Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

How Printed Circuit Boards Are Made

Unknown Lamer posted more than 3 years ago | from the can-i-have-an-electroplating-machine-for-xmas dept.

Hardware Hacking 88

An anonymous reader writes "Ever wanted to see how printed circuit boards are made en masse at a professional production house? Well, here you go. The folks over at Base2 Electronics recently got to tour Advanced Circuits, a PCB production house. They took some rather incredible pictures and explained the process along the way."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

How It's Made (1)

BigSes (1623417) | more than 3 years ago | (#36604742)

I believe they had an episode containing this a few years back, still entertaining though.

Re:How It's Made (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36604802)

Slashdot says "damn this is a slow news day. hmm. well, we can run another Slashvertisement book review. no, I think the pleebs I mean our esteemed users are getting tired of those. every time we try one lately 75% of all posts are complaints about the shit quality of the review. it's almost as if they are not the dumb consumer idiot sheeple we keep treating them like. damn. fuckers. so no, scratch that idea. hmm ... hmm ... think. think. think. ... I got it. let's have a story about how circuit boards are manufactured! sure this crowd either already knows the subject, or would have looked it up via Wikipedia if they were curious, or would Google it on their own (though 90% of all Ask Slashdot questions boil down to "i am lazy please google it for me"). but it will be better received than another book review. so yeah it's settled."

jungle bunnies.

Re:How It's Made (2)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36604892)

let's have a story about how circuit boards are manufactured! sure this crowd either already knows the subject

PCB manufacturing was "news" in the 40s for proximity artillery shells.

I made my own PCBs by hand in the 80s, I made a nice capacitance meter that essentially used an 80s 8-bit micro as a very complicated stopwatch to determine the RC time constant, then it ran the calculations to convert the measured time into uF or pF as appropriate. It actually worked.

The modern-ish way to build non-PCB stuff at home now seems to be Manhattan-style construction, cutting little squares of PCB and soldering them into a substrate as terminal blocks. The modern way to make PCBs at home now a days seems to be download a windows only wanna-be cad program, upload the PCB to somewhere in China, magically a PCB arrives in the mail in a couple days.

Re:How It's Made (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36605034)

In electronics class in high school (13 years ago, so there was still such a thing), we had a PCB maker.

The teacher had found a kit in a mail-order catalog to convert a plastic file box into an acid bath. We drew our circuits, printed them on a laser printer (very expensive at the time), ironed(!) the toner on to the copper surface of the board (which required copper-coated boards, so... not cheap), then let them sit in the acid bath overnight (actually only about 3 hours, but the class was only 90 minutes every other day).

The file box/PCB maker had a pump, reservoir, and stand that kept the board partially submerged during the bath, with acid flowing over it. The timer would kick off and the pump would reverse the acid into the reservoir and turn on a fan to air dry the board. Everything with exposed copper would have the copper eaten away. The laser printer's toner (ironed on, remember?) would prevent the copper underneath from being dissolved.

Once you removed the board from the bath, you had to scrub the toner off of the remaining traces with a toothbrush (gently, so as not to damage the traces), and drill your pad holes (no surface mount in those days). Voila! Instant (+/- 1 day) custom PCB.

You kids with your cheap Chinese labor... GET OFF MY LAWN!

Re:How It's Made (2)

QuasiSteve (2042606) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605320)

We used the UV-sensitive boards. Print the design onto an overhead sheet, put on board, expose board, etch, rinse, remove the photosensitive layer that's still on the tracers with some acetone, rinse again, done. Works much better than toner transfer; but also more expensive. Even did some 2-sided boards that way.

Then again, rarely do people etch their own boards these days. Either use one of the island pads/strips boards that are cheap and do some wiring for cross-traces, or have the board fabbed. By the dorkbotpdx guy - Laen, perhaps.. bit more expensive than the far east options, but quality is great, shipping is faster, boards are U.S.-made (for those who care), and hey.. the mask is purple.

