(Photo by Brady Dale)
In future iterations, BotFactory believes it can 3D-print multi-layered surface-mounted circuit boards, like what’s inside your cell phone.
That’s not going to be possible with the first generation of its desktop circuit board printer and assembler, Squink, but BotFactory has been doing experiments, and the company believes it can get there.
Squink is currently past the 60 percent mark of its $100,000 crowdfunding goal.
The guys at BotFactory hate to solder. Their eyes start gleaming when they talk about how future generations of their new desktop circuit fabrication platform, Squink, could bring to an end the days of soldering for engineering students and hackers.
It’s messy. It’s hot. They never want to do it again.
We’ve covered the company before. Using robotics and conductive ink BotFactory has made it possible to make one layer of surface-mounted circuit boards, using conductive glue instead of solder. What wasn’t immediately obvious, and what two of the cofounders, Carlos Ospina and Nicolas Vansnick, are eager to point out, is that their platform takes an additive approach to making circuits, which yields a whole new set of possibilities for prototyping and making.
In traditional circuit-board making, a negative of your circuit is dropped on a plate of copper. Acid then washes away all the copper you don’t want, so that you have the copper you need left over for your circuit. It’s destructive.
Squink, however, is additive. It only applies the conductive ink that it needs. No more. The team couldn’t go into a lot of detail, but they believe future generations of the Squink may also be able to print insulating layers on circuits and then add more layers above that.
It could completely disrupt how circuit boards get prototyped. “We’re seeing some very optimistic results,” Vansnick told us.
For single-layer circuits, BotFactory has already effectively achieved a major disruption. For example, Vansnick told us that ordering a flexible circuit board like the one shown below from a circuit board maker would cost you $1,000. His is priced at $5.
“We’ve found there’s a lot of people working on hardware in Brooklyn,” Ospina said. So, in the coming weeks or months, the team may offer to print circuits for makers from their offices in the NYU Poly Incubator in Jay Street.
It would give BotFactory a chance to show makers how its device works. “Like 3D printers, a lot of people have questions,” Vansnick said.
Effectively, it boils down to this: when prototyping, makers have to send out for circuit boards and the turnaround time is usually at least 10 days. If they realize they made a mistake, it’s another ten days. Ospina, the computer engineer on the team, says that’s much too slow. He wants to bring real agile methodology to hardware, and that means faster turnaround times.
“If one thing has defined the team really well it is keeping everything simple,” Vansnick said. The Squink printer is run through a web interface, which means you don’t have to download any software.
Right now, it’s a team of five, with three cofounders (Ospina, Vansnick and Michael Knox of NYU Poly). The company is entirely engineers at this point. They’re sorting out design and business decisions as they go.
Once the Squink Kickstarter campaign wraps up, the team expects to seek capital. The founders are confident that the Kickstarter funds can get the company through to product delivery. Some angel investors have already expressed interest, they say.
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