PC Board Plotter LPKF Protomat S103
Do not use this equipment without training:
|Current State:||Operating Normally|
|Vendor Manual||ProtoMat Manual|
- 1 About This Equipment
- 2 Ongoing Issues
- 3 Safety Hazards
- 4 Damage Concerns
- 5 Consumable Details
- 6 Generating Gerber Files
- 7 Starting ProtoMat
About This Equipment
The ProtoMat S103 is capable of creating a circuit board by using a variety of tools (bits) to mill the copper from a copper clad board. It can also apply solder paste to the pads on a PCB in a separate step. All functions of the S103 are controlled using the CircuitPro software, located on the Windows PC right next to the machine. In the steps below, you will import Gerber files for your layout into CircuitPro. Once you have told the software all the necessary parameters for your job, you can save the CircuitPro processes to a file for later use. You can open at any time, make changes to the settings, and quickly print off more circuits using this file.
Note: Ideally, you would use the ProtoMat to cut fudicials and drill through-holes, and then use the ProtoLaser S to etch the circuit. The laser has many advantages, such as being faster, much more precise (smaller traces) and it doesn't use up costly drill bits. Once the laser etching is done, the board can return to the ProtoMat for the final step of cutting out the PCB outline.
- Several of the 15 tool holders in the ProtoMat (used for automatic tool exchange) are defective and not working. This includes slot numbers 1 through 4 and 6. When the machine triesw to pick up a tool, the tool holder is too lose and will drop the tool without knowing it. There is a possible fix by carefully bending the tool holder slightly to make it's grip better.
- There is possibly a slope somewhere on the base or a bulge that is causing the milling to be uneven. The workaround for this is, if it doesn't mill properly (not milling deep enough into the copper) try a different section of the copper clad board.
- There are no known safety issues with this machine because when the cover is opened it automatically shuts down the milling bit.
- When placing the tools into the tool holder, try to be gentle and not bend the tool holder itself. Make sure to place it bit side down.
- Do not drop the bits on the floor. They are very brittle and cost around $50 each.
- Be sure to tape the board down securely. If it lifts during milling it will likely wreck the bit.
- When a pop-up window asks you to perform maintenance, be sure to do it. Failure to maintain the machine has the potential to cause damage.
The ProtoMat requires copper clad FR4 board (you can see etched boards lying around the electronics room). These boards come in single sided or double sided, and with different copper thickness. (LPKF sells them in 9" x 12" boards to occupy the full area of the ProtoMat platform, but you can find them in 6" x 6", 12" x 12" and other sizes. Most boards laying around the electronics room are 1/16" thick (1.6 mm), but if you need something lighter, you can obtain 1/32" (0.8 mm). Keep in mind thin boards are not as durable.
The thickness of the copper plating will also need to be known for the settings when you produce a PCB. These are often given in ounces of copper spread over once square foot, such as 1 oz or 1/2 oz. Normally 1 oz is used, but for small current circuits you can use 1/2 oz, and for high current circuits you can use 2, 3, or 4 oz. The CircuitPro software requires µm (micro meter) for copper thickness. Use the following conversion:
1 oz = 0.0347 mm = 34.79 µm (micron/micro meter)
1/2 oz = 0.01735 mm = 17.35 µm (micron/micro meter)
Copper clad 12" x 12" 1/16"
Mouser part number: 590-555
$23.15 per board
Light Double Sided:
PCB copper clad 6x9" 1/32" 2-side
Digi-Key part number: 473-1011-ND
$13.38 for 2 boards
LPKF (manufacturer of the equipment) sells 9" x 12" copper clad boards in 10 packs for around $100: List of Copper Clad from LPKF
Through hole plating:
- Double sided boards require the through holes to be plated with conductive material. The LPKF solution is to use their ProConduct Paste.
- A full video of the process can be found here. Through Hole Plating
- If only doing one prototype board with not many holes, you can try inserting a thin wire through the hole and soldering it to each side.
