Saturday 31 October 2015

#HackAroundBerlin Quick Walk Around Maker Faire Berlin

Still trying to catch up with real life and get the #HackAroundBerlin videos finished.

The main reason I was in Berlin was the firm I work for Pimoroni where running a stall at Berlin Maker Faire met lots of exciting makers and maker business with really inspiring projects.


This is  a quick walk around Maker Faire Berlin looking at stands hosted by Watterott, Elekor, Berlin Raspberry Jam, HackLace and many many more.   

Saturday 10 October 2015

#HackAroundBerlin Tour Of The Berlin FabLab

My #HackAroundBerlin continues with a visit to the Berlin Fab Lab. This place is a product developers dream with a laundry list of high end prototyping equipment, from 3D printers and lasercutters all the way up to a full on CNC mill.

Special thanks has to go to the guys at the Space Sylvester, Laslow, Rose, Erick and Murat for making me so welcome.

The main public area 

Wood working area

Heavy Metal Lab

Composites Lab

These are little Lasercut models that the FabLab created to give away at Maker Faire Berlin  

#HackAroundBerlin Going To Berlin A quick montage of Berlin

Starting on processing the video and photos from the #HackAroundBerlin.  I really wanted to edit and upload video while I was away but I had a major laptop failure lets just say I will have much to say about upgrading to Windows 10 (JUST DON'T).

But I'm happily up and running again and will be releasing video as soon as its edited.  

Berlin is an amazing city and I hope this gives you a taste of Berlin culture and food :) This one is a bit less techie than usual but don't worry the following vids will be rammed with geeky nerd stuffs.

Monday 28 September 2015

Berlin Here We Come #HackAroundBerlin

Hi folks

A big announcement for me I'm off with the colleagues at Pimoroni to the Berlin Maker Faire one of the biggest Maker Faires in Europe spanning over two days.

I will be helping out on the Pimoroni Stand on 3rd-4th October Its looking as though it is going to be a great event with Makers, Crafters and Geeky Scientists from all over Europe.

As I will be in Berlin for the whole week I'm going to fill any down time by doing a #HackAroundBerlin.


#HackAroundBerlin will involve meeting other Makers and Tech enthusiasts around Berlin, and visiting Hackspaces, Tech forums and FabLabs. Not to mention Maker Faire Berlin itself.

On my trip i'll be visiting

Berlin FabLab

You can keep up
Twitter: @rabid_inventor
Youtube: Rambling Of The Rabid Inventor

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Evening At the Sheffield Hardware Hackers and Makers Hackspace and a Pot of Paint

I am part of a group of makers called the Sheffield Hardware Hackers and Makers (SHH Makers for short). Up until the beginning of the year we operated on monthly meets at various locations including Access Space. And then we acquired a new home at the Portland Works. Checkout my earlier post on looking at the space.  

Since then they group has moved forward into a Community Interest Company (CIC) acquired tools and equipment, and now is going though the process of 'Hacking The Space'.

I've been a member of the group for a couple of years and want to be involved with the renovation of the space.

The space has been cleared out and the ceiling has been re-boarded and painted it looking pretty smart now. 

Work benches have been installed with parts bins and some basic power tools.  

There is even under counter lighting with 12 Volt  led strips.

The members of the space have pitching together to raise funds for some of the more advanced equipment like the spaces new laser-cutter that is in its final stages of being installed.


There is even the SHHtv powered by a Raspberry Pi which displays the groups IRC channel with audio alerts for when some logs in and able to grab some ones attention with an 'OI!'. It also rotates through live bus, train and tram timetables.

There is always a couple of little reminders about working safely in the space and pro actively naming members who haven't been safe. Its done in a fun way bit keeps working safely at the front of peoples minds.  'DON'T BE A DONKEY!'   

I arrived just in time to collect a Chinese for the workers and have a good chin-wag about stuffs we are getting in to and the space itself.

After which we got on with some more painting for the next hour or so this was my bit, all white and shiny :)

I think getting involved with your local space is important and whatever you can do  even if its helping paint a wall is always appreciated, and has help me feel more part of the group. 

The SHH Makers are always looking for new members to share the space and ideas you want to find out more click here.

Sunday 2 August 2015

Pimoroni Picade and The Saturday Of Production Madness

As a few of you are aware my day job is the Electronics Production Manager at Pimoroni in Sheffield.

Pimoroni is a collection of Pirates, Makers and engineers who design and manufacture electronics and laser-cut accessories for the educational, maker communities and anyone who wants to get into electronics and physical computing.

