The desktop fabrication scene has been dominated by 3D printers for years, but other types of machines (mills, laser cutters, robotic arms, and more) are reaching the price point for hobbyists and small businesses.
Zippy Robotics Founder Rocco Tuccio plans to bring custom printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication to engineers and electronics enthusiasts for about $2,500.
Prometheus is a desktop machine that makes real circuit boards in minutes. Tuccio wants to provide the ability to do rapid PCB prototyping to as many people as possible.
What makes Prometheus special?
- Extremely small runout error lets you cut traces down to 7 mil (7 thousands of an inch) accurately, which means you can design with just about any surface mount component.
- High spindle speed lets you mill a 3″×5″ board in minutes (not hours)!
- Included software lets you control the entire tool chain, including easy to use Circuit Factory design software and a public API.
- Price point is thousands less than machines of similar accuracy.
The machine has extremely low runout error, which is basically how much wobble a rotating tool has. Tuccio claims Prometheus has a runout of only 0.0001″! That allows you to work with milling tools down to 0.178mm (7 thousands of an inch, aka 7 mil).
With this Prometheus can easily support components down to 0.4mm (0.0157″) pitch. Pitch is the distance between contacts on a circuit board. Standard through-hole components have a pitch of 2.54mm (0.1″), but Surface Mount Technology (SMT) dimensions are a lot smaller. Prometheus should be able to handle just about any SMT device you are likely to need. In fact, with its accuracy, Prometheus should future-proof you even as SMT devices get smaller and smaller.
The spindle runs fast at 45,000 RPM, which means it will finish your board in about ⅓ the time it takes similarly priced hobby-grade machines. A typical 3″×5″ PCB can be completed in under 10 minutes.
Speed means you can iterate quickly through prototypes, which is great for hobbyists, but especially helpful for small businesses where time to market is always a factor. Once you have your prototype working, you can turn out small batches with Prometheus, or send your design files to a board manufacturer with confidence that it is a working design.
Complete Software Bundle
Tuccio didn’t like the free PCB design software out there for hobbyists, so he wrote his own. Circuit Factory will be free and will work seamlessly with Prometheus. It was created with beginners in mind, so designing a PCB is quick and easy.
By providing a complete software bundle written expressly for Prometheus, users will have support for their entire tool chain within one company. However, Tuccio didn’t want to restrict more advanced users, so he took an open approach to his software.
In addition to Circuit Factory, Prometheus will also support Gerber design files, so users can utilize their favorite design software if they prefer.
Prometheus also comes with a public Application Programming Interface (API) called ZippyTalk. Tuccio felt that standard machine protocols like G-code were written for a different era, where low byte count was more valuable than clarity and usability. ZippyTalk will support software developers so they can write software with commands like “SpindleSpeed()” instead of memorizing G-code.
Tuccio is looking to sell the Prometheus for around $2,500. There are a few other mills in that price range, but nothing that matches the speed and accuracy of Prometheus.
On the other side of the price equation, tools that can match Prometheus for accuracy often cost $6,000 more.
Prometheus launched on Kickstarter this week, and will be available to backers for $2,000.
Zippy Robotics was at the Bay Area Maker Faire this May and World Maker Faire in September. Check the video of Rocco Tuccio explaining Prometheus at World Maker Faire below.