WILTW #2 – PCB Manufacturers, Cubesats and Reddit

What I learned this week – a chronicle of cool engineering related things I stumble across every week. This week, it’s mostly hardware related, as I’ve been on the lookout for summer project ideas and am continuing to learn about circuit board DFM.



1. PCB fab price comparison tool

Most people in the maker and engineering communities are probably aware of the OSH Park and Dirty PCB board services. We can all respect OSH because of their US-based manufacturing and distinctive purple solder mask. Dirty PCB on the other hand, is based in China. Of course, their differentiation comes from their extremely low cost while maintaining a reasonable level of quality. I think there’s a place for both approaches. Besides, you don’t always want purple solder mask.


Turns out, there are lots more board manufacturers and an easy way to compare the cost. PCB Shopper lets you input your specs like board size, number of layers, etc, and it’ll spit out the cost (in your currency!) for the number of boards you require. This is both interesting in terms of picking the right board house for what you require, but also is a super fast way to benchmark the fabs against each other. Very cool tool, and I plan to test a few of the lower cost fabs and compare their quality.


2. CubeSat design competition

CubeSats are hands down, one of the coolest community projects out there. They’re satellites made up of 10x10cm cube modules, and the specs are available online. They piggyback onto launches of other satellites because they’re small enough to take up extra space on rockets, enabling people to send up satellites for around $30k. Because everything is standardized and modularized, construction costs can be reduced by building on top of existing work.


There are currently two really neat challenges involving CubeSats happening right now. First, a CAD challenge by GrabCAD and Stratasys is offering some pretty sweet prizes for CubeSat chassis designs built primarily using 3D printing. I was planning to bolster my CAD skills this summer, and this is a really cool way to do it because I’ll need to become familiar with the CubeSat spec, which leads to the next competition…


The Canadian Satellite Design Challenge is probably the coolest competition ever. I remember seeing a poster for it outside of our Lego lab at school, but the website was down or something. I recently re-discovered it, and I’m glad I did. Basically, it’s a two year challenge where university teams design and build a 3U (10x10x30cm) CubeSat. The winning team is going to get theirs launched, which is extremely exciting. After all, space stuff is what originally got me interested in engineering.


Unfortunately, the first year is nearly done and SFU doesn’t have a team running. But, it’s still cool to know that there’s a Canadian competition like this, and I’d definitely be interested in running the SFU team if they do a second competition in 2017. I may investigate helping out the UBC team since this is such a cool project, and space design experience would be pretty rare for an undergrad.


3. Reddit

It seems like I rediscover Reddit every few months. This time though, I stumbled across the r/engineering and r/engineeringstudents subreddits, which are absolutely packed with interesting information. R/engineeringstudents, in particular is very interesting. Not only have I been able to help out some prospective students with picking a university, picking up on the discussions from the people who hire co-ops has helped me validate my approach to engineering school.


Basically, I’m seeing that project and extracurricular (but still engineering-related) experience is what really helps people get co-op positions. It’s what I’ve always believed, but it’s good to see that it’s true. Seeing the banter as hiring managers critique a resume is also interesting, and I’ve been able to pick up on a few tips. Really, I’m getting the impression that this will be a beneficial resource to keep up with, as I’ve seen a lot of interesting discussion in just a few days of watching.


CubeSat image: http://pepl.engin.umich.edu/thrusters/PATRIOT_plume.jpg


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