On Friday (31/07/15)  we finally released the retail version of Picade with was officially the UK's first Kickstarted project and raising over £74000 more than twice its pledge amount. The backers orders were shipped and all went quiet of quite a while. At this point there was lots of behind the scenes development as well as a move to a larger workshop that put the project on the back-burner for a while.

So back to my story:     

So Saturday (01/08/15) I had left my car at work, I arrived at the workshop to find the guys beavering away like mad making up the Picade kits. That was it, bribed with a (very tasty) Baked Potato I was off to manufacture as many of the Picade PCBs as possible.

It was a hard slog of a day but we now have enough boards to start fulfilling orders on monday.

Phil Howard (known to many as @gadgetiod) on of my colleagues, fellow maker and friend had done a Periscope video of the day answering question showing some of the production process. unfortunately just want to link it in and the broadcast had expired. :(

I'll see if I can persuade him to upload it to Youtube and link it in later. 

The Picade has been released in several variants. The full version that comes with an 8 inch display panel, there are also versions which you can add your own display, the Adruino compatible controller with amp and the brand now Picade Console.

The Picade Console  a very nice stripped-down controller panel with space to house a Raspberry Pi and hook direct to a TV or monitor via HDMI. 

Hopefully these systems will satisfy a lot of  retro gamers looking for and quality arcade feel, and i can't wait to see what hacks come from it.

Sunday 26 July 2015

A quick tour of the Sheffield UTC (University Technical Collage)

The other week I was invited on a mini tour of the University Technical Collage (UTC) in Sheffield. The UTC is a school for kids aged between 14 and 18, with a focus on technical and creative subjects including Engineering, Game Design, 2D/3D Design and Industrial Processes. This is alongside more regular subjects like English, Maths and Sciences.

The facility is a combination of new and old, parts of the building being the sympathetic resorted Sydney Works the site of Sydney Silversmiths and a brand new build.  

The reason I had been given a tour was to loan out some WS2812 and LPD8806 addressable led strips for there up coming Prom.  

This is the 'Multi-purpose Room' where it was to be held and spent a few minutes scratching our heads on how to get the LEDs into the gantries and how to power them.

The  amount of computing facilities is quite amazing with both PC and Mac facilities. Though I do find myself cringing very slightly at a room full of Macs.   

Some of the computer suites have dual monitors this is the game design room where the students make games and graphics using the Unreal engine. This is game engine is being used currently to create games so definitely promoting up to date skill sets.

 The UTC has a very good compliment of manufacturing equipment including mills, lathes, routers and laser cutters. As well as plenty of opportunity for students to get there hands on and build 3D printers of many types including fused filament and liquid resin SLA printer like the FormLabs Form 1.       

Then I was shown my favourite room of the whole tour the mini factory room.

This room is filled with Festo industrial processing equipment the same as could be found in any automated production facility WOW.   

This proper equipment with real industrial control look at them PLCs.  

Even a 5 axis Mitsubishi robotic arm to load parts into a CNC mill. 

Dealing with real axis, sensors, conveyors and stuffs. 

There is also equipment for liquid processing and mixing.

This is one of the Festo pneumatic workstations for that students can use to design airflow systems. The shiny blue and brushed aluminium of the Festo kit is very familiar as the Pick and Place machine that I operate at Pimoroni uses the same valves and vacuum generators. In the background you can see a Delta 3D printer built and maintained by some of the older students. 

'Be Creative' I'm sure I've tweeted that before, Totally in awe of the place and find myself wishing the collage I went to was like this. :)

This is a School that is well ahead of the curve, teaching up to date skill sets and with mentors from real creative businesses it's helping the next generation to go and MAKE STUFF!

Thanks to the Staff of the UTC for the tour It was inspiring.


Saturday 18 July 2015

Dirty Circuits Done Dirt Cheap

Often design and research is and expensive business, especially when dealing with technology that your are unfamiliar with. A big proportion of this is PCB manufacture and I have spend a few years looking for a low cost reliable method for PCB production.

The most cost effective method is to have the boards produced overseas but then you won't be sure of the quality of the boards until they return. This is where Dirty PCB step in.

Dirty has been setup by the guys at Dangerous Prototypes as a reliable access to PCB fabs overseas.

I discovered Dirty PCB while looking at another PCB manufacturers reviews and recommendation on a forum post.

So went over to there website and I was almost knocked of my feet at how cheap 2 layer PCBs were.

