Creating PCB masks as PDFs from Gerber files on OS X

Preamble

I had a set of Gerber files (one for each layer) for the PCB layout of piport, from Create_2_Serial_to_33V_Logic.pdf (see Serial comms for Roombas and routers), but my PCB manufacturer doesn’t know how to use Gerber files (he’s a bit slow) and will only accept PDFs.

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PCB prototyping

Preamble

PCB etching, or rather routing, via CNC, as opposed to using Ferric Chloride, is not too different from 3D printing, with respect to the equipment (hardware/software)…

In addition to routing, if you prefer the old fashioned etching, CNC can be used to mark out the traces using a pen, instead of having to print the PCB masks using photosensitive boards…

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How to reverse engineer a PCB

Preamble

A colleague and I have been trying to reverse engineer a few different PCBs recently (a coin operated washing machine’s control board (see Reverse engineering the coin box) and a Bastl Trinity are a few examples) and we have been scanning them or simply photographing them, with the aim of either copying them, coming up with a schematic or coming up with a PCB mask, with mixed or limited results. Like this:

After watching EEVblog #675 – How To Reverse Engineer A Rigol DS1054Z, I saw that Dave explains a pretty good process, using a tripod mounted camera, light box and a back light.

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MCPCB

Preamble

Metal Core Printed Circuit Boards (MCPCB) are used to keep high powered LED circuits cool, as the metal substrate helps dissipate heat generated by the LEDs.

However, they can also be used, as an alternative to FR4 PCBs, to create heavy, sturdy and funky PCBs for audio applications, especially if a thick 5-10 mm substrate is used (although 3.2 mm is the common maximum thickness – see below).

I got the idea after seeing this question on StackExchange: Custom/DIY Metal-Core PCB? However, MCPCB is really only useful for SMD components. Standard discrete components would need to be routed via the underside, and there would be a potential for short circuits caused by component legs coming in contact with the metal substrate.

Feature image taken from Metal Core PCB vs standard circuit boards.

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