This post provides an overview of how to design and prototype printed circuit boards on a desktop CNC mill. Most students do not have access to a CNC mill in their electrical engineering or electronics classes. In most classes, students make circuits using breadboards, which allows them to make connections by plugging wires and components into a grid. This method is great for very simple circuits, but it quickly becomes messy as circuits increase in complexity, to the point where it becomes very difficult to troubleshoot.
Prototyping circuit boards is an important part of product development. Ordering prototypes from a PCB manufacturer is either very slow or very expensive (and still kind of slow). To speed up the process, many people etch boards themselves, which is much faster than ordering them but requires toxic chemicals.
It’s no secret that the Othermill is a phenomenal tool when it comes to milling custom circuit boards. Hobbyist, students, and professionals alike have shared stories of how the Othermill has significantly improved their workflow and allowed them to rapidly prototype like never before (read a few in the story links below).
We love hearing that, almost as much as we love supporting our users and helping making their experience as simple and fun as possible. To that end, we’ve been working hard to increase the support guides we have available. Here is a list of resources that we hope you enjoy and find useful as you mill PCBs on your trusty Othermill.
If you haven’t taken a minute (well, actually 1:36) to watch our newest product video, check it out now! It beautifully illustrates the possibilities of what you can make on the Othermill by showing off a multi-material case created for Other Machine Co.’s popular binary timepiece, the Nerd Watch.
If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you’ll be quite familiar with our use of the Othermill as an integrated tool for prototyping circuits. One of the biggest challenges in quickly prototyping electronics is the lack of available through-hole packages for use with solderless breadboards.
Though the Othermill is wonderful for a wide range of 2.5 and 3D applications, it still remains true to its roots as a very fine method to build and protoype circuit boards. We have a few trips and tricks we’ve discovered in milling boards that make the board-cutting process on the Othermill even more pleasant.
Adafruit’s Collin Cunningham is like the teacher you always wish you had in school. In his top-notch video series, Collin’s Lab, he makes topics like RFID, MIDI, and solar accessible to anyone with interest. We were thrilled that in his latest video, Collin walks us through using an Othemill to mill the PCB for our simple (but awesome!) capacitive synthesizer project. He jams out on the final product, proclaiming that it’s “pleasingly glitchable, capacitively touchable.” Collin approves.
Home tinkerer, Github user, and Othermill owner Jetty recently contacted us about a project he made on his shiny new Othermill, which involves making ice fishing slightly nicer for the fish as well as the humans. We’re excited about this project because it employs both a 3D printer and the Othermill for an elegant finished product.
Faraday Bicycles is another successful Kickstarter project in our neighborhood, and is in the process of building their first run of beautiful electric bicycles. Faraday’s lead electrical engineer, Jim, needed two boards in a hurry for testing; a 24-hour turnaround time from a commercial source could have cost as much as $400 each! Instead, he came over with the .brd files in his USB cufflinks, and walked back to his office a little while later with the completed boards.