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Create a working circuit in 30 minutes

18 Aug 2014  | Lee Goldberg

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The machine being offered on Kickstarter can fabricate printed circuits up to 5in x 5in. It's estimated that it will take Squink about 30 minutes to print a 4in x 4in PCB and place 15 components on it. At present, Squink's conductive ink allows it to print circuits on Photopaper or coated transparency film. BotFactory estimates that the combined cost of ink and circuit material for a 4in x 4in board will be about $5. They also say that advanced inks are in development, which will allow circuits to be laid down on some types of paper, as well as glass, plastic, FR4, and other non-porous materials.

As exciting as it is, Squink is not perfect. BotFactory admits that their first-generation machine doesn't do everything that commercial equipment can, including the fact that automatic placing of through-hole components is not presently supported. From what I observed, it also can't support multi-layer PCB designs, and I don't think its 10mil line width and pitch are fine enough to produce the tiny traces needed to connect some popular high-density IC packages.

 Look Ma, no solder!

Figure 3: Look Ma, no solder! Squink attaches components to the PCB using conductive adhesive.

I also suspect that it might be difficult to produce circuits capable that would be useful for high-frequency applications. Then again, the printer's ability to lay down a circuit on ceramics or other low-capacitance substrates may allow it to support applications operating at 1GHz or higher.

 Squink

Figure 4: Squink can print and populate circuit boards using a variety of flexible and inflexible materials.

But regardless of its limitations, the boards it can produce should be perfectly fine for many consumer and commercial applications and eliminate the cost of short production runs at contract assembly hoses or the purchase of $25K-$100K worth of SMT assembly equipment.

Squink's extensive use of proven hardware and existing standards can really deliver on most of its promises; its arrival has the potential to change the way Makers and corporate engineers alike build their prototypes and low-volume/custom products. I suspect that anyone who's had to pay fabricators a fortune for the privilege of getting a one-off circuit board built up in "only a week" would agree.


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