July 16, 2014

3D printing has been used to create plastic parts and prototype, but many researchers have been testing how to use 3D printing to print out conductive inks for electronic devices.

A company called BotFactory has developed Squink, a portable factory that creates circuit boards in minutes at very low cost. "It sits on your desk, and prints and assembles your circuits in a matter of minutes on flexible or rigid substrates." notes the BotFactory team.

It works in three steps:

  • First, a special conductive ink is applied onto a substrate material, such as photo paper, or glass.
  • Conductive glue dots are applied where the pins of the components will be placed.
  • Finally the components are picked from a tray, aligned, rotated and placed onto the glue dots. and the board is allowed to cure or dry.

You can access your Squink through USB, Ethernet cable, or Wifi. After you create or download circuit design files (GERBER), upload them to Squink and it will walk you through the above three step process.

The Squink were developed by a group of engineers who met at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. Botfactory computer engineer Carlos Ospina said they began the development about a year ago, aiming to to get anyone interested in circuit building since it doesn't require any knowledge about circuitry and is simple to use.

Squink is not designed to replace the current process of sending projects to manufacturers to build, said its developers. They want it to be a tool for people to test out their ideas immediately.

"We really want to be a stepping stone - try it out really quickly and once you're ready, then you crank out about 100 boards from a manufacturer," Nicholas Vansnick, the team's robotics engineer told TechCrunch.

The BotFactory team has launched Squink on Kickstarter looking to raise $100,000 goal for continuing to improve precision and develop new features. The team has raised about $28,000 on Kickstarter up to now. The Squink is priced at $2,999.

The Botfactory says they are thinking of using insulating ink as a physical separation to make multiple layers. "There are positive results so far but it is still a work in progress. There would be no need to align-glue different layers. It would "3D print" a circuit."

"Although it will not be available for this version by the time we ship the machines, we are hoping to sell it as an add-on later on."

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

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Irwin wrote at 10/10/2015 8:12:54 PM:

A flexible circuit "board" nearly like this is used on my vehicle's instrument cluster. About 0.5mm thick. All options were 'printed' then only those for my car connected. Except for a row of resistors and diodes (double crimped in place) it is just the circuit from the wire connectors to the tachometer etc. On my 1987 Volkswagen, originally made by VDO in lots of 1,000's. Some parts for it are now only available new via - 3D Printing!

Dominic wrote at 12/16/2014 2:46:53 PM:

I hope there will be multi-layer with insulating ink one day. Would be great - if that enables also more complex circuits with (small) BGA packages. E.g. to use Allwinner SoCs.

Super Nacho wrote at 7/23/2014 9:00:44 PM:

Interesting comment Engineer_040681. Let me answer some of parts of it. Squink creates flexible boards that are for now out of reach for most hackerspaces and makers. While a typical flex board costs $1000+, Squink creates boards for $5. It is not made out of wood, and a typical all-in-one machine like that in the industry costs around $40k. This one is aimed at democratizing that. It's indeed not aimed at complex circuits, but you gotta start somewhere and most makers are not making 16 layered boards. It uses gerber and centroid files to automatically place your parts with minimal instructions, and can connect to a circuit database in case you don't even know how to make a circuit or are searching for inspiration. And yes, a camera is used to assemble components on your circuit. @Julia It is indeed cheaper but from what I know it only prints. @Marli Conductive filament is possible and really cool to combine with a 3d printer. The problem is the low precision you can get with it.

Julia wrote at 7/20/2014 7:27:17 PM:

A better, lower-cost, circuit printer: http://www.cartesianco.com/product/the-argentum/

CNK wrote at 7/18/2014 12:48:31 AM:

@Marli There's some info on conductive printing at the RepRap Wiki: http://www.reprap.org/wiki/Printing_electronics Nothing you can easilly rig up yet though.

Engineer_040681 wrote at 7/17/2014 9:55:39 AM:

Generally like the idea, but this machine seems not practical at all, except for really, really, really simple stuff. And then, look at that price tag they put on the machine: 3500$, for a lasercut wood box?!! Come on guys, for that money i can order a TON of professionally manufactured multilayer prototype boards with all the advantages they have, like silkscreens, conductive vias, extremely high precision (0.15mm trace/distance is basically industry standard). The only "cool" feature is probably that it's quick and you don't have to solder if that glue really works, but i wonder how good the pick and place part works (camera system?) and how easy it can be set up to let the robot pick different parts out of a tray and place them correctly. I'd guess, by the time i taught the robot where to get all the parts, and how to place them, i would have done the work by hand as well. Pick and place robots really come in handy when precision or larger volumes are key factors, but this Squink is not designed for both aparently. Let's hope someday someone with more experience in prototyping and the PCB industry picks that idea up and takes it where it should be. I'll definately keep using phototransfer and etch my simple circuits for now and keep ordering professional PCBs once the design stands.

Marli wrote at 7/16/2014 5:49:43 PM:

Could you not just do this using a normal 3d printer, just with conductive filament? Possibly putting printing circuits into items as you make them.

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