PCB milling with hacked Roland Modela

Class was replaced by a Roland milling workshop this week. We used a machine in the PCB lab that was modified by the incredible Andy Sigler, who conducted my workshop. Andy had created a web interface that allowed us to work with our EAGLE file and control the machine. The setup is very junk-shelf-fabulous and caters to ITPers’ needs specifically. We can print hundreds of our own boards right on the floor! Think of all the madness we can create.

Here are the steps to PCB milling with our Roland Modela. We used Sam’s bike notification device schematic.

1. Measure the precise thickness of the board 

2. Open Nodela (our custom milling web interface) and drag the file on to the program



3. Tighten the screws around the board 


4. Make sure there are no leftover job on the machine by pressing up and down simultaneously. If the light blinks, press delete job

5. Screw in the 1/32 bit and set Z origin


6. Run the machine. Once the 1/32 bit is done, replace with the 1/64 bit and run the machine again

7. Screw in the drill bit and drill any holes in the design

8. Replace the drill bit with a flat drill bit and run the machine to trace the shape of the board


9. Vacuum the board

IMG_4822 copy

10. Almost there! Take the board out, scrape it and clean it up. 

There’s also tutorial on setting up the EAGLE file for the milling machine here.

From etching PCB board with vinegar and acid to milling it with custom crafted machine and web interface, I’ve begin to see making circuit boards as a craft and even an art form. I’m excited for the possibilities that can come out of my new found ability to design and print my own circuits. There are a couple of projects that I’d love to build with custom boards. One is a collection of wearable Bluetooth devices that would create small mesh networks. I’ll have to figure out what is feasible for the next few weeks.

Beyond the LED

I worked with Sam to build a circuit board with an operational amplifier! We used a LM386.

This is the schematic we breadboarded from.

This is the schematic we breadboarded from. There are many other schematics to work from in the LM386 datasheet.



The sound quality is far from desirable. Michelle and Eric Rosenthal helped us modify the circuit to smooth the signal. We’ll breadboard the new design and try out the sound quality later.

Schematic and board design from the new design.

Schematic and board design.


Circuit design: etching (second try) and surface mount

New design based on the same schematic.

New design based on the same schematic.

Since I was re-etching the board, I decided to try a new design. I used the same schematic as last time, but shaped like <3, just to make something fun.

Transferring onto copper.

Transferring onto copper.





Using acid this time.

After tinting the copper.

After tinting the copper. Almost there!

Surface mounting the LEDs and resistors.

Surface mounting the LEDs and resistors.

Done! Time to test. Moment of truth.

Done! Time to test. Moment of truth.

YES! It's alive!

YES! It’s alive!