Before you can do anything, you need to generate some Gerber files from your schematic. If you are using Eagle PCB, these steps will allow you to generate the proper files for each layer:
Generating Gerber Files
If you intend to use the ProtoMat to fabricate a PCB, it is important not to make the traces too thin. When creating your layout in Eagle (or other software) 8mils accuracy is very much achievable and repeatable, but 10-12mils traces are safer and more reliable. Many Bothans died to bring us this information.
- Open Eagle, then double click your board layout file to open it.
- Select File, Cam Processor... (see image at right)
- A new window appears. (see image at right)
- Select File, Open > Job... You could try using the file gerb274x.cam, but it generates insufficient files (it does not supply the drill holes). Kane has created a job to generate the required Gerber files. It should be located in the same directory as the other job files, called AssentWorks_eagle_cam_job_gerb274x.cam. (see image at right)
NOTE: If you are generating Gerber files for a PCB manufacturing house, you can likely download a job file for Eagle from their website. Also, they probably have a rule file that you can download to check if your layout has any conflicts with the tolerances they can produce at.
- If you need to alter the output, make sure to Save job... You probably won't need to as Kane's file contains all the layer data.
- Hit Process Job. It generates the files and places them in the same dir as Eagle, along with the rest of your project schematic files.
That's it! You now have all the files for the ProtoMat.
The ProtoMat is controlled by the CircuitPro software installed on the Windows PC next to the ProtoMat. Before starting, you will need to have a board layout completed using Eagle PCB or some other schematic software. There are four phases for using the ProtoMat circuit board plotter.
- Start-up procedure
- Protoboard production
- Solder dispensing
- Shut-down procedure
Start the system in the following order:
- Boot up Windows PC next to ProtoMat (usually on)
- Make sure dust extractor (LPKF Air Management System under mill) is plugged in and set to Auto mode.
- Lift the soundproof hood of the ProtoMat and turn on green switch on right of machine
- Close the hood and start CircuitPro on the Windows PC. It will connect and move the mill/drill head into the pause position.
Setting up the job
This section assumes you have already created your Gerber files. Also, you should have already turned on the S103 and started LPKF CircuitPro, with the New Document window displaying automatically.
- (If the New Document window is not displayed, select File > New...) Click the Template tab and select the type of board you are milling. For example, double sided copper is "DoubleSided NoTHP.cbf" (see image)
- It should now display CAM View. (If not, click the Cam view tab to bring up a list of layers.) Notice there is a row of icons in the top left (see image). Basically we will be going from left to right pushing these icon buttons in order to get prepare the job. (see image)
- Click the Process Wizard icon and follow the steps. For example, you probably will select Process PCB's (click next), double sided (click next), FR4/FR5 (click next). Click Done when you are ready.
- The next icon to click on is "Import data from a non-native format".
- Highlight the Top, Bottom, Outline, and Drills layer files and import them (files ending with .TOP, .BOT, .DRILL, and .OUTLINE). They might be located in your project files directory in Eagle, which is C:\Users\AWWSELECTRONICS01\Documents\eagle.
- The next screen shows the details of the files you are importing. You can click down the list to highlight each layer and see a preview. Click OK when done.
- At this point it probably tells you it created some layers, "Please assign to them the correct phase and tech descriptor." It lists the ones it was unsure about, probably Outline and Drill. If you aren't already there, click on the Cam view tab to bring up a view of all the phases. In the list in the upper left you will see several phases with unknown listed for tech. (see image) We will assign the proper tech for each in the next step.
- In the list of layers, look to the "Tech" column. If they are showing as unknown, we need to change them to something else. For the Outline layer, choose MECHANICAL and for the Drill layer, assign CUTTING. You are now done with importing.
- Now we need to locate 4 points on the PCB outside of the circuit board layout that will be drilled and used for reference points by the camera in order to align the bottom side. These are called fudicials. Skip over the next button and click the icon "Create fudicials in the CAM view".
