Homemade X-Ray Inspector Reveals PCB Secrets

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Homemade X-Ray Inspector Reveals PCB Secrets


Anyone who has ever tried to reverse engineer a printed circuit board is familiar with the frustration of tracing out the connections by eye and by multimeter. It’s a long process, and if there are multiple layers to the board, you may not even get the full picture. It would be a lot easier if you could just see through the board. On an industrial scale, X-ray inspection machines are used for this, but as you might suspect, they’re not cheap. So, hardware hacker John McMaster built his own.

McMaster has been working on his own X-ray machine for a while now, but he was dissatisfied with the small field of view the dental X-ray head had. To fix this, he decided to build a system that would move the PCB around underneath the X-ray head and take multiple pictures, which could be stitched together into a larger picture later.

A BeagleBone Black running LinuxCNC controls the 2-axis linear stage.

With a 2-axis CNC linear stage purchased on eBay, McMaster needed only to fab a circuit board holder, mount the X-ray head, and build the system to control all of it. At the heart of the system is a laptop and a BeagleBone Black running LinuxCNC, a free and open source software for machine control. McMaster also wrote his own software to automate the capture of the board (which he also uses when imaging decapped integrated circuits with a microscope).

The completed X-ray imager (before radiation shielding).

With all the work done, McMaster now has a way to auto-image PCB traces for reverse engineering (don’t worry, he added lead shielding). Pretty impressive stuff! For more info on the build, jump over to McMaster’s website where he has all manner of awesome science-related posts, including how he built an 80kv fruit exploding machine.

5 thoughts on “Homemade X-Ray Inspector Reveals PCB Secrets

  1. Leif Burrow says:

    With that much already autmated maybe the next step is to automatically generate a schematic. Of course user input would be needed to identify the components but the schematic could initially include generic ones.

    1. alrui says:


  2. Arzu Yılmaz says:

    Great idea. I found some parts at http://www.ucuzcu.com/category.php?categoryId=3036

  3. William Thompson says:

    Where are all the cyber nannies with a panic warning about the dangers of X-rays??… I think this is a great project…

    1. alrui says:

      Theres one who already commented on his site, Im sure more will show up:-)

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Technical Editor at Maker Media. Maker. Hacker. Artist. Sometimes Scientist. Pretengineer. Builder of things. Maker of stuff.

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