Why do you need a microscope?
The utility of having a proper microscope and being able to inspect work is of incredible importance to anyone who works on PCBs. However, the benefit of having a purpose-built tool for building circuit boards runs upwards of several hundred or even thousands of dollars.
Even with specialized tools, they can sometimes be very orthogonal e.g., fixed and do not offer much flexibility when used as a prototyping tool. Typically you need an option to move the microscope out of the way, inspect a variety of objects at low to a high magnification range, and an option to connect a camera for digital capture.
In this article, I am going to quickly cover the basic setup that we recommend and what led us to believe this was the right choice. It can be used in a variety of ways like prototyping, soldering, and product inspection. If you are a hardware product developer or interested in DIY electronics, this may be of interest to you. If you would like more information, please let us know. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Ergonomics is the only way
The idea of purchasing a new microscope was a rather daunting task when I first got started. It is likely one of the most important tools a designer and technician alike can have in their toolbox; because it is used frequently to test, modify, and even create new prototypes. For me, this means that I need to be comfortable while I am using it. Really comfortable. Any additional strain in holding a body position adds up at the end of the day, resulting in additional time away from the project and physical strain.
When you use a microscope, it is an extension of your eyes, and any flaw in quality is exceptionally apparent. However, with a limited budget, this can be challenging. To find what was is the most important and focus on finding a product that fits those needs.
The idea of being slightly bent over the eyepiece inspecting a unit under test, for hours at a time, is not an ideal work setup. To be clear: It is not anyone's ideal work setup. It is ideal to have a body position that is easy to maintain for extended periods like sitting upright with the relaxed gaze forwards, not downwards, or hunched over.
For most users, an optical zoom of 0.7x to 180x is far higher than needed and is sufficient for most use cases. However, some may prefer different combinations. The beauty is that most microscopes offer an interchangeable objective that allows users to get a variety of levels of zoom from one set of optics.
The best is to choose something that has the best range. In my case, I was able to find the right balance with .7x-180x, which allows a variety of work to be accomplished. I find the right balance between about 10x to 20x, in my day to day work. Though the higher magnification is not something I use daily, it is advantageous to perform a closer inspection when needed (think defective component inspection and failure analysis). In these cases, it is nice to have and is an invaluable tool for RMA ingress technicians as well.
Once you have started working through the design, eventually, the board needs to be tested. Additionally, it is great to be able to capture a picture of the issues that come up along the way. For this, it is nice to be able to connect a camera for image capture. Some microscopes come with an option to drop a camera as a third lens, or to use it as the primary. In my case, I went with the former option because it was cost-effective, and on the unit-linked below, it can be connected directly to a computer or to a monitor via an HDMI connection. I choose the HDMI connection because the quality appears to be the best overall, and there is no noticeable delay in the image. There is a blur that occurs when objects get moved very quickly but is hardly noticeable under most working conditions.
Out of the way
I wanted to be able to inspect a variety of different objects, and from circuit boards to larger objects like printers, I wanted the tool/instrument to be able to move out of the way.
I settled on a boom armature, or pipe style, to allow the instrument to be repositioned easily and moved out of the way, if needed. As you can see it can easily be extended to most of the mat I use for a soldering on.
Though mostly an afterthought, lighting is absolutely critical to the bench setup. Good lighting is another part of relieving eye strain. Being able to illuminate a workpiece without creating glare in the optics or shadows is really important as well. For this reason, I focused on finding an adjustable LED ring that would allow it to be dimmed if the surface was especially shinny, or if it was hard to see a detail the light can be turned up as needed. The ability for the eyes to focus on a work piece without straining is important and cannot be overstated.
If the LED ring creates too much light, and the dimming option is not sufficient or too coarse, I suggest using vellum or wax paper between the lights as a way to diffuse the light. This will spread it out, without creating hot or intense areas of light that make seeing the object difficult.
Putting it together
In my case, I was not able to find a solution that met all the criteria for a good PCB inspection microscope. I needed to purchase the different components and put them together. One of the most difficult components, that was not available at the time, was an adapter for the lens to the microscope stand which is used to essentially hold the whole thing together. A few minutes in CAD and it was printed on the 3D printer later.
The affiliate links below are for reference, if you have any suggestions, please feel free to let us know.
