The dilemmas of prototyping PCB's

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The dilemmas of prototyping PCB's

Postby gussy » Wed Aug 13, 2008 7:32 pm

So I have PCB design after design starting to pile up for breakout boards, dev/demo boards for things I am working on, ideas I have.

It is becoming almost frustrating to decide how to get the PCB's fab'd, do I go with X company, or Y company, or maybe Z company.

Here are the choices I have, and reasons why they do/dont suit my needs.

1. BatchPCB
- The Good
-- Can upload many designs in the one order
- The Bad
-- Usually once you add 3 or 4pcs or 2/3 different boards, then add shipping, its around $70-80...
-- Turnaround time to Australia is a month. Way too long.

2. GoldPheonix
- The Good
-- All my production PCBs go to them, so for a prototype, what you see is what you will get for the final product.
-- Usually a week turnaround for a single panel.
-- Cheap at $90 for a 2 layer, soldermark, single silkscreen panel.
- The Bad
-- Charge $30 fee for "mutiple board projects", which you have to panelize youself anyway.

3. Olimex
- The Good
-- Send a number of designs and get free panelization/depanelization
-- Reasonably fast turnaround time.
- The Bad
-- Whatever happened to $26 boards?? It is now 30euro which is $44usd. So now not so cheap. Why?
-- Guy was not that helpful, borderline rude the few times I have delt with him.

4. Futurlec
- The Good
-- Fast turnaround time, usually a week
-- Cheap if you don't want soldermark/silkscreen
-- Somtimes forget to charge you....?!?!
- The Bad
-- Only 1 board per order
-- Gets expensive for protos once you add soldermark/silkscreen, which is a must for me.

I have left our barebones/33each/advanced, they are too expensive.

None of these are ideal by any means, the best looking one at the moment is GP. I can squeeze quite a few boards into the one panel, for only $119 with the mutiple charge. So say I get 5 different boards, and 5 each, thats about $5-6 for each board.

So my question is, am I missing some ovbious alternative?
The ideal solution would be a BatchPCB style service that shipped directly from GP for speed, without the high international shipping charge....[/b]
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Postby Rochey » Thu Aug 14, 2008 6:20 am

Gussy,

I've been through the same hoops as you, tried to evaluate the different pcb houses, and GP has come out to be the best.

The service is good, sometimes a little "direct" but I'm sure Shane is busy.

I've also heard many good things about their assembly service. A friend of mine gets op-amp boards made there, they put in all the low cost SMD's on the board for him, and then he adds the expensive components himself (all through hole) back here in the US.

He was telling me that in the hundreds of boards he's had done there, they haven't misplaced a single resistor or cap. Every board tests good.

Not bad going methinks.

/R
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Postby leon_heller » Thu Aug 14, 2008 7:35 am

It all depends where you are. I use PCB Train a lot for prototypes - they have a 24 hour service (no silk or solder-mask) that only costs 30 GBP. It actually takes three days to get the board in my hands.

PCB Pool provides excellent quality and is very good for multi-layer boards.

Leon
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Postby gussy » Thu Aug 14, 2008 8:32 am

Rochey wrote:I've also heard many good things about their assembly service. A friend of mine gets op-amp boards made there, they put in all the low cost SMD's on the board for him, and then he adds the expensive components himself (all through hole) back here in the US.


I get a lot of boards assembled by them. They are only very small and with a mix of SMD and throughhole parts. I have never had a problem with them.

In fact I am in the process of placing an order at the moment, for the manufacture and assembly of about 1500 boards. The nice thing is they will do anything if you pay them, they will happily make up wire harnesses or heatskrink finished boards.

leon_heller wrote:It all depends where you are. I use PCB Train a lot for prototypes - they have a 24 hour service (no silk or solder-mask) that only costs 30 GBP. It actually takes three days to get the board in my hands.

PCB Pool provides excellent quality and is very good for multi-layer boards.

Leon


Being in Australia doesn't help at all. I guess I will just stick with GP for now.
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Postby silic0re » Thu Aug 14, 2008 10:50 am

I, too, went through the motions of comparing board houses recently. I'm a student, so cost is a major factor, but also need a "complete" PCB -- silkscreen, solder mask, etc.

My current project actually involves about 5 or 6 separate small PCB's, and I find most places charge per board (with max dimensions) instead of per sq. inch. For me, Gold Phoenix is about an order of magnitude cheaper than anywhere else, and they give many sets where others would only give one.

