Electronics

Beyond 3D printers and the coming of the home electronics factory

Squink is a miniature factory (Photo credit:Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
Squink is a miniature factory (Photo credit:Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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Testing a Squink-made circuit (Photo credit:Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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Testing a Squink-made circuit (Photo credit:Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
A circuit in progress (Photo credit:Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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A circuit in progress (Photo credit:Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
Squink is a miniature factory (Photo credit:Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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Squink is a miniature factory (Photo credit:Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
Preparing to lay down components
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Preparing to lay down components
Squink raised $100,000 via Kickstarter
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Squink raised $100,000 via Kickstarter
Wearable technology is one possible use for Squink
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Wearable technology is one possible use for Squink
Squink can print circuits using conductive ink on paper
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Squink can print circuits using conductive ink on paper
Squink can be run by pros or tinkerers alike
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Squink can be run by pros or tinkerers alike
Wearable technology is one possible use for Squink
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Wearable technology is one possible use for Squink

When I saw BotFactory's Squink in action at MakerCon in New York last month, it was one of those innovations that took a few minutes to sink in. It looks like a modified 3D printer, but it does much more. In essence, it is a home factory in a single package.

Unlike most 3D printers, Squink has a detachable head that can be swapped out to allow it to move around its workspace to perform different functions. When I first approached the machine, it was in the process of building a circuit board independent of any human assistance in between steps (besides physically switching out the detachable heads). The machine head was picking up components, then hovering the part over a small camera that identified it and then gave the order for it to be placed on a piece of paper where the Squink had already printed conductive ink and laid down conductive glue to ready it for components.

If a 3D printer puts the power of a CNC mill and a few other machines into the hands of even amateur makers, then Squink could essentially put the power of an entire factory into one small corner of a home office. Forget soldering, cutting, etching or simply waiting forever to get your prototype back from an actual factory. BotFactory, which is a startup that grew out of the relationship between a few NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering graduates and their professor, sees Squink as a way to take the lag out of the traditionally long and laborious process of prototyping electronics.

“We see ourselves as members of the Agile Electronics Development wave,” they said in a recent release leading up to MakerCon. “As such we walk uncharted routes, creating new horizons for this newborn concept. In the upcoming years we'll continue evolving our products to provide the best experience on the market for this kind of technology.”

Those new horizons are where my mind went right away as I watched the Squink place each component on the circuit it recently printed. The amount of people out there with ideas that are at least worthy of making it to a prototype, but who don't possess the fabrication skills or background to ever dream of making their notions a reality, is surely larger than just me.

Wearable technology is one possible use for Squink
Wearable technology is one possible use for Squink

"It allows very easy entry into the world of electronics," BotFactory Co-Founder Michael Knox confirmed in an interview.

The team claims that Squink is simple enough to operate that there's no reason even a child couldn't design and create a circuit with a little guidance. They imagine uses for their technology that might include integrating circuits into glass, wearables and even artwork, just for starters.

A crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter successfully raised US$100,000 to get Squink off the ground, and now the team is gearing up to begin selling the early units for somewhere around $3,500, which is what a few dozen backers pledged to be first in line for the fully-functional version of the system.

Check out the video below to see a quick demonstration of the alpha version of Squink in action.

Source: BotFactory

BotFactory - Squink Alpha basics presentation

5 comments
Jim Bruin
It looks interesting. Too bad it can't handle BGA or small components yet.
Ernest Joseph Roberts
A very promising device that is cost-efficient.
Noel K Frothingham
That days is not far off, Jim. Probably closer than most people think..The idea of conductive adhesive caught my eye. .
Jim Bruin
I quite agree Noel. It's a very promising initial product and I eagerly look forward to seeing how it matures. The conductive adhesive is particularly innovative. Unfortunately most components I use are tiny or use BGA.
pmshah
@Jim Bruin. In my limited experience I have yet to see a BGA component being used on a single layer pcb. Just wondering what kind of work you might be involved in or component you actually use. I can't imagine this machine would be capable of anything more than a single layer prototype kind of logic circuit. Don't think the conductive paste or ink can manage any kind of even low level power. Can this machine actually layout closely placed 0.1 mm tracks as seen on almost all BGA component using PCBs?