Several weeks ago at Maker Faire Bay Area, I caught up with Voltera co-founder Alroy Almeida to learn more about the Voltera V-One, a conductive ink printer.
The V-One is a slick device. Not only does it extrude conductive ink, but it can also be configured to deposit insulating ink, enabling two-layer board fabrication.
You can see this process in the image below. The blue insulating ink is applied over a trace made of silver conductive ink. Once the blue ink dries, another layer of conductive ink overlaps the conductive trace, but stays on the insulation material. This three-step process, though unique, effectively creates a two-layer board.
Best of all, Voltera reports that its software will handle all the necessary conversion of vias into the bridge-like structures just described.
Almeida and team did not simply stop working after the development of two inks — they also created a solder paste extrude. With a quick swap from one of the ink extruders to the solder paste extruder and you won’t have to mess around with PCB stencils or squeegeeing solder paste.
Typically, solder paste is brushed onto pads almost like the method of dye application in T-shirt silkscreening. Instead, the V-One will place dollops of solder paste on the exact pad locations. You’ll still have to place components by hand, but cutting out the stencil and squeegee is a step toward optimizing the prototyping workflow.
One of the most exciting aspects of talking with Almeida is that he and the Voltera crew plan to offer pre-drilled PCB blanks in familiar layouts such as the Arudino Uno and Mega, Raspberry Pi, and BeagleBone. Since the V-One does not have a drill and PCBs need holes to populate through-hole components, the availability of pre-drilled blanks is welcome.
While the V-One is not due to ship until sometime in 2016, the direction the Voltera team is going and the unique demo is quite promising.