PCB etching setup suggestions

Hi everyone,

So I've hit the point where I'm always having to hack together shields from bits of prototyping board and I'm ready to move into the world of proper PCBs.

I know that there are plenty of options for sending files off for etching, but I've had a bit of budget free up and I'm thinking about getting a small setup for my lab.

I will never be producing more than 5 or so at a time, but I would like to have it on hand to fit it much closer into the production process.

So,,, does anyone have recommendations for machines? My budget is around $10K

thanks for any help you can give


Most etching systems will be a submersion tank with a pump. The kind of thing you can put together yourself. The thing that slows up production is getting the layout from the eagle/CAD file to the board itself.

Personally with $10K to spend i'd avoid the costly chemical and mess involved with etching. I would a moderate sized laser etching system. Then you put your board in and have the laser take off a thin line of copper around the outside of the traces and contacts.

But i assume your looking for a full system that will mark the board, etch it, mask it and drill out the holes right?

I would a moderate sized laser etching system. Then you put your board in and have the laser take off a thin line of copper around the outside of the traces and contacts.

It's very difficult to remove copper with a laser, though some people have had success removing RESIST with a laser... $10k is a large amount compared to most hobbyist setups, and not enough compared to most professional setups. You might look at the yahoo homebrew-pcb group, and http://www.thinktink.com, both of which include the range of professionalism you seem to be after...

i'd possibly look at CNC router maybe

I would look into a CNC mill. Not only can you mill your pc boards but you can also drill the right a way too. You can also use the mill to create case parts, front panels, and just about any other small parts you may need for a project. Depending on the mill you buy, it may be suitable for milling plastic, wood and even soft metals. ;D

You can buy them as kits, complete products, or even just plans to build your own. They can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars for parts to build your own up to 5-6000.00 for a nice desktop mill ready to run. I was looking for a link to give you for a company that had some real nice enclosed mills, but I can't find it off hand. If I find it, I will get it to you.

Hope this helps.


If you want to stay with an "open source" approach, then check out the Contraptor project:


Also, you might want to check out the RepRap project:


You could also build a nice CNC milling machine using T-slot; either standard sized or micro:

http://www.8020.net/ http://www.faztek.net/articles/tslot.html http://www.microrax.com/

Another possibility would be to do a CNC conversion on a regular mill, or buy it pre-made; do a search on "homebrew cnc" and "homemade cnc" - there are tons of sites, links, articles, etc out there.

There are also great vendors and such like Little Machine Shop:


That can help you get set up with a good machine for CNC milling. There are also many inexpensive manual milling machines that are fairly easy to convert to CNC (and there are also people who sell conversion kits and plans).

For your budget, you have some options; if I were seriously thinking of setting up some kind of production line, I would consider a custom Contraptor-like system using t-slot to build a CNC machine running with a dremel tool as the head, for milling the PCB. I would also attempt a separate machine to place solder paste on the smd pads, and maybe a third for pick-n-place of parts (both of these would be a challenge, though).

, and then a separate similar

as others have noted, your only real option will be an etching tank (with your choice of photoresist application method), and then using CNC

Yea and a CNC mill can do SMD pick and place too, and apply the solder paste. http://www.ciciora.com/picknplace.html


Thanks for all the input. I agree that the CNC approach seems to be the most logical for the type of stuff I'm wanting to do. I also came across these guys: http://www.mitspcb.com/

Anyone tried them?

haven't gotten a price quote yet, but seems promising for a ready to run unit. Just depends on how much of a premium they're charging above a standard 3axis. I'll definitely look at the opensource options as well though as I think it would be a good project in itself.