- A drop down list appears. If you select Fudicial... it will place a fudicial wherever you click the mouse button. However, it also creates layers for silkscreen, masks, etc... This works fine, but if you prefer to keep it simple, follow the next alternate step.
- ALTERNATE STEP: As a simpler alternate to the last step, you can select Insert, Circle. A window appears (see screenshot). For Layer... select Fudicial, then enter 1.2mm for the third parameter (theta symbol). Now click in the areas you want to place a fudicial hole. The diameter of the hole will be attached to the mouse and draw a big circle. Simple click the theta (third box) and type 1.2 then hit tab and it will resize it appropriately.
- Either way, place the circles asymmetrically around each corner of your PCB board (see screenshot). Do not place them symmetrically because the CircuitPro software uses them for alignment, and if they are symmetrical it can't distinguish one from another. Click Close when done.
- Next up, click the icon named "Generate insulation and Contour routing toolpath". This brings up the Technology Dialog (see screenshot).
- First enter the copper thickness. e.g. 18 uM for 1/2 oz or 35 uM for 1 oz copper clad.
- Most of the settings will be left as defaults, but you can customize some things like whether to leave tabs when the board it cut out, or to cut the board out all the way. You can use Basic, pads double and Edge tabs.
- Under the "Convert to Toolpath" section, make sure to choose which tools are available for the three types of cuts. You can do this for Drills, Fudicials, and Pockets by clicking Show Details for each one. Input all the bits you have available in the blue boxes sitting on top of the PC, and the ones loaded. The software will later choose which bits it wants to use and request you to load them in the ProtoMat. NOTE: ProtoMat uses the default info of the last person who used the machine. Likely the tools are already selected.
- Under Drills (click Show Details), make sure to select as source your drill layer. e.g. Layer "MyProject.DRILL" (whatever you saved the filename). And also while we are on drills, where it says Assign to Phase (there are two places that say this--see screenshot), make sure to select DrillingUnplated for both.
- When done, hit start and the CircuitPro software will attempt to calculate the toolpath based on the tools you selected along with other data you entered (such as board thickness and copper thickness). The toolpath is a series of moves by the machine to mill a PCB. It will either give the ok, or it will give errors.
- You will need to deal with any problems before moving on, but hopefully directions above prevented them. It might say "Pocket conversion parameters check; no valid 3D objects found." Ignore this.
Drill swapping in tool magazine
- Next click the drill swapping icon "Open the dialog to edit the contents of the tool magazine". NOTE: Do not use slots 1, 2, 3, 4, or 6. They are currently out of order; the tool holders are too loose and the tool will fall out when it tries to change the bit. (It might be possible to repair these holders by carefully adding a slight bend in the metal to clamp tighter.)
- If it asks for drill bit you don't have (such as "Spiral Drill 2.4mm"), click OK to close the window, then click the previous icon "Generate insulation and Contour routing toolpath". This brings up the Technology Dialog. In the drilling section, click show details. Instead of automatic, choose something like Spiral drill 1.2. Click Start again and it will generate the toolpath. Continue to the next step to load all the tools into the tool holder.
- In the Tool magazine window, under the Required tools section, you want to have all green check marks. (see image) It tells you which ones it needs in this list. Warning: MAKE SURE NOT TO DROP THE BITS. They are brittle and expensive to replace. Also, when loading a bit, it pays to examine the head and compare it to the length of other bits of the same size. Some bits might be broken.
- Physically remove the old head by popping it out, then pop in a new one in the proper slot number. Make sure to update the change in the list in the Tool magazine window. Once have all check-marks are green, click OK.
Normally you can skip the last 2 icons in CircuitPro ("Start board production Wizard" and "Open Tool Library dialog"). Now we will begin the actual milling process!
Starting All Processes
In this section you will hit the green play button, which begins the entire process of taping down the copper clad board, etching the PCB, flipping it over, etching the other side, and then having it cut out the PCB.
