23 Replies Latest reply on Apr 4, 2014 2:06 PM by rea5245

    Lists of PCB services by country?

    morgaine

      Has anyone come across anything like a table of PCB services available in different countries, preferably listing also their main features and typical costs as an initial basis for comparison?  As the OSHW movement gains popularity, I think such services are going to become ever more important, and maybe even directly take their input from Kickstarter projects.

       

      It would be useful information to maintain collaboratively on a community wiki, but there's nothing like that on eLinux.org yet AFAICT.

       

      Morgaine.

        • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
          shabaz

          Hi Morgaine,

           

          I've not seen this but it's a very good idea. As you say, it probably would need some wiki. There are a lot of variables but maybe such a table could have (say) three or four board profiles, e.g. 5x5cm, 10x5cm, etc., to allow prices to be compared to an extent. Also, amongst the list of features, it would also be good for placeholders for approximate delivery costs to a few destinations as a guideline.

            • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
              morgaine

              shabaz wrote:

               

              Also, amongst the list of features, it would also be good for placeholders for approximate delivery costs to a few destinations as a guideline.

               

              I was sort of hoping that most countries with an electronics industry would have at least one, hence local delivery.

               

              I expect that was naively over-optimistic.

               

              Morgaine.

                • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?

                  Morgaine Dinova wrote:

                  I was sort of hoping that most countries with an electronics industry would have at least one, hence local delivery.

                  They probably do have many local PCB vendors, depends whether they have one that want to deal with the sort of low volume multiple different designs per panel that we're likely to be talking about for prototype OSHW.

                  I'd looked and found a few in the UK, but prices just didn't compare to the likes of Seeed in china. So that's where you want to know what delivery times are like.

                    • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                      morgaine

                      selsinork wrote:

                       

                      I'd looked and found a few in the UK, but prices just didn't compare to the likes of Seeed in china.

                       

                      I understand why it's always going to be cheaper to source parts in China, but why PCB manufacture should be cheaper there doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.  It's unlikely to be a labour cost issue, since the manufacture is almost entirely automated, and robots don't have higher wages here than there.

                       

                      It's puzzling.  Could the reason we're not in the game here be taxation?

                       

                      Morgaine.

                        • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?

                          Or something to do with environmental regulations ?  The chemicals involved typically aren't very nice.

                          • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                            vsluiter

                            It IS (partly) labour. The designs are made on a panel, and Itead / Seed just give their designs to other board houses that use these hobbyist designs to fill up board space otherwise unused. That's why ordering the same PCB twice at the same place might give different results; your PCB just got made in another factory or a different process. Anyways: putting those spare PCB's in an existing panel is manual labour.

                            The other factor is consistency and accuracy. If I place an order at Wuerth, I'm very sure what they are going to do to my data, and how precise their processes are.

                            When I order at iTead I have to hope for the best, and most times I'm lucky. But taking a good look at the DFN / 0402 shapes show that no rectangle is equal in size. That's OK-ish for hand soldering, but not for an automated flow.

                              • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                                morgaine

                                Victor Sluiter wrote:

                                 

                                But taking a good look at the DFN / 0402 shapes show that no rectangle is equal in size.

                                Oh dear.

                                 

                                Perhaps the growth of 3D-printing / home-CNC / PnP-machine capability will make more PCB enthusiasts mill their own 2-sided PCBs instead of typically buying more boards than they need and paying for international delivery.

                                 

                                Morgaine.

                                  • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                                    vsluiter

                                    I'd rather pay $12 + $25 for fast shipment than a few hundred dollars for a PCB mill that will have a very hard time making pads of 0.3x0.8mm....

                                    Maybe the future will give more of the possibilities you mention, but for now it is far easier to order. And who says 2-layer? I order 4-layer in 0.8mm thickness regularly.

                                      • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                                        morgaine

                                        Well the maths is clear --- for someone who makes project boards for themselves regularly, a PCB mill could pay for itself very rapidly indeed.  If that PCB mill also happens to be a 3D printer and a general purpose lightweight CNC all at the same time, it'll pay for itself almost instantly since you'd just be using an existing domestic facility.

                                         

                                        I agree that we're not there yet, but things seem to be moving strongly and rapidly in that direction, including attaining the required level of precision.  Multilayer ... now there's a quandary.

                                         

                                        Do some Jedi-level OSHW enthusiasts laminate up multiple 1 or 2-sided boards?

                                         

                                        Morgaine.

                                          • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?

                                            Morgaine Dinova wrote:

                                            Do some Jedi-level OSHW enthusiasts laminate up multiple 1 or 2-sided boards?

