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Author Topic: Alternatives to wiring and soldering PCB Boards  (Read 1938 times)
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new york
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So I am finalizing my first project,
which is very cool.

I went and bought a 6x3" piece of PCB with perforated holes.
I then ran wires connecting all the parts that had to be connected.
And now I am soldering the wires, as well as soldering adjacent holes that need to be connected together.

And..  this blows.  I hate the smell, I have big clunky hands, I have to put on so much solder to connect two holes that I make a giant mess, and after the fact I need to go through EVERY connection with a meter to make sure I didn't short anything.

There's gotta be a better alternative.
Does anyone know of a way to get boards printed online?  I'd drop a few bucks 5-10, maybe even 15 to avoid having to do this myself.

I did a quick look online and saw some info for DIY board printing but I
1) don't have a printer
2) live in a tiny nyc apartment w/ a cat, so I am not gonna mess with any of those toxic agents.

Thanks!
Lucas
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Do you mean besides getting the PCBs manufactured for you based on an electronic file you supply? places like http://www.batchpcb.com/ or http://pcbexpress.com/ are expensive, but the result is more proffessional than what you can do at home. Assuming you could squash what you have now in a 6"x3" to 4"x2", and wanted only 1 or 2, it would cost you at least $60 plus postage.

It's all about how you value your time. PCB manufacturers seem expensive, but really, if they save you say 2 hours of labour, and an hour of running around getting supplies, it quickly becomes obvious that they aren't as bad value as first impression.

If you don't want to go down the chemical etching path, pretty much the only other home option is a CNC router. After the setup cost (?US$1000??) you just pay for the router bits and the blank PCB.

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Quote
Do you mean besides getting the PCBs manufactured for you based on an electronic file you supply? places like http://www.batchpcb.com/ or http://pcbexpress.com/ are expensive, but the result is more proffessional than what you can do at home. Assuming you could squash what you have now in a 6"x3" to 4"x2", and wanted only 1 or 2, it would cost you at least $60 plus postage.

It's all about how you value your time. PCB manufacturers seem expensive, but really, if they save you say 2 hours of labour, and an hour of running around getting supplies, it quickly becomes obvious that they aren't as bad value as first impression.

If you don't want to go down the chemical etching path, pretty much the only other home option is a CNC router. After the setup cost (?US$1000??) you just pay for the router bits and the blank PCB.


I was looking for pcb printers (such as pcbexpress)

thanks!
Lucas
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Can you recommend a good piece of design software for windows?

BatchPCB shows options of
# Protel
# Eagle
# PCB - Open Source
# Orcad
# PCad
# Target
# Boardmaker
# Circuit Maker
# WinBoard

thanks
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Eagle.

It has a reasonably steep learning curve, but it probably has the largest user base amongst hobby users, and therefore the most tutorials and help available. and of course, being free doesn't hurt.

All of the files (schematic and board) you need to make your own arduino were done in eagle, and have been made avaialble - http://www.arduino.cc/en/Main/Hardware. This makes it easy to make shields for example, as you can use the layout of the pins in their files.

Good eagle tutorial:

http://www.sparkfun.com/commerce/present.php?p=BEE-8-EagleSchematic.

 Other excellent resources that I often refer to:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Turn-your-EAGLE-schematic-into-a-PCB/,
http://www.instructables.com/id/Draw-Electronic-Schematics-with-CadSoft-EAGLE/.

The author of those instructables, westfw, is also an arduino forum active user, so there is quite a few resources out there.
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I noticed futurlec does PCB manufacture. I got a quote on an arduino-sized board (dual-sided), and it looks to be cheaper than batchpcb.

http://futurlec.com/PCBService.shtml

The numbers I got were -
2.7" x 2.1", double-sided with solder mask and silk screening, for 1 PCB US$54.66, for 10 its $87.60;
Same size without silk screen, 1 for 42.66, 10/ 75.60
Same size w/out silk screen or solder mask, 1/ 18.66, 10/ 51.60

So if you choose no silk screening (white text telling you which parts go where) and no solder mask (green overlay), your custom design that fits on an arduino-size board is ten for US$51.60, that is pretty cheap considering how much time is saved.

For comparison batchpcb is $10 to setup and $2.50 per square inch, so for a 2.7" x 2.1" its roughly $24 total for one (with solder mask, silkscreen, etc). But for 10 boards its ~$150. So, batchpcb may be worth the money for one or two boards with the silkscreen/soldermask options, but for quantities futurlec takes the cake. My understanding is a solder mask is not needed, and neither is silkscreen, but even if you do get those options, for 10 boards it's still cheaper than batchpcb, by a good $60.
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BatchPCB, as I understand it, is set up for people wanting small numbers of small boards.  LOTS of places are cheaper (per board) if you want (say) ten boards, but very few places can give you anything for $24...

BTW, Some prototype freeduino boards were done with no soldermask, and getting the FTDI (fine pitch) chip to work was a real pain in the neck!  Soldermask is highly recommended on any board with SMT pitch components (but you might not need it on both sides of a board...)
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what's a solder mask?  that little circle of metal around the hole so it's easier to solder the connection?  I'd say that's well worth it!

and yeah most of the stuff I am doing is personal projects, just 1 chip here and there, so I think batch is the way to go for anything that involved lots of connections.

The project that got me thinking about this involved setting up 5 shift registers and 40 leds.  I had to connect so much stuff and use big globs of solder to connect adjacent wires.. then check and hope that I didn't short two connections..  such a pain

thanks everyone!
Lucas
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Solder mask is a special coating applied to the board where solder shouldn't be; this can help (but not necessarily eliminate) solder bridges.
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Jon McPhalen
Hollywood, CA

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