If you can keep your design under 5cm x 5cm and don't mind if you end up with anywhere between 8 - 12 PCBs then it is only $14 (9GBP) that could be less than 0.10GBP   1GBP per PCB. WOW! There is also a selection of colours for the solder masks at no extra cost.

For me that is great for me as most of my designs are under this size as 50x50mm is quite equate for a breakout board but for $11 more you can have up to 10cm x 10cm (100x100mm That's huge). 

There are a few things that you need to accept to get this price level the boards can only be 2 layers and the pad finish will be HASL (Hot Air Solder Leveling) there is an option for ENIG (Electro-less Nickel Immersion Gold) but it is $15 more. Also there free postage option is quite slow so its worth paying $19 more to get DHL airmail, I realise this is more that the PCBs cost but otherwise it could be a up to 8 weeks delivery. 

Next thing to have a look at is there capabilities, this is all listed in the FAQ.

MaterialFR-4 0.6mm-2.0mm 1oz copper ('standard' PCB material is 1.6mm thick, but we default to 1.2mm)
Layer number2L
Maximum size100*100mm (10*10cm)
ShapeAlmost anything! We'll send it and see if they accept it!
Min internal slot32mil (0.8mm)
Min core thickness4mil 0.08mm
Min core thickness16-96mil(inner) 16-118mil(out)
Min w/s5/5mil(I/L)
Min w/s5/5mil(O/L)
Min silkscreen line0.15mm
Min BGA sizeOblong:10*13.5mil/circle:12mil
Min SMD width8mil
Min solder dam3mil(green)/3.5mil(black)
Min dielectric thickness2.5mil
Min diameter of finished hole12mil
Tolerance of drill position+/- 2mil
Tolerance of finished hole sizePTH +/- 3mil
Tolerance of finished hole sizeNPTH: +/- 2mil
PTH hole copper thickness0.6~1.4mil
Max A.R of PTH8:1
Surface copper thickness1oz
Routing dimension tolerance(Z0) Impedance control 4mil
V-cutNow refused! 80*80mm(min) 380*300(max)
(Z0) Impedance control+/- 15%
Ionic contamination< 6.4ugNaCl/inch2
Surface treating(No PB) hot air levelling/AuSn/AgCN/Electrogilding/Ni/OSP*/G.F
*OSPOrganic solder-ability Preservatives
This is much the same as most board houses standard service I'm mainly looking at the trace thickness and clearance which is 4 thou (thousandths of an inch, this is a bit of a legacy thing with board houses) and a clearance of 5 thou.

There is some helpful things further down the page, Dirty PCB supply a design rules check file for Eagle this file is use in you design rules check to make sure your PCB design is manufacturable. They also supply a cam processing file to help export your design manufacture file. But if you use Eagle like I do you can just send in your .brd design file and Dirty PCB will do all the exporting for you. This is great as I don't have to worry about getting the export wrong or sending the wrong layer files.  

So that's it time to give them a spin. Note: Dirty PCB only accept PayPal payments best to make sure you PayPal details are upto date.

On thing I noticed after putting in my order is that the level of communication is amazing are reassuring, and you can also check the status of you order in the websites status page.  

One Week Later (seriously that is really really fast!)

Such Box! Much Cute! 

There is no mistaking this box the end stamp is very cool.

And then you even get a sticker, I like stickers :)

The PCBs where well wrapped but a little loose in the bag the could rub against each other possibly scratch the finish but this didn't happen in my case. 

I always get excited to see one of my own designs as PCB please don't get too excited this is not a product its just a demo board to try out a BLE chip that I might use in a product ;)

The finish is great the Silkscreen is legible and the resist is nice and even. lets have a look under the microscope.

The quality is excellent and precise the soldermask is tight to the pads with none of the ground fill exposed. The thing that really knock me off my feet is they have also managed to apply the mash between the the pads on the main package, these gaps are less than 0.2mm in width that is brilliant.

 And for the free sticker.

Got the perfect place for that.

So what do I think of Dirty PCB here is my round up:

  • Easy of use: Straight forward and quite fun the site feels as though it doesn't take itself to seriously and approachable. Though more payment options would be a nice addition.
  • Communication: Reassuringly comprehensive without feeling like I'm being spammed.
  • Lead Time: Quick! 
  • Packaging: Exciting!
  • Finish and Quality: Astounding good.
I can only award Dirty PCBs up to 5 sparks but in may opinion they deserve 6. Very pleased with the service.