Re:How It's Made (1)

djcatnip (551428) | more than 3 years ago | (#36606154)

You kids with your cheap Chinese labor... GET OFF MY LAWN!

I thought that was the case with advanced circuits before I started working with them, but... nope. All work done in the USA. I know you're generally stating a good point about the world, but... I thought it would be good to point this out. There are some PCB houses out there that do in fact have the work done in China, but not Advanced Circuits. I was really impressed with how cheap 60 square inches of PCB was. And one more point of clarification... if you're designing boards with a package like Eagle CAD or whatever (basically anything that isn't the software they give you for free to design boards) you can get some basic outline routing done without running outside their inexpensive $33 each product. It's pretty awesome. I don't do a lot of boards, and i have no formal training, but I have run half a dozen orders through them and have been really happy with the quality every time. Even moreso now that I can get my boards routed to the outline I need to fit my project cases.

Re:How It's Made (1)

DragonHawk (21256) | more than 3 years ago | (#36607676)

"The teacher had found a kit in a mail-order catalog to convert a plastic file box into an acid bath."

We had one of those, too.

Just about everything anyone made with it let the magic smoke out immediately, though. Made for some pretty neat noise and lights for a few seconds sometimes.

I dunno if that was us or the PCB maker or the teacher. Hell, could have been all three.

Re:How It's Made (2)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36609162)

In electronics class in high school (13 years ago, so there was still such a thing), ..... (no surface mount in those days).

I think it depends who you hang with and what you do. In the microwave RF world, surface mount was already old, 13 years ago. I was building ham radio microwave transverters using SMD, oh probably 15 or 20 years ago. For a variety of reasons such as ground-lead inductance and impedance mismatches, I don't think anyone's ever used MMIC-technology ICs in old fashioned thru-hole construction, and those started coming out in the late 70s or maybe early 80s, so its gotta be older than that.

Surface mount is much easier than thru-hole, if you own the right gear (Hakko Inc and their competitors)

Re:How It's Made (2)

Alioth (221270) | more than 3 years ago | (#36608350)

No, the modern way to build PCBs at home is to home etch. The modern way to build PCBs not at home is to send CAD files to China.

Occasionally I make 2-layer boards at home. The usual technique is to use laser printer toner transfer (use a CAD program, not a "Windows only wannabe CAD program", but gEDA (GPL EDA) which was designed for Unix, and is a set of tools such as gschem (schematic capture) gnetlist, PCB, etc. Shiny inkjet paper is used to print the PCB layout and then a clothes iron (or a laminator) is used to transfer the toner onto the bare copper clad board, it's then etched in your favorite etchant (I use ferric), tinned and drilled. You can also get fancy laser printer toner "paper" (I've never used it) which is a bit easier to use for toner transfer, but it's expensive.

Some people have modified inkjet printers to directly print etch resist onto copper board. I don't make enough boards at home to justify doing that. There are also reasonably low cost CNC machines for milling PCBs if you're making them regularly. Some brave souls have made 4 layer boards at home, but that's just too much effort, I'd rather just pay the likes of Advanced Circuits or PCB-CART for something like that...

When I send PCBs away to be made in a factory I use the same toolchain since gEDA PCB emits an industry standard Gerber file.

Re:How It's Made (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36604988)

You used the word "sheeple." Your rant has instantaneously become invalid, and you are now officially the stupidest person in the thread.

Re:How It's Made (1, Insightful)

teslafreak (684543) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605240)

I couldn't agree more. "Sheeple" is one of the quickest ways to make sure no one takes you seriously.

Re:How It's Made (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36605638)

I couldn't agree more. "Sheeple" is one of the quickest ways to make sure no one takes you seriously.

Eh what? He was railing against those who think others are "sheeple" and treat them accordingly. This totally invalidates your complaint. What part of that is hard to understand? Why do people fail such basic reading comprehension tasks on a daily basis on this site? How did you manage to create an account and make posts if you lack such basic skills? I am forced to conclude you are lazy and just wanted a reason to bitch about something. If you have an alternate theory let me know.

