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Create circuit boards with this low-cost machine in minutes

09 Dec 2015  | Elizabeth Montalbano

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A robotics start-up invented a 3D printer-like machine that prints circuit boards, which are useful for electronics designer as well as makers of electronic devices and equipment.

The machine, called Prometheus, is the brainchild of Rocco Tuccio, who together with his team at Zippy Robotics developed it. Prometheus can build real circuit boards in minutes at a fraction of the cost of professional-grade printed circuit board (PCB) milling machines, which was the impetus for developing it, he told Design News in an interview.

"We didn't like how expensive professional-grade PCB milling machines were," he said. "The nearest competitor that can meet or exceed Prometheus's level of detail costs upwards of $8,000. By slashing the price, the hope is that more people can get access to these tools." Prometheus is expected to retail around $2,599.

Prometheus

The Prometheus machine by Zippy Robotics can print circuit boards in minutes. (Source: Zippy Robotics)

Tuccio said Prometheus will be a benefit to anyone who sees an advantage or convenience in being able to test their circuit designs very quickly. "Speed is the reason someone would want to use Prometheus or other PCB milling machines," he said. "It can drastically cut down development time because by making the board on your desk instead of ordering it through a manufacturer, you cut out all of that delivery time—typically weeks for them to make it and ship it to you."

Prometheus also has similar benefits for prototyping that those using 3D printers to create prototypes see, Tuccio said. "The benefit really multiplies when you find that you need to modify your design—you make another one again within the hour and cut out another waiting period," he said. "I see businesses benefiting, as well as individuals trying to get a product to market. Universities and maker spaces are a big focus of mine. There, each Prometheus machine can empower not one but many individuals."

Tuccio explained to us how Prometheus works. The machine starts with an off-the-shelf cooper-clad board, then uses its 45,000 RPM custom spindle to carve through the copper layer of the board. "By selectively removing areas of copper we can create the traces and component footprints we want and rapidly prototype our design," he said. "Prometheus can also drill holes and cut the board out into custom shapes."


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