Nov 10, 2015 | By Alec

If you’ve been keeping up with the news in the making world, you’ll have doubtlessly come across the intriguing concept of the Voltera V-One custom circuit board 3D printer. In a nutshell, the machine does exactly what it says on the tin and seems like a perfect addition to any makerspace. And evidently, we’re not alone in that judgement: already a huge hit on Kickstarter in the beginning of the year (raising half a million dollars), the Voltera V-One PCB 3D printer has now also claimed the first prize in the 2015 James Dyson Awards, arguably the world’s most prestigious product development competition.

With that victory, it seems like the Voltera 3D printer is ready to take over the world, and with a concept that powerful this is hardly surprising. The entire message can be conveyed in a single sales pitch: ‘If you need a custom circuit board, just press print.’ Developed by a team of students from the University of Waterloo in Canada – founders Alroy Almeida, Katarina Ilic, James Pickard and Jesus Zozaya – everything you need seems to be packaged into a single sleek 3D printing machine.

After two years of prototyping and combining backgrounds in nanotechnology and mechatronics engineering, they have come up with a very accessible machine. The desktop-sized Voltera V-One easily prints two-layer circuit boards by laying down a highly conductive, silver nanoparticle ink to create the traces as well as insulating ink, which acts as a mask between layers. In addition to printing circuit boards, the V-One is also a solder paste dispenser and can reflow. For users, the process is deceptively simple: there is only one button, the ink cartridges snap on and of magnetically, and Voltera’s advanced software automatically detects trace intersections and lays down a mask where two traces overlap. As the company’s description states: “Gerber files go in; FR4 boards come out. The magic happens in the middle.”

As Picard recently said, the machine itself was born out of those same frustrations all of us have felt when dealing with standard PCBs. ‘We've all been there. We send a circuit design off to a factory, wait two weeks for delivery only to find that there's a mistake. The design takes a couple of iterations to perfect, but who's got the time for versions two, three or four?,’ he rightly said. The Voltera V-One is the desktop solution to this issue, and has rightly been shocking the making community all over the world. Within a single day on Kickstarter, they already gathered more than double the amount of money set by their initial goals, and are hard at work reaching their shipping goals as this is being written.

But I wonder if the Canadian entrepreneurs were confident that their entry into the 2015 James Dyson Awards were going to be as successful. After all, it features twenty national winners every year, every one of them being the best student engineers and designers of their generation. Since 2002, this has produced some remarkably, often 3D printed, creations, but no one was able to beat the Voltera.

Even James Dyson himself had nothing but kind words for them. ‘Their solution makes prototyping electronics easier and more accessible -- particularly to students and small businesses,’ he said of their victory. ‘But it also has the potential to inspire many more budding engineers. Something I am very passionate about indeed.’ With this win, they can add a further £30,000 (or approximately $45,000 USD) to their budget.

According to the thrilled Jesús Zozaya, the funds will be used to ensure that their market entry will be a success. ‘We're at a critical point with Voltera. Our parts are being manufactured in China and we are doing further testing at our office and our assembly line in Canada. The £30,000 we've been awarded as winners of the James Dyson Award will help us to ramp up production,’ he said of the victory. ‘When we first started the company, we spoke to many experts who told us we were too ambitious and that it was impossible to create a tool that could effectively prototype circuits,’ added Alroy Almeida. ‘We took that as a challenge.’ If you’re interested in the V-One PCB 3D printer yourself but missed the Kickstarter, check out their website here for pre-order options.

Incidentally, the victory of the Voltera 3D printer had little to do with the competition, which featured a number of very good entries that often relied on 3D printing too. The second prize was awarded to the Express Dive, by Irishman Cathal Redmond, a clever Scuba diving mouth piece that costs a fraction of the professional diving setup. We were also particularly impressed by the Bugs Bunny food 3D printer that relies on mealworms to solve the world’s hunger problem.



Posted in 3D Printer



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