Photoetching

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Printed Circuit Boards I start with a hand drawn schematic. The schematic is then prototyped on a breadboard (prototype board). Breadboarding provides a test platform for circuit designs. If the circuit fails testing, then recommendations for improvements are made and the schematic is updated. Once a circuit is thoroughly tested and proven reliable then the circuit is entered into a CAD package for electronic storing, editing and printing.

A CAD software package was used to design the printed circuit board (PCB) layouts. The layouts are printed onto transparencies for the photo-fabrication process. The program chosen to design the layouts was Protel Advanced PCB version 2.8. The layouts are designed manually from the schematics. Protel allows the creation of a custom library of components. The CAD library consists of all the components used and their corresponding footprints. Each component in a schematic has a footprint. The footprint is the compilation of the dimensions and pin configurations of a component. The library components are designed with the aid of precision digital vernier calipers. Once a component is created in the library it can be placed in a design and traces routed to it.

The PCBs were made using a positive photo-fabrication process. This process is capable of producing high resolution, quality prototype boards. The PCB material used is a presensitized copper clad board. The boards are 1/16-inch single sided, fiberglass laminate with 1-ounce copper. Before exposing the boards I cut them to the desired dimensions.

Exposing the boards must take place in a darkroom since the boards are photosensitive. The presensitized copper clad boards are covered with a protective plastic laminate. Beneath the protective laminate is the resist coating over the copper. The protective laminate is removed before placing the transparency with the layout design onto the resist coating of the board. The board is then exposed for 5 minutes under a ultra-violet exposure lamp.

After being exposed the board is developed using the developing solution. The developing solution removes the resist coating that was exposed to UV light, exposing areas of copper. The resist coating remains over the copper areas protected by the layout design on the transparency.

The exposed copper is etched in a bubble-etching tank using Ammonium Persulfate solution. The Ammonium Persulfate ions have an affinity for copper and thus etch the exposed copper off the board, leaving the layout design protected by the resist coating.

The components used for the design are thru-hole 1000 and thus require holes to be drilled in the PCB for placement. The holes are drilled using carbide bits. Carbide bits are required to drill through the fiberglass laminate. Regular bits are not durable enough and wear out too quickly.


Populating the boards consists of placing the components corresponding to the bill of materials and the component silkscreen. The bill of materials provides the components part numbers and details. The silkscreen printout from the layout design provides the component location on the board.

The components are soldered on starting with jumper wires, resistors and working up to ICs and larger components.

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