- If it is not already displayed, click on the Machining View (see screenshot).
- Under processing in upper left corner, click Process All (green play button). It will guide you through all the next steps with onscreen prompts.
- The first step it to mount the copper clad board to the white underlay. Theoretically, there is no need to tape it because the vacuum is supposed to hold it in place. However, in the past the board has lifted while the router bit is cutting the board, which resulted in the destruction of the bit. (These bits cost around $50 each to replace.) It is best to tape around the board using the green roll of tape located next to the ProtoMat. (see image to right) Click OK when done.
- The Material Settings window pops up next. Application is PCB. Material type: FR4 Copper thickness: 18 uM, or 35 uM, etc.. (check specs on copper PCB). Material thickness (use calipers): 1.6 mm
- The next field allows you to define the PCB boundaries. Follow the instructions. Basically first click in the Machine view area to physically move the router head to the front left corner. Look in the machine to see if the bit AND depth limiter will contact the green tape. It is is clear, click the front left corner button or adjust, otherwise move it so it will not hit the tape. Now do the same for the right rear corner.
- Continue, then the Placement window comes up. Using the mouse, drag your circuit to the place on the copper you want it to print, such as a corner. You can also increase the number of copies to make by doing multiples.
- Continue. Save the job somewhere in case you want to open it up later to do it again with another copper board. Warning: The next step will begin milling. Do not click continue unless ready!
- Click continue and the tool drop will happen, then it will begin cutting the board. It will drill the fudicials, the through holes, and etch the bottom circuit.
- It will prompt you to flip the board along the axis and retape it. Proceed to flip the board over front to back (along the red axis the runs left to right on the screen) and click OK when done.
- It will then perform a search for the fudicials in order to align properly. If it has problems you can manually help it find them.
- To manually locate them, click find and center, then move the camera around using the arrow keys under X/Y Positioning. If you want the machine to semi-autonomously find it, hit Find and Center and it will give another try. To do it all manually, get it centered on the hole and hit Accept Current Position. Do that for all 4 holes and it will continue with the process of milling the 2nd side.
The ProtoMat also comes with a solder paste dispenser syringe. The dispenser adapter and empty cartridge are located in the red plastic box under the counter in a ziplock. bag The basic steps are as follows:
- Buy a solder cartridge or use the empty cartridge in the red box under the desk. Fill it with some solder paste.
- Insert the cartridge into the dispense adapter.
- Screw on the dispensing tip
- Connect the cartridge to the black rubber adapter near the camera.
[more to come]
- Save the current CBF file
- Exit CircuitPro
- Switch off the ProtoMat circuit board plotter
The CircuitPro software keeps track of when maintenance should occur to different parts of the machine. It will prompt you when it is time to perform maintenance, and guide you through the procedures. For example, greasing the tool head is a periodic action, using the kit sitting beside the ProtoMat machine.
THINGS TO KNOW
- One of the most persistent problems with the ProtoMat is that the milling depth is not consistent across the face of a PCB board. This is because in reality a copper clad board is rarely flat, resulting in different milled depths. This is especially prevalent near the edges of the copper clad board.
- You can stop a job midway and resume it by noting which process it is currently working on. When it gets to the next process, stop the job by hitting the red stop button. Next time you want to resume the job, under Operate in the Processing Window, select the process it was currently on when you stopped it and it will continue the job starting here.
- ADVANCED OPERATORS ONLY: Sometimes the configuration settings are changed or lost and the machine is no longer calibrated. You can train it by following the steps in this manual: Teching the Milling Width Adjuster
- This is an interesting thread on the problems some users experience with LPKF ProtoMat machines: EEV Blog Forum Post
- We have an ancient Book of Kane. Long ago, in May 2013, an LPKF representative spent a week at AssentWorks training members. This book is cryptic but you might find valuable information from the scribblings of this mad monk.