Electronic – the most cost effective way to produce a custom circuit board


UPDATE June 21, 2012:

I purchased a Ferric Chloride, Positive Developer, and positive PCB boards from MG Chemicals and used the photo-etching process. The results were OUTSTANDING! You don't need their sparge tank or exposure kit. I simply exposed my pcb underneath a 20W compact florescent bulb for 10 minutes, developed the pcb in a tupperware dish according to the instructions, and then etched in the same (rinsed out) tupperware dish for 15 minutes while agitating occaisionally with a foam brush.

Also, I used an inkjet printer. The instructions say only to use a laser printer, but I found that if I set my printer to print the transparency using very dark, rich dpi settings that I had sufficient contrast.

The results were great–super fine and detailed thin traces!!


I recently purchased some Syma brand indoor RC helicopters for my nephews. Well, I had so much fun enjoying these with the boys that I have since started a small collection of my own.

Although loads of fun and durable, these toys use cheap electronics:

  • An infrared transmitter/receiver that seems to lose signal quality in a brightly lit room
  • Single channel so that you and someone else can't fly at the same time without interfering with one another.

About me:

  • Not an electronic engineer, though I am technically minded.
  • I am very much a novice with soldering and wouldn't be capable of soldering the tiny board inside these little birds.

What I would like to do:

In an ideal world, I would like to have a custom circuit board made for these little birds that

  1. Accepts a non-infrared signal (2.4 GHz? Bluetooth? Wi-Fi? –Remember these are "living room" flyers).
  2. Allows for you to choose between 2-3 channels on both the transmitter and receiver so that 2-3 people can fly concurrently.

I realize that this might already be available for bigger outdoor birds, but I need the circuit board to be small.

Is there a cost-effective way of prototyping this? Is there perhaps a place where I can send them the specifications and they would "print" up the circuit? Software that a semi-layman like myself could use to design it? I realize that the first run would be expensive, but I can see this being an after-market item that those of us bitten by the indoor heli-bug would buy enough of to bring the cost down.

Best Answer

For cost effective, full feature software, nothing beats open source software. I use the gEDA suite of tools for my electronics designs (schematics and PCB layout) but there is also the KiCad suite which might be a bit easier to use. There are several others as well. Try playing with them and doing some layout tutorials to get to know the software.

For PCBs, you could try places like Fusion PCB or DorkbotPDX. I have also heard the previously mentioned Batch PCB is good too.

For wireless, you could use something like this bluetooth to serial converter from DealExtreme. With bluetooth, you can pair devices and then it doesn't really matter how many birds you have flying around. You could also develop a smartphone app to control your helecopters.