List of materials
Stand and armature for re-positioning microscope body
Adjustable LED light ring
Microscope with lens (0.7x-180x)
Building scalable cloud applications
Please contact email@example.com to see if there is anything we can help with:
"...resources that are ready to scale up to handle the processing provide a greater level of service to the end-user such that when needed, the resources for the application can be made available instantaneously without interference to the user."
In a production or a local intranet environment, most applications can be deployed directly to a server, virtual machine, or to container management systems like Docker swarm to improve the overall performance of the application. However, each method has its benefits and drawbacks which we will cover below.
The perceived performance can be improved by distributing an application across multiple machines that provides redundancy in the event of failure, or if there is a sudden surge in demand it allows resources to handle the extra “need” placed on the system.
Additionally, resources that are ready to scale up to handle the processing provide a greater level of service to the end-user such that when needed, the resources for the application can be made available instantaneously without interference to the user. This, in turn, creates robust applications that can handle tens of thousands of users without the slightest shrug or increase in load times with increases in demand, as the resources can be provided according to the needs of the system.
Keep in mind: when there are data silos and applications residing on just one physical server, or in one location, it is not just a data bottleneck, it is a recipe for disaster!
Many companies use the cloud to allow connectivity to their internal applications and processes to external users throughout the world. To handle the needs of a diverse demand across geographically disparate areas, a distributed model is the way to go, as perhaps evidence by the use of these technologies by large companies with hundreds of thousands of users.
These are just some basic questions to consider, and more importantly, what is the impact on the customer during each of these steps as the possibility of irrecoverable data may exist:
Containers as a +flex option
Docker Containers or virsh machines
Using Docker containers aids in reducing the undesirable effects of a failure. The same applies to Virtual Machines too. However, the primary difference between a virtual machine and a docker container is that a container uses very little overhead because it is essentially a chroot, whilst a virtual machine running in virsh has far more resources available to it as if it is its own physical machine. Additionally, a container can be managed by a container management system like a docker swarm which enables new containers to be spawned as needed to handle an influx in demand.
Containers help to fill the gap where the eventual need to reproduce the software to another machine with little time and resources in deploying the software and other resources. By planning ahead, building a containerization model helps to build reliability and serviceability into the application especially during peak load, because the containers are able to scale according to the demand required.
Fortunately, Docker containers add an additional layer of abstraction, which aids not only data security but also aids in distributing the underlying resources as needed to scale efficiently.
Scaling and managing resources
With containers, new resources can be added and replaced when needed using Docker Swarm, Kubernetes, or other container management systems without the overhead configuring the corresponding software configurations from scratch like with virtual machines and raw hardware for example. In general, containers are often viewed as a key to reducing costs in due to the way resources can be scaled according to needs, and simplified deployment process.
A properly managed resource pool is critical to the success of any cloud application. Extra consideration needs to be made for data that needs to be accessed faster. This can be for example image or database files, where users almost expect a near-instantaneous loading of historic data points and records.
Ultimately, the availability of the system will rest not only on internal resources like docker containers, but in the entire system. To setup an appointment to discuss your needs please give us a call.
Please contact us to discuss your development needs
Tulare World Ag Expo
This week in Tulare California, growers, farmers, and manufacturers from around the world came to learn and grow as they discussed the current trends in the agriculture industry. This is where farmers come to be with other farmers.
It was great to meet with our customers at the Farm Show and to make new connections. Though we wish we could have met everyone, we will be back again next year too!
Do you go to the Tulare Farm Show? What was it like for you?
To learn more about the Tulare World Ag Expo, historically known as the Tulare Farm Show please visit here
New Projects and Product Testing
Sometime ago a project required a method of attaching a unique machine thread to a vertical post. As the project was going to be deployed semi-permanently it needed to be as durable as it possibly could. However, what we didn't expect is how strong the result would be - a useful trait for physical prototypes that need to be outdoors.
Almost a year later, the posts needed to be removed from the ground. This provided an opportunity to evaluate the strength of the posts and to determine if any improvements could be made.
First thoughts: when the posts were finally removed, it was surprising how strong they felt and how they still had the same brilliant white paint on them. Most posts left in the dirt for a year might already be decomposing and beginning to fall apart, but that wasn't the case with the prototype.
