3D Printed PCB Workstation
Photos: Giuseppe Finizia.

I am the Senior Analyst of the Electronic Forensics Unit of the Carabinieri (Italian Military Police) and I deal with technical investigations on seized electronic devices. I spend most of my day in a well-equipped electronic laboratory, but I was lacking a tool for performing technical assessments on printed circuit boards (PCBs). I needed a way to secure small boards on my workbench and place multiple probes across the board for acquiring data from a circuit memory, analyzing an I2C or SPI communication bus using a logic state analyzer, and much more.

PCB Probing

Previously, I used the usual “third hand” tool, but then I decided to create a specific tool for my needs. So, I designed this 3D printable PCB Workstation along with multiple articulated arms that allow me to connect the lab instruments to the individual electronic components to be analyzed.

Multicolored leads from PCB Workstation

The workstation is now a solid platform to work on electronics projects. Presently, I am working on ways to add more accessories such as a holder for a USB microscope.

After contributing this design to the Thingiverse community I’ve seen many people contribute to the project by designing more parts and accessories to be used with this PCB Workstation. There are already some fantastic remixes of my design, and I encourage you to further customize the workstation for your needs.

Workstation with Magnifying Glass

Project Steps

Print the parts

The first step is to print the base platform and pieces of the PCB Workstation with your 3D printer. This kit provides multiple types of bases, so you can choose the one that best suits your needs and your 3D printer dimensions. All the files you need for this project can be downloaded from my project page on Thingiverse.

I have successfully printed each part of this project using my ZORTRAX M200 3D printer with the following parameters in Z-Suite software:
Filament type: Z-HIPS
Layer thickness: 0.19mm for the bases, 0.14mm for other parts
Speed: normal
Infill: medium for the bases, full for other parts
Support: 10° when needed (disabled for most pieces)
Print cooling: auto
(no advanced setting was changed from default values)

Mount the silicone bumpers

I suggest to apply 5 silicone bumpers beneath the base piece, so it will be more stable on the desk. You can use bumpers with a diameter up to 20mm.

Assemble the PCB holders

The central part of each base consists of 4 sliding pieces arranged in a cross along which can be moved the anchoring blocks to firmly keep the printed circuit board in place. The assembly of the PCB holders to the base piece requires some wing nuts (5mm) and Hex bolts (5×12 mm). The PCB holders have two faces, one for straight sides, the other for the corners of a printed circuit board. You can choose the right face simply turning the holder.

Mount the base joints

The base joints are required to mount the articulated arms to the base piece. Each type of base is equipped with multiple holes in which can be inserted a variable number of articulated arms for different purposes. These pieces have a slot to allow the passage of the electric cable without passing through the hole of the base, so it is very easy to insert, remove, or change an articulated arm on the fly.

Assemble the bendable arms

The articulated arms are then made by assembling multiple ball and socket joints. Depending on the required length, an articulated arm may be formed from a variable number of ball and socket joints, however 20 elements should be sufficient for most uses. Each articulated arm provides an internal duct in which an electric cable can run.

If you wish to make more rigid articulated arms, you can use the provided special ball and socket joints that have a slightly smaller ball to allow the application of a rubberized coating that improves the friction and the stability of the articulated arms. I suggest the use of a small piece of heat shrink wrap 8mm (0.28″) long, 0.27mm (270 micron) thick and 9mm (0.4″) diameter.

I have also provided a new piece “B&S Joint (thick coated).stl” to allow the use of a thicker heat shrink tube.

Install custom terminals with wires

The terminal elements of the articulated arms are designed to accommodate different types of accessories:

Mount optional base extension

The piece “Base_Extension.stl” can be used to expand the base, allowing for the mounting of bigger PCBs that do not fit onto a single base. This piece can be coupled with each available base (except “Base_round16cm_12holes.stl”) using the appropriate “extension linkage” piece supplied in the archive “Extension_Linkages.zip”.

Assemble bendable arm with LED lamp

You can also add to your PCB workstation a terminal element that can accommodate an LED to illuminate a particular area of the PCB. I used a super bright white LED connected to a 9V battery using a 180 Ohm resistor.

Add optional parts

Now that you have almost finished your customized “PCB Workstation” perhaps you will no longer use the old “third hand tool”, but you could miss the magnifying glass. So, I have added a special piece “Holder_Magnifying_Glass.stl” to still use the accessories of the old third hand tool, including the magnifying glass.

Mount a PCB and start testing!

And, as always, have fun!