB creation on his MakerBot. The results are fantastic, now the cutting time of 5 hours needs to be tackled.

“I drilled holes in the corners, tapped the upper plate, and enlarged the holes in the lower plate. The socket-head cap screws spin freely in the lower plate while adjusting the upper plate‚Äôs height (I used a continuity meter to check when the milling bit was just barely touching the plate in each corner); then the nylon-insert nuts lock the screws in position. The whole assembly is quite rigid once tightened.”



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4 Responses to “PCB Milling using a MakerBot”

  1. Keith Neufeld Says:

    Alan, it’s far from perfected — I’m still in the early stages of experimentation! I need to replace the XY stage’s bushings with guide bearings to reduce backlash, and I haven’t had a chance yet to try out the proper carbide-tipped engraving bits I’ve received.

    Readers — the point is not to build a DIY PCB milling machine, which I would do COMPLETELY differently. It is specifically to see how feasible it is to change the toolhead on the MakerBot CupCake to use it as a PCB mill.

  2. stunmonkey Says:

    I don’t think the 5 hour time is going to drop much – as you have pointed out yourself this is not a pcb milling machine. Its a machine built to have an extruder head (i.e. no vibration on the z axis, no mechanical stresses on any axis). Add to this the speed and rigidity requirements, and the differences in purpose meaning the motor/controller/thread pitch numbers are all wrong for this.

    This is really tantamount to figuring out how to most efficiently drive nails with a pair of pliers – its just never going to be an optimal tool for the job. I am afraid if you fix the bushings you will find the next weak link in causing backlash are the the bearing blocks, followed by drive system deflection under load, etc., etc. Solve that and the speed likely still won’t increase due to motor/driver issues. Change the pulley rates or rewire the motors to change inductance or the voltage to the drivers or, blah, blah, blah.
    From experience, these issues tend to chase from one thing to the next. I fear you will likely play whack-a-mole with problems until you have essentially converted it into a gantry mill!

  3. Keith Neufeld Says:

    Stunmonkey, you may well be right!

    However, the next step — replacing the platform bushings with bearings — is highly recommended even for extrusion. The bushing system overconstrains the platform and creates quite a bit of sliding resistance. (See Ed Nisley’s work for details.) Using lower-voltage, higher-current motors with chopper drivers is also highly recommended for smoother and quieter extrusion performance. (More Ed.)

    So the next couple of steps are desired upgrades just for the sake of CupCaking. Beyond that, I’m not likely to pursue many more upgrades that are unnecessary for extrusion.

  4. MrLebowski Says:

    What you definitely need to adress first is stiffness in the machine, it will prevent the bit from wobbling on the part (or the opposite…). Another common issue when milling is play, you can easily see it by the consistent offsets in one direction of milling as you state.
    Another big issue is the dremel itself, it has quite poor bearings, and the bit fastening is quite uncertain (not stiff at all). I have a small CNC mill (Elektor/Colinbus Profiler) and changing from dremel to a “real” milling motor (Kress 1050W) with accurate clamping sleeves made a huge difference in the quality of the milled tracks. I also went from barely milling through a CD to milling aluminium with a nice finish.
    I am pretty sure you can drastically improve the quality (and cut the time by a 10-factor) with simple improvements. and this will improve the parts you extrude as well !!!!

    Now what about 3D printing with a CNC mill ??
    Good luck with your build !!!!

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