Have you ever ordered printed circuit boards ?

I’m considering to order a PCB because:

-Would like to assembly a circuit, but make it reliable and see a finished quality object I have designed
-More and more chips are only available for surface mount
-I would like to learn how to do it, it’s a challenge

Any idea about where to order them ? Will they be too difficult to design ? And to assembly the surface mount chips ?

All your comments will be welcomed, thanks a lot for your help.

There are no end of threads about cheap PCB fab houses, have a bit of a search.

It's not rocket science to design a PCB but takes a while to learn the tricks of the trade.

I've just started doing SMD assembly, it's easier than PTH. I use a hot air station but many (most?) people just use a soldering iron and solder wick or a toaster oven or even a fry pan.


Rob

Start by downloading the free version of Eagle from CadSoft: http://www.cadsoftusa.com/ - there are lots of tutorial pages out there if you google around. It'll take a while to get the hang of it but its powerful enough for most purposes. Its free for non-commercial use limited to small 2-sided board (100x80mm I think).

What about this place ? http://www.expresspcb.com/

expressPCB has good software but it's locked down to only save in a format understandable by expressPCB. You can't take your design to a fab house you like unless you can save in Gerber file formats, which expressPCB can't (simply won't). EAGLE can do it and there are many that use EAGLE on this forum that can help you. Lots of tutorials on sparkfun.com or just youtube search.

I see. Seems clear that the way to go is learn EAGLE, at least to begin. But once the design is finished, where would you send the file to manufacture a prototype ? Any advice ? Thanks !

Lots of places to go with. I suggest you go with batchpcb.com first. sparkfun.com owns that operation. They have tutorials on sparkfun so got to give them some credits ($$) for their work. It's not the cheapest but has worked fine for me so far. Another place is dorkbotpdx. It's cheaper per board but you order copy of 3 so unless you need more than 1.

I went with Eagle, the http://www.sparkfun.com/tutorials/109 tutorial, and http://dorkbotpdx.org/wiki/pcb_order for my very first custom PCB. The whole process went pretty well I thought. My results here... http://thedeltaecho.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/2zjduino-v0-1-shield-finished-product/

[Edit: Also, see this tutorial... http://aaroneiche.com/2010/06/24/a-beginners-guide-to-making-an-arduino-shield-pcb/ ]

I've used Dorkbot. They made nice boards, and it's hard to beat the price of this sort of service if you're making small boards. For larger boards, the prices quickly approach those charged by "individual service" companies. For example, Olimex will sell you 24 square inches of board (just one) for about $50, which you can't match from Dorkbot or BatchPCB.

Itead and Seeed seem to have really good deals, especially for open-source boards (they get to sell them if they want.) People have been pretty happy with them. Ditto Olimex (especially for eastern Europe.) Each vendor has some things to watch out for; do some googling before you ship off your design.

$28 for ten pieces 10 cm x 10 cm

http://iteadstudio.com/store/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=19_20

took 12 days from order submission to my mail box

I use PCBcart and am very happy with them. Last time they even spotted a bug and fixed it for me so I didn't have to resubmit files.


Rob

frank26080115: $28 for ten pieces 10 cm x 10 cm http://iteadstudio.com/store/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=19_20 took 12 days from order submission to my mail box

Hi Frank, What format of design files did they require? Do they have specific ground rules to comply with?? What design software did you use??

Thanks!

frank26080115: $28 for ten pieces 10 cm x 10 cm

http://iteadstudio.com/store/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=19_20

took 12 days from order submission to my mail box

Really? Have you ordered more than once? My order from a similar service took twice as long and this time longer (still waiting :0)

Futurlec.com will also accept expresspcb files for boards, along with others.

See Step 5 here:

http://www.futurlec.com/PCBService.shtml

expresspcb is quick, submit your file over internet and receive three 3.8" x 2.5" CCAs back in about days, $51 plus shipping ($9 to Boston area). Good quality boards too. Here are some I had made, made the design on 1/2, copied it over, then hacksawed down the middle to separate prior to assembly. I have assembled 12 pairs if lights so far.

No matter who you go with, check the whole sizes selected for things like connectors.

liudr:

frank26080115: $28 for ten pieces 10 cm x 10 cm

http://iteadstudio.com/store/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=19_20

took 12 days from order submission to my mail box

Really? Have you ordered more than once? My order from a similar service took twice as long and this time longer (still waiting :0)

Many times, usually it takes 5 days for the PCBs to actually be made, the rest is shipping.

Futurlec.com will also accept expresspcb files for boards, along with others

That's interesting. I've used Futurelec before and was very happy with them, but they needed Gerbers at that time.

I see they still only do 10/10 track geometries though, too course for me these days which is why I moved to another mob.


Rob

Something you could do to familiarize yourself with SMD is disassembling and re-assembling a load of old worthless boards. Disassembling with a solder iron is probably most difficult (though not impossible), using an oven it often is a lot easier.

Components are usually soldered in one of two ways in a factory, a reflow oven using hot air or a solder wave where the board travels upside down over... a liquid solder wave.

Travelling upside down components in the last technique are often glued to the surface before they get soldered. You've got to hit them once all the solder is liquid.

I evaluated Eagle and ExpressPCB. I'm going with Eagle. The 2 big reasons are 1) All of the stuff at Sparkfun (Including the component library you can DL from them) are on Eagle. You wanna base a design on a Sparkfun one? You're all set. 2) Eagle supports the Gerber format, which is an industry standard. So, you're covered.

I have only recently gotten back into hardware after doing 10 years as an online game programmer. Back in the day, I used Orcad Capture and PCB. Good stuff! (They want 10K for it now. Pass.)

Back then, it cost huge money to get a prototype run of boards through a fab... Weeks of turn around and thousands of dollars. Now, my god... a lot of places (Just google) will turn high quality boards around in days for only a tad over a hundred bucks.

I used to have to program my Motorola Micro Controllers by erasing them under a UV light, then programming them in 2 steps using yet another UV erasable EPROM as a go between. It took like... 20 minutes just to erase the things. Since they cost 50 bucks each (just the chip) You only had a few, so debugging took all day. And of course... you had to program them entirely in machine code. You could GET high level development systems... but you have to have a direct account with Fort Knox to afford them.

Gezus. The '90s were the freakin' Dark Ages compared to now. I love Open Source.

EAGLE has become a sort of defacto standard for the open source hardware and hobbyist community. Somewhat accidentally, perhaps. Aside from being a reasonable CAD package, and aside from having flexible licensing and "free" versions and even a vaguely reasonably-priced full version, EAGLE has amassed a huge amount of community support. (making it sort-of like Arduino itself.)

Other possibilities include KiCAD and (gnu) GEDA, which are open source software. They're coming along, I think...

Ah those were the days, with rows of EPROMs under the UV light, until I got sick of it and built an EPROM emulator.

Not much to do about the CPUs with EPROMs though, I still remember plugging one of those $50 6805s(?) into a new PCB and watching it go poof. I could only afford to get two so you can bet it was a while before I plugged the second one in.

I too was away from embedded stuff for a decade or more and was totally blown away by the price and availability of test gear and the features of the chips when I returned.


Rob