Re:How It's Made (1)

justsayin (2246634) | more than 3 years ago | (#36609498)

Right, it's spelled Sheople.

Re:How It's Made (1)

xclr8r (658786) | more than 3 years ago | (#36612006)

This reminds me of those sections of Mr Roger's Neighborhood where they would expose on something that you took for granted and show you how it was manufactured.

Only 5 Ingredients Required! Why Pay More? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36604816)

Laser Jet + Glossy Paper + Clothing Iron + Ferric Chloride + Copper Clad Board = PCB

Re:Only 5 Ingredients Required! Why Pay More? (1)

f8l_0e (775982) | more than 3 years ago | (#36604842)

That's fine and dandy for simple boards, but you won't be building a 7+ layer motherboard with that setup.

Re:Only 5 Ingredients Required! Why Pay More? (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 3 years ago | (#36604874)

I have never had any decent results with toner transfer, but that is my problem ... but you will not be making too small of traces and anything over 2 layers is going to be durn near impossible (unless you make a bunch of boards and glue them together) + solder mask + silk screen + cutting + drilling + though hole plating

your not going to be doing any serious production that way

Re:Only 5 Ingredients Required! Why Pay More? (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605166)

We used a resist pen when i was in school. But we never got to make anything even slightly complicated.

I make my boards nowadays with a sheet of copperclad board and a dremel. After planning things out on paper, I free draw with a pen where I don't want there to be copper, and then use a small hand dremel with a small metal cutting wheel to remove the marked copper.

Perhaps a little barbaric for some people, and I probably really should be wearing at least a basic paper respirator when I do it (but I don't) but it gets the job done and for very small boards like terminating boards with a few discrete parts on them near a connector, it's perfect and even looks good. Beats dead bug any day. Nice and solid construction. When you have to run a long thick coax to an antenna connector, (two physically large parts) and attach a few bits (such as a pin diode, choke, and resistor) in among them where they meet, it makes a good strong physical arrangement. Cables and antennas getting torqued and twisted after installation can't be allowed to tear things up.

And it's a lot faster than etching, I tried that at home a few times and it never went well and took hours. I seemed to have issued with the timing, one time I wouldn't get all the uncovered copper removed, leaving copper speckles all over the place, and the other half the time my traces would be eaten into. My new dremel method takes minutes and doesn't require nasty chemicals, rubber gloves, or fume hoods.

Re:Only 5 Ingredients Required! Why Pay More? (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 3 years ago | (#36606518)

speckles = dirt
eaten = too much time

if it takes hours your doing it wrong, I reused the same ferric chloride for the last 4 pcb's I made and even in its weakened state and mostly saturated with copper it only took 20 min

and people mill pcb's all the time =)

Re:Only 5 Ingredients Required! Why Pay More? (1)

FlyingGuy (989135) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605640)

The only part that is really difficult for home / hobbyists is the through plating.

Re:Only 5 Ingredients Required! Why Pay More? (1)

CyberDragon777 (1573387) | more than 3 years ago | (#36609310)

Plating? Bah! Luxury!

A piece of wire soldered to both sides!

Re:Only 5 Ingredients Required! Why Pay More? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36604900)

Sure, as long as you just want to flash a LED... Idiot.

Re:Only 5 Ingredients Required! Why Pay More? (1)

GeekLove (1604967) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605146)

At risk of feeding the troll, I do a helluva lot more that "flash an LED" with my home etched boards. For example, I use a wireless XBee radio to read my power meter and chart my daily usage. Many of the folks at http://www.doityourselfchristmas.com/ [doityourse...istmas.com] do some amazing things with their home etched boards, more that just flashy-blinky lights. So, AC, maybe instead of trolling /. you should go read a book or two, lest you end up demonstrating idiocy to everyone. I'll finish with this quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: Anyone who has declared someone else to be an idiot, a bad apple, is annoyed when it turns out in the end that he isn't.