These samples were made using an additive printing technique called filament deposition printing, or FDM for short. However, this particular type uses a filament derived from corn called polylactic acid or PLA for short. For most prototyping, product developers and end-users will want something that represents the end product as much as possible, both in appearance and function. The PLA filaments available on the market today fill this need very well. You can print a prototype using design files, and have a product in hand that looks and feels like the real thing in a few hours.
However, products made in PLA without any post-processing may have a significant flaw: heat and UV can cause the bonds between the layers of the material loosen, or warp outside of a usable shape. So this means that you may not be able to do two of the most critical tests of the outdoor product development workflow: put the prototype through any type of real usability study, or outdoor product testing, not to mention environmental ingress testing.
With the specifications of the filament in mind, one can wonder what you would expect if you put something that can not stand up to heat or UV? Let's have a look at the gallery below.
You will notice that there is paint on the items in the pictures. It serves two purposes. The first is that it allows the product to have the intended color. Second, the paint includes UV inhibitors, such as roofing paint or exterior paint; this will dramatically improve the durability of the product, at least for the duration of the product tests. For traditional PLA, this seems to be the best method for mitigating damage.
Starting with a good base material is imperative, here you will find the MatterHackers Tough series PLA offers a blend of specs for users looking for filaments purpose-built for outdoor and rugged use. In future articles, we will be reviewing these filaments and the best use cases.
Learn about how to use any of these prototyping methods in your development workflow.
We have moved offices this week to Benicia and are looking forward to completing the setup of the space! The new address is in downtown, near Floors on First, across the street from Coldwell Banker and One House Bakery. We are looking forward to sharing more details soon!
Planning an infrastructure upgrade is a great way to make sure that it is a net benefit that helps the business.
After moving into the new offices, we are re-designing our network and wanted to share some of the process involved for considerations of a server rack.
Here are some of the essential considerations to begin thinking about in terms of most important to immediate operations:
Selecting a location that has good accessibility is essential.
It is kind of like "head, shoulders, knees and toes," except for the server rack. You need to be able to touch every part of the cabinet after it has been installed and provisioned. Additionally, if you are building or assembling your cabinet, make considerations for network and company growth. Inevitably, you will need access to the back of the cabinet. Moving a fully loaded or bolted down cabinet is not happening — plan for this in advance.
At a minimum there should be:
The servers, unlike you, do not like the warm weather at the beach. They need active room cooling with Air Conditioners to maintain peak operation in most climates.
Devices in the server room, like A/C fans, lights, door locks, thermostats, and data loggers, all need power - not to mention the server cabinet itself. A thorough evaluation of each devices' power needs is required to determine proper power strip/power distribution unit (PDU) specifications.
The server needs to be up and ready to address customer needs 100% of the time to be effective. Any loss of power could jeopardize the insertion of a SQL data record, for example, and cause loss to the data table or worse. To combat this, an uninterrupted power supply that is above the rating of the nominal usage of the devices connected provides adequate coverage in the event of a power outage. However, what happens if the power outage is from the power supply itself? Redundant power supplies exist for this purpose, more importantly, to keep the machine running at all times.
For all our systems, we have a separate ground fault protected UPS, with battery backup, for each redundant power supplies for each server (A/B), and network connection.
The backbone of the internet is the network connection. For each machine to have a reliable connection: it needs to be robust and dependable. We use CAT6 terminated in managed switches that is custom made for each connection so that the correct lengths can be used. Less cabling hanging to have to bundle into the cases.
Drawing the server rack in a diagram tool like lucid charts or Visio is useful for determining where things will go before bolting them down.
See the example below illustrating that heavy UPS should be installed at the bottom, while other devices like PDU (mid/top), and switches (top) should be placed in strategic places for cable management and air flow.
For some examples of great server room architecture, take a look at some of the videos from Custodian Data Centers and Linus Tech Tips.
If you have any questions about our progress, servers, DevOps, or IT in general please contact us or leave a comment below.
We are excited to be part of the Startup Challenge in beautiful Monterey Bay, California!
After silently working on our product the past few months, it is great to be talking about our mission, what progress we have made, and where we are going.
While it is stressful being part of a competition like this - the result is worth it - we have an opportunity to be in front of the world, talking about what drives us, and encouraging others to follow their dreams too.
To learn more about the challenge, please visit startupmontereybay.com/