I used them last time, for an earlier version of this project, and the boards were great. The only thing that concerns me is that the Fedex waybill said the shipping was well over $100. I paid $150 for the boards (multiproject, double-sided silkscreen), and worked out that the boards must have only cost around $10 (total) if that was actual shipping cost. For that cheap a price, it makes me wonder -- what's the help being paid? Is the process environmentally friendly? :?
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Postby gussy » Fri Aug 15, 2008 2:26 am

silic0re wrote:I used them last time, for an earlier version of this project, and the boards were great. The only thing that concerns me is that the Fedex waybill said the shipping was well over $100. I paid $150 for the boards (multiproject, double-sided silkscreen), and worked out that the boards must have only cost around $10 (total) if that was actual shipping cost. For that cheap a price, it makes me wonder -- what's the help being paid? Is the process environmentally friendly? :?


I doubt this is the case. Even though the waybill said over $100 and thats what it would cost to send something from US to China, there economy is very different, so I suspect that they pay quite a bit less for shipping.
They would probably have a pretty good rate as well, with all the designs they ship.
Although I don't doubt that they are making these panels for much much less.

I am still a bit confused by the $30 "mutiple board" charge, what exactly is this paying for, if not for them to panelize the gerbers, what for?
Is it because you have different shaped routing to cut out the boards??

What I really need is nice way of merging gerbers that isn't GerbMerge. Surely there is a GUI app somewhere for this? maybe I will just have to make one :p
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Postby silic0re » Fri Aug 15, 2008 9:10 am

I'm not sure what the extra multiproject charge is for either, but given that it's still so cheap, I'm happy to pay it. :)

I, too, would be interested in finding a free and easy to use gerber merger. I'll have to do some serious panelization before this next order goes in...
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Postby gussy » Mon Aug 18, 2008 7:30 am

I thought I would post this in here, since it is related.

I may have bitten his head off a bit, but I get REALLY sick and tired of these 2 bit PCB houses (which he isn't even one of), offering to give me a "very much good deal". When it is so bleeding obvious that they have no idea what you are eve asking for or after, int this case prototypes.
In this case I don't think this guy even read my first post.

Gussy wrote:Hi Eric,

While your price per sq-cm ($0.08) for a 2 sided board is very good, insane in fact, you are way more expensive than all the other options I pointed out in my post.

If you understood the post I was comparing board houses for doing small runs of multiple designs.

Like the example I used, $130 for (multiboard) 1000(sq cm) at GoldPheonix, I can get say 5pcs of 5 different boards. That works out to 40 sq cm per board.

Now to get the same done through your service, it would be a cost of
5 x $60 Setup Fee = $300
5 (designs) x 5 (pcs) x 40 (sqcm) x $0.08 Area fee = $80
Total: $380
Only three times as much, and that's not including shipping, which is free from GP!!

Now you can see why I would never use your service at these rates. Also with the 4 options I listed in the post, that was dealing direct with the board house, dealing with yourself would be just another "middle-man" which not only means more $$$ but extra leadtime.

Now. For some constructive advice, I suggest that you re-evaluate your setup fee and board fee. Your setup fee is way too high, and you board fee is too low. Sure the size might cost nothing, but offsetting this with a huge setup fee is crazy.
I often get boards made that are around 5-10sq cm, now paying $0.80 for a board, and $60 for a setup fee is not what a customer wants.

My suggestion? Up the board price to something reasonable, $0.5 or $1, and reduce the setup fee to something like $10 per design, or $40 for the first design and $5 for any design after that.
Offering free penalization of gerbers would also be a good idea.

Hey, if you really want our business, make us forum members some of our boards, for free. Then once we have tested the service/quality pro-bono (free), we may be interested in future dealings.

Regards,
Angus

seratechi wrote:Hi, Gussy:

I read your articles about PCB, it really give me some ideas about the market situation. We are offering PCB(A) services by cooperating with a inward PCB factory in Shenzhen.

Please check the following link for more info:
http://www.seeedstudio.com/depot/pcba-service-c-12.html

Your comment is highly appreciated!

Eric from Seeedstudio


The sad thing his price actually beats GP for the 1000 boards I have to order off them this week. Something like $650 vs. $1100.
I think I need to have a word to Shane about getting some decent "volume" pricing.
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TO:Gussy

Postby StandardPCB » Wed Aug 20, 2008 9:24 pm

Hi,Gussy,

I have to say that you are a really excellent negotiation expert of price..but I'm confused that how GP can provide better offer than below.

5 x $60 Setup Fee = $300
5 (designs) x 5 (pcs) x 40 (sqcm) x $0.08 Area fee = $80
Total: $380

To be honest, even in China, PCB house can not deal with this price for production cost.

