Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Democratize Electronics: From Idea To Circuit In Minutes

Squink is a recently launched Kickstarter project which is described as "the personal electronic circuit factory."

It seems like Squink could be of high interest to Humboldt people who frequently prototype new electronics designs, especially ones involving microcontrollers (MCUs). I personally wouldn't need a Squink of my own, but I'd love to have access to one. If this Kickstarter campaign hits it's funding target of $100,000, every makerspace and hackerspace is going to want a Squink. However, the project appears to be off to a slow start, so I hope the funding pace picks up over the next week or two.

According to the BotFactory website,
"Using inkjet technology, Squink prints conductive ink on a surface to create the traces of the circuit. You can print GERBER RS-274X files or upload PNG, JPG or BMP files...Squink uses the soldermask file generated by your CAD tool to place dots of conductive glue in every connection point where a part is to be connected...Aimed at assembling SMD based circuits, Squink uses vacuum to pick components from a tray. Then it aligns them using computer vision, rotates them according to the "Centroid and Rotation" file created in your CAD tool and places them accurately."
Squink is a simplified printed circuit board (PCB) fab and assembly prototyping tool. However, the TechCrunch post says that the Squink founders aren't trying to replace the PCB batch fab companies like OSH Park, or the straightforward PCB fab companies.
"They don’t want Squink to replace the current process of sending projects to manufacturers to build but want it to be a tool for people to test out their ideas immediately, without having to create a delay in the creative process. “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..."
The BotFactory blog gives a little more background on the genesis of the Squink concept.
"We were both attending a challenging class on Bio-electronics...you had one semester to design, assemble, and test a basic EEG system (also called a brainwave reader; our version was capable of measuring attention and winking). While the design of the EEG probes on paper and then on a CAD program took a big part of the semester, what was later revealed as the most critical part was the circuit fabrication itself. Out of the 8 teams, only 1 managed to finish on time for the end of the semester. The reason was simply frustrating: it took PCB manufacturers around 7 to 10 days to fabricate and ship all the boards. If you had made even a single mistake in your design, you had to send your design for fabrication again, and you were sure to miss the deadline."
Although the implementation of the concept may seem a bit simplistic to PCB designers who are used to complicated circuits on multi-layer boards with very narrow traces, I expect people using the Squink and similar 'personal electronic circuit factories' to come up with novel and interesting applications over the next few years. I have no doubt that enterprising middle school students who get their hands on a Squink will make money printing off custom circuits for their friends and neighbors. And those same middle school students will later develop a new printing technique, or a new electronic circuit substrate, or some other personal electronic circuit factory concept that no college student or electrical engineer has yet thought of...

What MCU circuit would you print tonight if you had a Squink to play with?


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