Engineer Spotlight: JF Brandon, BotFactory, and PCB Printing

March 12, 2016 by Tim Youngblood

We got to interview JF Brandon from BotFactory about Squink, a desktop PCB printer.

We got to interview JF Brandon from BotFactory about Squink, a desktop PCB printer.

Back in August of 2014, BotFactory reached their crowdfunding goal through Kickstarter of $100,000 to release the Squink, a "Desktop Electronic Circuit Factory." Squink comes in 3 different packages ranging from around $2,600 to $3,000. Botfactory's goal behind the Squink is to:

"reduce the cost and time associated with electronics prototyping by providing a desktop PCB fabrication solution"

The Squink is a pretty neat machine, so we interviewed JF Brandon, one of their team members. You can see how the Squink works in the video below.

AAC: Who is BotFactory? What's your team's story?

JFB: Botfactory was formed by NYU Grads Nicolas Vansnick and Carlos Ospina as well as their professor Mike Knox. When nearly everyone failed a class project in Electronic Design (present company excluded) because everyone’s PCBs didn’t arrive on time, they teamed up to see if they could create an ‘Electronic 3D Printer’ to make prototyping easier. We’ve a lot of awards since day one, most notably NYC Next Top Maker and Make: Launchpad along with a successful $100K Kickstarter. Since June 2015 we’ve been shipping to Engineers, Teachers and Makers across the World, constantly talking to them to understand what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong, and what we’re missing. We’ve quadrupled the floor space we had 6 months ago and tripled sales, which we’re really proud of. 

BotFactory's founding members

AAC: Let's say I'm not very familiar with circuit printers, how does Squink work exactly?

JFB: Squink is a Desktop PCB Printer that can print traces, dispense solder and pick-and-place components. It’s like you could warp the fabric of Space-Time between you and a Printed Circuit Board manufacturer so you can fab at the speed of light. With Squink you can print on FR4, Kapton, transparent sheets and photopaper, straight from your CAD tool, allowing you to fab a board in an hour instead of waiting days or weeks. You don’t need to download anything - you simply pull Squink out of the box and connect it via WiFi, using your browser window to control it. 

AAC: You mentioned that companies, schools, and hobbyists have been buying Squinks. Could you elaborate on that?

JFB: We’ve had Fortune 500 companies buy Squink for their innovation labs and manufacturing engineers. Schools ranging from Ivy League to Community Colleges have bought Squink for their makerspaces and as a teaching tool. Hackers, makers and hobbyists often buy Squink for their own uses. We can’t mention names because of confidentiality agreements, but one big company uses Squink to experiment with flexible ‘smart labels’, and another one is using them to develop innovations into their future IoT products. A certain large government organization that deals with spaceflight bought Squink because they could make a variety of wearable devices without the ridiculous cost of buying from vendors, or hazards of making their own with etchants. One hacker and artist Rachel Hellenga uses Squink to experiment with making light-up Legos to teach young children the basics of electricity. 

AAC: Why do you think Squink and other circuit printers are doing so well? Why would somebody buy a Squink when they can order boards online?

JFB: Well by that logic, why own a car when you can take public transit? You have to wait to get anything prototyped, and there are lots of very impatient managers, engineers, students, teachers, and hackers that need a PCB today and can’t afford to drop thousands on multiple rounds of iteration. Often we have buyers who buy Squink specifically for one project, after which the machine is paid off. 


The Squink Desktop Electronic Circuit Factory

AAC: Whats next for BotFactory? What direction are you going from here?

JFB: We have a product that is 10x better than what we had 18 months ago, so we want to produce something that 100x better in the next cycle. I can’t tell you what that would look like, but everyone we meet is looking for thinner traces, a faster pick-and-place system (and that can handle smaller parts) and multil-ayer functionality. We have released the multi-layer functionality (two layers, for the moment), so we’re making progress in the right direction. A product like Squink is only good as the company behind it, so our team is constantly looking to reduce costs while improving quality, on top of tinkering and constantly improving our software package. We typically update Squink once a month, fixing bugs, increasing speed and improving UX/UI based on what our user feedback is like.


What's next?

We're certainly excited to see where Squink and other circuit printers take us in the next few years. As the technology becomes more efficient, circuit printers will become more common and affordable, perhaps, even affordable for the personal home-lab. The team at BotFactory might be on to something, so if you have any questions/comments, be heard in the comments section below!