Ripple Miao
Standard Printed Circuit Board Ltd.
(ISO9001 & ISO/TS 16949 & ISO14001 & UL)
Provide 2-24 layer PCBs with High-Mix order with middle or small volume
www.standardpcb.com
E-mail: ripple@standardpcb.com
MSN:bobmiao2002@hotmail.com
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Re: TO:Gussy

Postby gussy » Wed Aug 20, 2008 11:17 pm

StandardPCB wrote:Hi,Gussy,

I have to say that you are a really excellent negotiation expert of price..but I'm confused that how GP can provide better offer than below.

5 x $60 Setup Fee = $300
5 (designs) x 5 (pcs) x 40 (sqcm) x $0.08 Area fee = $80
Total: $380

To be honest, even in China, PCB house can not deal with this price for production cost.

Ripple Miao


Easy.

For $99 you can get a 1000sq cm panel, then add $30 for "multi board" which lets you have mutiple designs. (Shipping included)

Now on this 1000sq cm, 25 40sq cm boards can be made. 5 pcs of 5 different designs = 25 boards.

Is there something here I am missing?
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Postby gussy » Thu Aug 21, 2008 10:43 am

Well apparently it pays to ask :D

Just FYI, I asked Shane at GP about a better price on 9x 155"sq panels, normal cost is $119 (red soldermask addon), total of $1017. Shane gave me a price that is around 60% off.

It really is the setup costs that you pay for.

Edit:
Actually, looking further into the price I recently received from GP, it varies a lot, which much have something to do with drill holes I think.
I don't want to post the prices I got here, but if you are thinking of volume with GP, defiantly send them an email!! My latest production run's PCB/Assembly is going to cost around a third of what I anticipated!!
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Postby bretth » Tue Aug 26, 2008 4:31 pm

FYI, with GP I've noticed some "creativity" with the invoice and waybill... usually the boards have a value in the $1-10 range which might help with customs/duties.

I've been really happy with the quality and turnaround times from GP. They don't send out unsolicited progress updates (I'm impatient ;-)), but the boards always arrive on time or early.
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Postby Narkaleptic » Thu Aug 28, 2008 6:43 am

Does anybody have any opinions on this one-board, one-design service for prototyping?

http://www.seeedstudio.com/depot/one-pi ... -p-64.html

I have yet to move beyond breadboarding and order my first board but it seems to be the cheapest option anywhere for a small single board to play with.

BTW, Shipping to Maine, USA in 6-7 Days is $4.58.
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Postby seratechi » Thu Sep 11, 2008 10:16 pm

Narkaleptic wrote:Does anybody have any opinions on this one-board, one-design service for prototyping?

http://www.seeedstudio.com/depot/one-pi ... -p-64.html

I have yet to move beyond breadboarding and order my first board but it seems to be the cheapest option anywhere for a small single board to play with.

BTW, Shipping to Maine, USA in 6-7 Days is $4.58.


You may want to produce open source work here: http://www.seeedstudio.com/blog/?p=22
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Re: The dilemmas of prototyping PCB's

Postby rpcelectronics » Mon Sep 15, 2008 7:19 pm

Nice comparison! I have to say that I am tickled with GoldPhoenix and their service. Anyone that has dealt with them has probaly found them fairly easy to work with and the pricing is really right.

I've used BatchPCB in the past for a few small designs. They worked well, but the timeframe is a real turnoff. When I first started using them, a board or two wasn't bad. Now, with the extra fees, the price for a few average size boards are damn close to the GP $90 batch price and GP includes shipping in that price.

Solution? Well, for me, I just use GP's $90 batch program for prototyping. When it came down to it, the almost even price makes it a no brainer and if I just happen to get the design right on the first shot, I got a whole batch of good, sellable, boards.

gussy wrote:3. Olimex
-- Guy was not that helpful, borderline rude the few times I have delt with him.


Not to get off on a tangent, but the Olimex guys are jerks. I have an older Olimex serial PIC programmer that I bought from SP several years ago. I tried to do an upgrade using the Olimex instructions and their custom upgrade utility. The upgrade failed. The way their upgrade utility works, it tries once and after that it will not work again, regardless of if it succeeded or not. I emailed them for help and asked if I could have the .hex file to burn the upgrade PIC. Instead of an explanation or even an offer to burn the PIC for me (which I would have been just fine with), they automatically accused me of wanting to "steal" their work and were extremely rude.

I spoke with Nathan of SP about the issue and I even forwarded the email exchange with Olimex to him. I never heard anything back. Also, I never was able to get the upgrade done.

Off my soapbox :D
Jason Rausch - Amateur Radio Callsign: KE4NYV
RPC Electronics, LLC
www.rpc-electronics.com
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