(DIY laser in action. Photo by FabLab München e.V.)
A fast and cheap method for producing high-quality PCBs is interesting for many institutions. Fablabs and Makerspaces need the possibility of prototyping PCBs, too, because electronics are a crucial part of many DIY projects which are carried out there.
"The classical method of making PCBs is etching, but this is well not suited for the maker community because of the dangerous chemicals" says Andreas Kahler, chairman of the Fablab Munich. "Affordable services have a delivery time of over a week, but our users need much faster iteration times".
A clean and fast method is laser structuring, where the copper layer is ablated by a focused laser beam. Industrial-grade devices are available but "the price exceeds our budget many times over", Kahler describes the situation.
The goal of the recently started research project "LASER4DIY" is the development of a cost-effective solution to create PCB prototypes using laser structuring. This includes development of the laser source itself and other components, like the corresponding mechanics, the software and an adaequate protection housing for safe use.
For all parts of the projects the plans, howtos and technical details shall be published under a Open-Source/Open-Hardware licence and made accessible to everybody. The goal is to realise a complete solution for making PCBs, which can be build for example in Fablabs and therefore only production methods and materials available there shall be used.
The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding the project for three years until end of April in 2019 as a part of the project "Open Photonik". Goal of the program is to foster new forms of cooperations between science and enterprises with citizens and by doing so unlocking new paths and potenials of innovation.