Re:Only 5 Ingredients Required! Why Pay More? (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 3 years ago | (#36604910)

Because that option doesn't scale well? Also, unless you are using surface-mount components, you will also need a 1/16 inch drill bit and a drill to drill the holes for the leads of the parts you will be soldering to the PCB.

Re:Only 5 Ingredients Required! Why Pay More? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36605178)

A new method is needed for hobbyists to make circuit boards. I'm afraid we'll have to figure it out ourselves because industry is totally ignoring us. Conductive paint would be great even if you had to bake it on. I'm not very good at paint making though. A cnc machine is not much more complicated than a printer,why not sell them as cheap? Most hobbyists need the new method to be cheap.

"Rather incredible" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36604832)

>>rather incredible pictures ...as in, not credible? Seeing as this is slashdot, I don't think I want to click that link.

Re:"Rather incredible" (0)

flimflammer (956759) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605064)

Bad trolling is bad.

We've been an Advanced Circuit customer for years (1)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | more than 3 years ago | (#36604886)

Ha. We've been an Advanced Circuit customer for years. Stand-up bunch of people.

Re:We've been an Advanced Circuit customer for yea (2)

zero0ne (1309517) | more than 3 years ago | (#36604952)

Any suggestions for circuit design companies? low cost, one off devices primarily for development / prototyping?
(nothing complex; primarily sensing circuits be it pH, ion selective probes, etc)

Not specifically looking for something to be made right now, but in the future it is a possibility.

Re:We've been an Advanced Circuit customer for yea (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36605026)

I've used PCB Fab Express [pcbfabexpress.com] in the past, their good for 2 - 6 layers nothing with small traces or pitch. Keep to their design rules and it will go well.

If you ever go further than that, for more complexity or quantity talk with Ben Gonzalez [linkedin.com] , he's best PCB guy I've ever worked with. (No I am not him).

Re:We've been an Advanced Circuit customer for yea (1)

Formalin (1945560) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605310)

It's been a few years since I've had anything made, but at the time Olimex [olimex.com] in Bulgaria seemed to be the cheapest for one-off stuff.
Places in North America wanted too much cash, and the Chinese outfits weren't worthwhile unless you ordered a bunch of stuff.

The one exception was.... advanced had a deal for students, not sure if that still exists. (I think it was $33 for a small double sided - normally you need to buy four, but a student could get a single). I'm not a student so it doesn't apply anyway.

Re:We've been an Advanced Circuit customer for yea (1)

rckclmbr (2319110) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605360)

www.sunstone.com it's my dad's shop so I'm biased but give it a try!

Re:We've been an Advanced Circuit customer for yea (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36606880)

We used Sunstone for a custom PCB board in my Sr Design Class at the University of Toledo (a few semesters back). Whats more, I believe they provided the professor with ~$1000/semester to students who need a custom board made.
Props to your dad, for donating some time/energy/money into helping college students with their projects. If I ever need a custom board made I'll go through him just for that reason.

Re:We've been an Advanced Circuit customer for yea (1)

Fishead (658061) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605512)

Any suggestions for circuit design companies? low cost, one off devices primarily for development / prototyping?
(nothing complex; primarily sensing circuits be it pH, ion selective probes, etc)

Not specifically looking for something to be made right now, but in the future it is a possibility.

Bring the design to my house with a case of beer and a stack of pizza!!!

I use Eagle Cad (Horrible to learn, yet powerful), print onto glossy magazine paper, iron onto Cu clad (I have a stack of 3"x4"), etch with Ferric Chloride, drill with my dremel, then solder.

We should have your prototype ready before we run out of beer and pizza.

Re:We've been an Advanced Circuit customer for yea (3, Interesting)

CaptainLard (1902452) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605804)

Welp, speaking of the devil, advance circuits has great rates for all of their capabilities. For 2 layers without soldermask you can get a run for under $50. If that's still too much but you can wait a month or so, Sparkfun runs something called batchpcb.com. If you only want one board, they will collect other user's boards into one big file and do a run for dirt cheap.

