"If you need a custom circuit board, just press print."
That's the sales pitch behind the Voltera V-One, a tabletop machine that takes 3D printing one step further, printing out customised circuit boards.
Designed by a team of four engineering students from the University of Waterloo in Canada, the circuit board prototyping machine made its way through a successful Kickstarter campaign at the start of this year. Now, Voltera has taken out one of the top honours in the engineering and design world, beating out finalists from 20 countries for first prize in the 2015 James Dyson Award.
Every year, the James Dyson Award pulls the world's best student engineers and designers out of the woodwork, showcasing products and prototypes that are designed to simply 'solve a problem'. Since 2002 the award has showcased some creative and ingenious product designs, from ato a powered bicycle wheel that turns any bike into an electric bike.
This year, the University of Waterloo team behind Voltera set about developing a way to prototype printed circuit boards in a timely and low cost way, turning to 3D printing for inspiration.
"We've all been there," said Voltera co-founder James Pickard. "We send a circuit design off to a factory, wait two weeks for delivery only to find that there's a mistake. The design takes a couple of iterations to perfect, but who's got the time for versions two, three or four?"
Using similar technology to a 3D printer and taking up roughly the same space on a benchtop, the V-One uses a mechanical head to print custom 2-layer circuit board designs out of conductive and insulating inks. There's also a solder paste dispenser and 550w heater to add additional components and reflow the board. The result is a fully-functional circuit board, printed from a 2D image file.
James Dyson, the man behind the James Dyson Foundation charity that backs the award, said the "impressive" graduates in the Voltera team had created a product that could bring more people into the engineering fold.
"Their solution makes prototyping electronics easier and more accessible -- particularly to students and small businesses," said Dyson. "But it also has the potential to inspire many more budding engineers. Something I am very passionate about indeed."
The V-One rose above a number of product submissions from across the world to take out the £30,000 prize, including a simplified Scuba diving tank designed for leisure divers (one of this year's international runners up), a spoon that automatically counteracts involuntary hand tremors in elderly patients and even a 3D printer that creates rabbit-shaped 'Bugs Bunny' snacks out of insect meat.
Voltera's co-founders now have a prestigious award under their belts and £30,000 in their bank account (in addition to the $500,000 they've landed through Kickstarter), and they say the win will help them take their product even further.
"We're at a critical point with Voltera," said co-founder Jesús Zozaya in a statement. "Our parts are being manufactured in China and we are doing further testing at our office and our assembly line in Canada. The £30,000 we've been awarded as winners of the James Dyson Award will help us to ramp up production."
"When we first started the company, we spoke to many experts who told us we were too ambitious and that it was impossible to create a tool that could effectively prototype circuits," added Alroy Almeida, another of Voltera's four co-founders. "We took that as a challenge."