                                            It's possible: http://megauk.com/multilayer_press.php  not sure my pockets are deep enough to justify it though.

                                             

                                            For home production, even if you do have that miracle machine to mill them, you also have to consider through hole plating which is another part that's not cheap and requires interesting chemicals.

                                              • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                                                morgaine

                                                Topologically speaking, can every circuit be routed on 2 layers, given enough real estate?

                                                 

                                                I'm pretty certain that this is something that I should know, but alas I don't --- perhaps I was asleep that day.  Of course at high speed where track length and impedance mismatch and clock skew are important, using extra real estate to get a complex circuit onto 2 layers may be total anathema.

                                                 

                                                Nevertheless, in the OSHW world where board area and circuit density are rarely driving factors, it's worth considering the KISS principle, of which sticking to 2 layers is a part.  Multilayer boards are of course efficient in many ways and definitely "cool", but "cool" is not an engineering figure of merit.  Multilayer doesn't aid HW debugging either.

                                                 

                                                Morgaine.

                                                 

                                                PS. I notice that Olimex try to get their OSHW boards onto 2 layers whenever possible.

                                                  • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?

                                                    Morgaine Dinova wrote:

                                                     

                                                    Topologically speaking, can every circuit be routed on 2 layers, given enough real estate?

                                                    Maybe, but it can start to get complex quite quickly.

                                                     

                                                    High pin count devices or BGA's may make it practically impossible to escape all the necessary signals in the available space. Not necessarily topologically impossible, but eventually you can only etch tracks down so far before you hit the limits of your physical process

                                                     

                                                    In a lot of cases, a four layer board will have the inner two layers essentailly being power and ground, leaving only two layers for signals anyway.

                                                     

                                                    There are gerbers available for the minnowboard, it's an 8 layer board and is interesting to look at to see how some of the problems have been solved. There's effectively four power/ground type layers, the inner two of which are split in different ways, likely as a means to route various voltages to different areas, with two ground planes on layers 2 & 7.

                                                    • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                                                      vsluiter

                                                      Topologically speaking, can every circuit be routed on 2 layers, given enough real estate?

                                                      Interesting question.

                                                      'every': no.

                                                      'most': yes.

                                                      For performance analog circuits, a solid ground plane is a must. For most hardware that needs EMC certification, having a GND plane is a large benefit, as you can route decoupling caps easier and with lower induction, which is good for HF behaviour.

                                                        • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?

                                                          Victor Sluiter wrote:

                                                          Interesting question.

                                                          'every': no.

                                                          'most': yes.

                                                          I think that just taking 'topologically' and the implied 'as much space as you need' the answer is probably Yes.  Morgaine made the mistake of not also asking for the result to actually work

                                                          I'm definately in agreement that doing layouts that either work or meet the relevant regulations is going to be impossible on two layers in various circumstances

                                                            • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                                                              morgaine

                                                              selsinork wrote:

                                                               

                                                              Victor Sluiter wrote:

                                                              Interesting question.

                                                              'every': no.

                                                              'most': yes.

                                                              I think that just taking 'topologically' and the implied 'as much space as you need' the answer is probably Yes.  Morgaine made the mistake of not also asking for the result to actually work

                                                               

                                                              I see the smilie and appreciate the laughter.   In righteous self-defence though, my subsequent sentence nailed the question to engineering constraints:

                                                               

                                                              Morgaine wrote:

                                                               

                                                              Of course at high speed where track length and impedance mismatch and clock skew are important, using extra real estate to get a complex circuit onto 2 layers may be total anathema.

                                                               

                                                              And of course there are many many more constraints than just those few and the ones mentioned by yourself and Victor.  One could write a whole book on the topic, and I'm sure that many exist.  Indeed, some areas like microwave circuit design are literally inseparable from layout design, because tracks are components in microwave circuitry and not just connections.

                                                               

                                                              But yeah, a board actually working would be pretty useful too.

                                                               

                                                              Morgaine.

                                                                • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                                                                  vsluiter

                                                                  Well, I think the subject is settled, but I'd like to have a final word...

                                                                  You talked about clock skew etcetera, which is a digital domain problem. The problem goes far beyond that sector, simple analog circuits sampling at 500Hz can have problems from one badly decoupled cap. I tell out of experience (decoupling cap GND for LTC1408 ADC)... It's just what the performance criteria are!

                                                                  And your beloved subject FCC regulation might be very troublesome even for a completely analog solution. If you have a switch mode regulator and do your layout badly you'll get some really difficult time at the EMC certifying lab...

