What it does
Letting you go from a design on your computer to a circuit board in your hands in an hour - Custom Circuits, Just Press Print
We love building things, especially electronics! The problem is that as hobbyists we couldn't always afford getting our circuit boards made at the big factories. While completing internships designing biomedical devices, industrial electronics, and automated production lines, we experienced firsthand how long lead-times for circuit boards could grind development to a halt. Around 2012-2013 we started noticing the boom in 3D printing that allowed our mechanically inclined friends to easily print something they were working on. Similarly, the upgrade from waiting days for punch cards to be processed to simply clicking the "compile" button happened decades ago! We were getting frustrated because those of us that played with transistors and diodes did not have a quick way to test whether our ideas worked. When each iteration of a design can take hundreds of dollars and weeks to ship, we could not understand how there were no good rapid prototyping tools for electronics. That's when inspiration struck and we decided to make one ourselves! So why is this important? Take a look around the room and count the number of things that need a battery or plug into a wall. All of those devices contain a circuit board that needed to be designed and prototyped. Circuitry is involved in everything from toys to space stations. In fact, a modern car could contain hundreds of boards! We live in an electronic world and the tools to build these amazing devices need to catch up.
How it works
The printer provides value in 3 key areas: creating quick early prototypes, automating low volume assembly, and building with development kits 1) The printer has swappable print heads for the conductive ink that creates the electrical traces and for an insulating ink that allows us to create masks for two layer boards. It takes the industry standard input file and prints onto the industry standard substrate material. It's never been faster to go from concept to creation! 2) Once you're past the prototype stage you're likely going to build 10 or 20 boards for testing. Populating all the components is a nuisance to do by hand and the factories have ridiculous lead times. Fortunately, the Voltera V-One also automatically dispenses solder paste and can bake the board for you. 3) Development kits like Arduino and Raspberry Pi are great for getting an idea off the ground and with the Voltera V-One it has never been faster! We provide pre-cut, pre-drilled template boards for additional circuitry to build on top of. No more messing around with bread boards or tangled wires.
The Voltera V-One is the product of over two years of research and development. While early concept sketches were being drawn, we also spent time talking to other hardware designers to make sure they also shared this pain point and to understand what they were looking for in a rapid prototyping tool. We quickly realized we need to focus on a few key elements: resolution, solderability, conductivity, and layer count. Early development involved a simple x-y gantry system and numerous iterations of print heads. The challenge was finding the right combination of ink properties, dispensing mechanisms, and control software. After many long days in the chemistry lab and hours on the lathe or mill, a winner was found and focus shifted to making the printer user friendly and robust. This involved many concept sketches and CAD mock-ups. At this point, our team moved to Shenzhen, China so that we could iterate faster as we began to work on the industrial design, DFM, and DFA. The design had progressed beyond what we could build ourselves so we worked with many factories to find the new look and feel of the printer and to find cost effective ways to build such a complex tool. Overall, the printer went through a half-dozen major overhauls and a few hundred minor design changes. The process involved countless interviews with potential users and about 4 major revisions to the electronics. It takes a lot of work to build something that is a joy to use, but the end result is worth it!
How it is different
2015 - TechCrunch Disrupt (Hardware Battlefield) Champions 2015 - Popular Science Greatest Inventions of 2015 Award Winner 2015 - Make Magazine Editor's Choice