Your First Print with Nova
The Terra NOVA project will take you through printing a conductive keyboard that you can plug into an included companion board and play it like a musical instrument. Over the course of this project you will become familiar with the process of adding and calibrating a new ink, adding your own substrates to the library, and the process of printing with NOVA.
At this point we’re assuming you have your NOVA unboxed and connected to your network and is ready for use. If you’re not there yet please follow the steps in our NOVA setup Guide & Manual and come back when you’re all set. If you’re having trouble getting your NOVA up and running feel free to reach out to our support team.
With NOVA, the software lives onboard, so there is no need to install any software or drivers on your computer to interact with it. You’ll use a browser to access and control your unit. If you have already gone through the setup process and connected your NOVA unit to your network you will be able to access it directly through unit-name.myvoltera.io or you can head to myvoltera.io and select it from the list.
Once you’ve connected to your NOVA unit you’ll see a few options available to you in the software. Let’s review them quickly:
Dispense: Print your designed circuit using your desired printing material and substrate. Materials: A central library to manage materials and substrate profiles. Calibrate: This workflow guides you through the steps to get optimal print settings for a new material from scratch.
Step 2: Selecting a workflow
To get started, you will need to add and calibrate a new printing material. Select Calibrate to start this process.
Although NOVA ships with a 'standard' conductive ink, we assume that every NOVA user will at some point need to figure out how to dispense some new material, or at least to dispense with a different nozzle. For that, there's the Calibrate workflow.
The first step in calibration is choosing the 'paste' (your ink or other material) that you want to print. If you don't already have a material setting for this, you are prompted to create a new material, using some default baseline settings.
In this step, NOVA will probe the surface of the Calibration Plate, which is where the printing will happen. With NOVA, there's no need to waste any substrate testing your print settings.
In the target quality step, you tell NOVA what you're expecting with your material, along with some important parameters. Each entry here will affect the print settings for your new material, so if you want to use a new nozzle diameter, you should run the procedure again.
Specifically, you must tell NOVA:
- The diameter of the nozzle you're using
- Your target Trace Width
- Your desired Print Height
Optionally, you can click More... to set the Dispenser temperature. Typically, this defaults to 35C.
As you enter the values, NOVA does some error-checking in the background, to help suggest if you may be off track. It displays this in two ways: First, by showing how the ink would need to print, given your inputs (which can lead to some wacky patterns), and a warning or error statement.
The Estimate Pressure step estimates the baseline dispense pressure for the material. For this step, NOVA will hover the Dispenser over the drip tray, and slowly increment the pressure in the cartridge until you see some ink collecting on the tip. At that point, you can click STOP to lock in the estimate.
You may notice that the dispenser needs to heat up before you’re able to proceed with this step.
At this Step, NOVA is ready to Calibrate the paste. The calibration process guides the user through 3 stages, which you repeat until you're happy.
Using the current settings, NOVA prints the calibration pattern, and snaps a picture with the built-in camera.
Based on the image, NOVA asks you what you would like to improve. In the default screen, there are two options:
Width (Pressure): Is your trace width thin or too wide? Leakage: Is there ink leaking out of the nozzle?
Clicking Advanced will also allow you to specify whether the starts or ends of your traces need some filling in.
By clicking the 'Improve' button, you lock in your changes, and NOVA will update the print settings automatically. You can then repeat these 3 steps until you're happy with the print.
When you're happy with the settings, clicking USE will tell NOVA to lock things in. You can then wipe off your calibration plate, and these settings will get saved and stored in the Materials Library for future use.
Feel free to use the preloaded PET substrate for this project, but if you’d like some practice adding a substrate to your materials library follow these steps.
From the main screen, select the Materials from the available options.
Next, select the Library option to manage your materials.
Once on the Manage your Library screen, you’ll want to create a new material with either the Create button in the center of the screen or the + button from the materials library on the left.
Much like adding our paste material earlier, in this step you will add a few details to distinguish it in the library.
Once created, you will be able to add in some basic details for the substrate so NOVA knows how to handle it during printing.
Probe pitch sets the maximum distance between probing measurements. A smaller probe pitch creates a more accurate height map, but takes longer to complete.
Vacuum power determines how much suction to use during probing and printing and is expressed as a percentage. Thin films & flexible substrates should be printed with a powered vacuum. 30% is adequate for most films.
Minimum raise height sets the vertical clearance the tools will take between travel moves. Increase this setting to avoid collisions with components or mounting features. A minimum raise height of 1.0 mm is used during dispensing.
From the main menu select the ‘Dispense’ workflow.
The ‘Create a job’ step is an optional step. For the Terra NOVA project we can skip this by clicking next. In the future if you plan on doing a print that uses the same pattern (circuit), paste, substrate and alignment multiple times you can use the feature to speed up some of the processes.
First, select the ink and substrate you added to the library earlier on.
The next step is to load your pattern to generate the toolpaths, just like with the V-One. In this case the Terra NOVA file is pre-loaded, select the Load Sample Files option and select the Terra NOVA print file.
At this point, you will be prompted to mount your substrate. If it is a flexible substrate, it will have a vacuum power setting, which will prompt you to insert the Vacuum table. You can then lay your substrate (like a PET film) on top of the vacuum plate.
NOTE: For best vacuum performance, make sure that your substrate covers the entire vacuum plate. If necessary, you can always put down some paper around the edges of your cut-out substrate to cover any open area.
For alignment, there are three sections. Set Pivot, Set Pivot Position, and Set Rotation. For this design, we don’t need to do precise alignment since we’re not trying to line up to any existing features. You will just need to ensure the printed pattern will fit on the substrate. But, we’ll go into a bit more detail on these steps so you have a better idea when you go to print your own patterns.
The purpose of setting the pivot is to select a feature in your design that you want to use to align around. This will be the point we use in the next two steps to move the design and rotate around. It’s usually easiest to select a point in one of the corners of your design.
During this step you are moving your printed pattern where you want it on the substrate using the Pivot point you selected previously. The main focus in this step is to focus on aligning the pivot point itself, not the full design. You can use the arrow keys to move the pivot point around and you can fine tune the alignment by clicking the number in the center of the movement controls to adjust the step size.
Once you have the pattern aligned to the pivot point, you may need to do some rotation around this point to get the rest of the design aligned. Again, you can fine tune the rotation by clicking the number in the center of the rotation controls to adjust the step size.
At this step, NOVA will create a virtual overlay of your printing pattern on a series of photos from different areas of your substrat. This lets you confirm that your toolpath is in the correct position and fine tune the alignment before moving on to printing. You can toggle between rotating the pattern and moving the pattern with their respective icons.
This time around, NOVA will probe on both the calibration plate, and on your substrate, generating a heightmap for printing.
This step is like a final test to make sure your ink is flowing well. You aren't putting in any new settings - just letting NOVA print three clean lines. It may take a few passes to get the ink flowing. But, once that happens, you're ready to go.
At this point, you can sit back and let NOVA do the work. Click Start, and NOVA will print the pattern.
The last step is to inspect your print with the built-in camera. If it looks good, you just click done, give it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and you're good to go!
For this you can use a box oven set to 120°C for 15 minutes. We got this information from the data sheet from ACI for their FE3124 material.
Finally, trim the TPU to the printed outline. Add some tape around the finger stylus. Then, plug your print into the companion board and give it a try!