                                                                  High slew rates also happen in circuits whose main operating purpose has nothing to do with high frequency processing (DC/DC converters, motor control, even operating a solenoid).

                                                          • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                                                            morgaine

                                                            selsinork wrote (on laminating PCBs):

                                                             

                                                            It's possible: http://megauk.com/multilayer_press.php  not sure my pockets are deep enough to justify it though.

                                                             

                                                            For home production, even if you do have that miracle machine to mill them, you also have to consider through hole plating which is another part that's not cheap and requires interesting chemicals.

                                                             

                                                            I wonder sometimes whether the future of OSHW isn't at the thin film level or below, because multilayer boards really aren't all that nice to us --- even dead-bug linking of packages (or of dies?) might be better.

                                                             

                                                            I know there is a future at the nanoscale level since hardware reverts to being more or less software at that point, but we're not there yet.  Perhaps we should accelerate the process.  There would be research involved, but it's not hugely different to the R&D that RepRappers do already, just lower level and needing some more physics.  It's not really a problem, in the sense that it's not magic nor needs CERN-type funding, and with an explorer's mindset would be fun.

                                                             

                                                            Morgaine.

                                                             

                                                            PS. You may also have noticed the recent advances in thin-film flexible circuitry, published in the last week or two.  The realm of possibilities is really widening a lot, and among those many possibilities there is probably a sweet spot for OSHW.

                                                              • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                                                                michaelkellett

                                                                The problem with home brew pcb technology (especially milled but also etched) is the precision required - low cost prototoype services offer between 0.15 and 0.3 mm track and gap design rules. To use 0.5mm bga packages you need to operate with 0.1 or 0.075 mm design rules.

                                                                You can't mechanically mill gaps that small with any reasonable machine and you can't get to the required 1/4 design rule precision with low cost machines. So this means that you can't even deal with 0.5mm pitch TQFP packages which are easily hand solderable.

                                                                 

                                                                Since all the chips you can buy (well nearly all) expect to be soldered on to a pcb thee OSHW is pretty much bound to be pcb based unless thta changes.

                                                                 

                                                                Additive processes for PCBs are in their infancy (to put it mildly) and still have the precision problem to overcome.

                                                                 

                                                                One can just about imagine  a printer type approach but you will need to develop solderable inks (or  a solder substitute glue and process) and a layer interconnect technology. Sounds more like CERN than RepRap level funding to me

                                                                 

                                                                My work is commercial but I don't find the cost of pcbs (and I buy all my prototypes in the UK) to be an issue - although it is often comparable with, or more than, the cost of all the electronic components on a board - so I don't see a huge commercial demand for other prototype processes.

                                                                 

                                                                I can see it's an issue for home brew stuff.

                                                                 

                                                                MK

                                                                  • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                                                                    John Beetem

                                                                    Michael Kellett wrote:

                                                                     

                                                                    Additive processes for PCBs are in their infancy (to put it mildly) and still have the precision problem to overcome.

                                                                    Around 1990 I saw an Ariel Electronics (California) Circuit Writer in operation.  The Circuit Writer extruded conductive plastic wires onto a substrate, and could cross wires on the same layer.  I don't think the technology got anywhere, but maybe it was just ahead of its time and with newer 3D extrusions this could be done practically.  The patents have probably all expired by now.

                                                                      • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?

                                                                        Having spent many years in the board assembly industry, I've seen a couple of additive methods used practically. Normally only as some sort of rework to a normal pcb though.  The most common one deposited some sort of rough looking substance onto the pcb then drew lines on top of that in what would be best described as conductive paint.  I never did find out exactly how it was done, and as Michael points out the precision was a problem.

                                                                         

                                                                        Part of the problem with doing things this way is that while we're still soldering components to the board, whatever the result is it needs to be able to survive a reflow oven and/or a solder wave. Or a hobbiest with a gas torch instead of a soldering iron

                                                • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                                                  vsluiter

                                                  Good idea.  The amount of variables is huge...

                                                  In the US, OSHpark is very popular, but he's quite slow when you're in Europe, as shipping first goes to the US, and then to Europe.

                                                  There have been other discussions going on here on element14 about cheap PCB vendors, would be nice to update that

                                                  • Re: Lists of PCB services by country?
                                                    rea5245

                                                    I've just created a website for comparing PCB manufacturers. It's PCBShopper.com. You enter your board's size, layers, preferred solder mask color, and quantity and it shows you the prices from several differe3nt manufacturers (in US dollars, including shipping to the US).

                                                     

                                                    I realize it's not everything you asked for, but it's a start.