Circuits development can be slow, especially when you rely on external partners to deliver circuit boards or manufacture your hardware. But things are changing. New tabletop tools are ready to print and even pick and place your circuits, allowing you to speed up the iterative design process.

In our most recent episode of Elektor Engineering Insights, host Stuart Cording, the Electronics Reporter, spoke with two rapid prototyping experts: Evan Skelsey from the PCB printing business Voltera and Stephen Hawes, maker of Opulo's LumenPnP. Both offered insights into the role that rapid prototyping plays in the development of innovative electronic systems.

Conductive Inks for Stretchable Circuits

Flexible and stretchable electronics have been used for decades, such as membrane keyboard switches and wearable devices. However, creating electronics based upon such substrates has always been messy and slow, primarily relying upon screen-printing techniques. Evan Skelsey describes how Voltera's latest PCB printer, NOVA, supports the reliable construction of stretchable and flexible circuits thanks to its secure substrate fixture vacuum plate and ink dispensing calibration approach, allowing users to work efficiently with various conductive inks.

The discussions also touched on the selection of materials and inks for specific applications, such as silver inks for flexible circuits and copper-based inks for stretchable circuits. Advice on the storage and handling of inks was also shared. Evan highlighted that NOVA's user-friendly software enables users to import Gerber files, position the print pattern on the substrate, and calibrate the machine for different material combinations. Additionally, he emphasized the printer's material-agnostic design.
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Enabling Small to Mid-Scale Manufacturing

Stephen Hawe's pain point came about when fulfilling a small-scale order for an electronics product. While manufacturing a hundred or so boards seemed simple, the reality was that it took many weekends over several months, despite the low component count and simplicity. This drove him to develop the LumenPnP and explore its role in small to mid-scale manufacturing. Since 2022, the open-source LumenPnP has been on sale, with its applications ranging from building small prototypes to facilitating internal manufacturing runs for larger companies.

Stephen pointed out the value of the open-source model of their product, emphasizing the collaborative community that helps to refine and improve the LumenPnP continually. While their initial focus was on helping people with small-scale manufacturing, they've discovered that customers use the machine for various purposes, including prototyping, custom production, and more.

For those interested in the full episode and further information, jump over to Elektor TV - Industry or watch below:


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