Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are the electronic paths on an insulated surface that help power appliances such as smartphones, biomedical devices, and other electronic technologies. To research and develop new electronics, it is vital for engineers, inventors, and students working in this area to be able to prototype PCBs cheaply and quickly. But this process tends to be time consuming and expensive. All too often circuit board designs must be sent to a factory for printing, only for the whole process to be repeated as soon as even a minor change is required. The 2015 James Dyson Award winner, the Voltera V-One, solves this problem by using the same rapid prototyping principles that underpin 3D printing to turn design files into prototype boards in minutes.
Four engineering students from the University of Waterloo, Canada, designed the laptop-sized PCB printer, which is similar in many ways to the compact, additive manufacturing design of desktop 3D printers. The Voltera V-One lays down conductive and insulating inks to create a functional, 2-layer circuit board. It’s also a solder paste dispenser, allowing components to be added to the board and reflowed by a 550w heater.
Additive manufacturing has transformed how things are made – and who can make them. Voltera V-One promises to do the same for electronics. As international winners of the James Dyson Award, the team will be awarded £30,000 to further develop their idea.
Jesús Zozaya, co-founder, says: “We’re at a critical point with Voltera. Our parts are now being manufactured and we are about to begin a new wave of testing in our lab. The £30,000 we’ve been awarded as winners of the James Dyson Award will help us to ramp up production and enhance testing.”
James Dyson says: “The Voltera V-One team is made up of four impressive young graduates. Their solution makes prototyping electronics easier and more accessible – particularly to students and small businesses. But it also has the potential to inspire many more budding engineers. Something I am very passionate about indeed.”
In addition to Voltera V-One, the James Dyson Foundation is recognizing two other students for their innovative designs. First is Wei-Lun Huang, of Chung Hua University, who created Green Fairy: a system of biodegradable cell beads, which contain microorganisms that consume nutrients in polluted water that cause harmful algal blooms. Second is Cathal Redmond, of the University of Limerick, who designed Express Dive, which overcomes the complexities of a scuba set-up by reducing the number and size of parts needed to breathe underwater, vastly reducing the weight, size and cost of the breathing apparatus. As international runners-up for the James Dyson Award, both students will receive £5,000.