Vacuum table update for PCB milling

I have mentioned in the past my home made vacuum plate for holding printed circuit board material flat while milling the copper trackwork.   As a technique this works really well and the results are very consistent using 5 and 10 thou miniature milling cutters from Think and Tinker.

When the artwork design needs holes drilling through the PCB material, care has to be taken not to drill through into the aluminium surface of the vacuum table.  To protect the carbide drills and the surface of the vacuum table I use a sheet of 3mm MDF underneath the PCB material to act as a sacrificial  board .  While the MDF is ‘transparent’ to the vacuum suction it does degrade the downward vacuum grip and this has always been a frustration.   If the board does not need through holes then the MDF is not required.

My wife uses an anti-slip perforated rubber sheet on the kitchen sink draining surface.   This is very flexible and looks like a weird cobweb of holes.   It struck me that this could be used as a sacrificial sheet between the PCB material and the vacuum table surface.   The rubbery material is not perfectly flat but is very easily compressed to become consistently flat over a large area.

I begged a sheet of the material from the kitchen ‘sub stores’ and mounted it on the vacuum table with the PCB on top.   I measured the overall depth of the PCB and the mat under vacuum compression to be circa 80 thou and I usually set the depth of cut for drilling to 68 thou.  This looked like it should leave a safety margin to avoid damage to the drilling tool and the vacuum table surface.

Using anti slip rubber sheet as a sacrificial spacer
The rubber mat in place on the vacuum table

The idea worked a treat.   The PCB was very rigidly clamped  in place and no damage was done to the drill bits or the vacuum plate.  Here is an image of the first board being run using this backing material technique.

Test PCB being milled using the rubber sacrificial mat
Test PCB being milled using the rubber sacrificial mat instead of MDF

This looks like a step forward in my PCB milling process and has the added advantage that the rubber sheet can be hand washed afterwards and re-used.

Anyone needing some 3mm MDF ?

Similar or related subjects : –

Update on CNC milling printed circuit boards on a homemade vacuum table

Update to the use of FlatCAM to mill PCBs

There are quite a few entries on my blog regarding using FlatCAM to convert PCB design software manufacturing files into CNC code.   I also have mentioned my small home made vacuum table and a floating foot compression device both for holding the PCB blank flat while the milling takes place.

I have revised my original write up to focus on FlatCAM version 8.991 and also pulled together notes on these other techniques.   If you like it let me know.  If there are mistakes also let me know.

FlatCAM and milling pcbs updated notes 2021

Similar or related subjects : –

Floating pressure foot for the CNCEST3040T mini milling machine

A new idea for keeping PCB material flat while milling artworks

The vacuum plate mentioned elsewhere on my blog serves me well when milling printed circuit boards on the Tormach PCNC440.   It keeps the PCB material flat and makes the cut widths repeatable when using V cutters.

The plate cannot be easily used on my CNCEST3040 due to the restricted Z height.   We have experimented with various techniques to keep the PCB material clamped flat on the smaller mill with varying degrees of success.

Idle hands and brain during social distancing has produced a possible solution that might be of interest and stimulation to others.   It consists of a circular pressure ring that sits around the spindle chuck and tool.   There is a second ring that sits on the spindle body connected to the lower ring with rods which have coaxial springs pushing down on the lower ring.   The magic is to use mini ball transfer units on the lower ring to press down on the PCB and glide friction free around the PCB as the cutter does its stuff.  The assembly is held in place on the spindle with 3 gripping screws.   The downward pressure is adjusted by 3 screws that press against the spindle mounting frame.

The ball transfer units come in all sizes and are very common in baggage handling systems at airports and in industrial conveyor systems.  The ones I used came from RS and have a 4.8mm ball and a M2 mounting shank

The prototype was made using 3D printed rings.   There is an image below.  Apologies for the yellow PLA but finding any PLA at a decent price is very difficult in the present circumstances.

Bottom view of pressure foot for CNCEST3040
A view of the underside of the lower ring and the four ball transfer units. In the background is the upper ring that sits around the spindle with the pressure adjusting screws and the spindle gripping screws.
Pressure foot for the CNCEST3040 in place on the spindle
View of the pressure foot in place on the spindle showing the tension adjusting screws and spindle grip screws

The idea seems to work and has produced some good consistent quality PCB prints.   It does have disadvantages in that you need to have a larger PCB blank to allow for the larger footprint of the pressure ring.   It is probably only of practical use for PCB milling but then the problem of flatness is less critical in drilling the board and routing the profile.

Similar or related subjects : –