Re:We've been an Advanced Circuit customer for yea (3)

michael_cain (66650) | more than 3 years ago | (#36606860)

Fabrication, or the actual design? For fab, and if you have the time, Batch PCB [batchpbc.com] does boards for $2.50 per square inch plus a $10 set-up fee. I did a couple of small simple boards through them earlier this year. Once I passed the automated design rule checks (easy for simple boards), 17-21 days from submission to finished boards in my hands. Production is in China, but the quality was more than good enough for my needs. In both cases, I ordered two copies and received four. Apparently there is some duplication as things are panelized and produced, and they send along the extra copies rather than discarding them. No testing, but all of the boards I received worked.

They use Gold Phoenix [goldphoenixpcb.biz] for the actual production. If you need enough copies to fill, or even mostly fill, 100 or 150 square inches, it's cheaper to deal with Gold Phoenix directly. Other people have suggested DorkbotPDX [dorkbotpdx.org] ; their prices may end up cheaper, but it appears to take Dorkbot a long time to fill up a panel; BatchPCB seems to fill a panel every couple of days.

Re:We've been an Advanced Circuit customer for yea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36610136)

I use Express PCB (http://www.expresspcb.com/) all the time for my prototyping. 3 2-layer boards (3.5" x 2.8") costs about $60. You have to use their CAD program, though, but it's pretty decent.

Re:We've been an Advanced Circuit customer for yea (1)

CaptainLard (1902452) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605702)

Heres to that. Their CAM review department would even find shorted traces for me back in grad school when I used to skip the design rule check. The best part is the free popcorn you get with every order.

Good (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | more than 3 years ago | (#36604942)

Nice to have some low-level hardware stories once in a while. I used to be a PCB designer so I know it's not a simple process, esp. for the type of hardware people expect these days. It's a shame it's so specialized. (read: not too many jobs anymore in North America, all Far East)

Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (4, Interesting)

jimmyswimmy (749153) | more than 3 years ago | (#36604958)

I've been to a few smaller PCB fabs a few years ago, before the days of 4PCB and PCBExpress and the like - mail order, nearly overnight, you fit it into their process flow shops. Anyway, this is back when a 4 layer board run was a $2k/2 week kind of deal rather than the $500 or so you can get now (or cheaper if you can wait). Those places were FILTHY and smelled like all kinds of hell. Nasty business. It's amazing how far these guys have come.

The value is so much better now too. Ten years ago, to get an overnight board we used to mill out two layer boards using a piece of prepreg with copper on either side. A guy would machine off all the copper we didn't want, then drill holes where we needed vias to connect from one side or the other. Then I had to fill the vias with little pieces of wire and solder each side, then stuff the board, then test and debug it; over repeated rework cycles the board would start to peel apart. On top of that, if you get the board hot enough, the vias (wires) would fall out and that was pretty hard to figure out. It was gravity assisted current limit.

Now, you finish your board design and ship it off to one of these guys. During the time you used to spend getting to square 1 with the milled board, you could order parts and then the board shows up from one of these guys like 4PCB here. A 2 day turn on a 4 layer board is no problem and just a few hundred bucks. The time I spent soldering vias into the milled board cost more than the real PCB I can get now. It's amazing. The way they get the price down is a combination of two things - first, you fit into their process flow, as I mentioned earlier. That means that they don't look at your board, they don't think about your board, they just cram it on a panel with some other guys' boards. If you want slots made in the board, you don't get 'em; if you want internal routs cut out of your board you don't get 'em. You get what their process says it does, and so does everyone else. This leads to the second way they get price down - volume. Lots of guys now order from a couple big shops, rather than these little (pretty dirty, as I mentioned) little mom-n-pop PCB houses. And we all order the same process.

It's amazing to see how some of these basic market principals have worked in the past ten years, and it has made a huge change in the R&D industry. It's much easier to do a pilot run of a board, it's much easier and cheaper to make a limited run, and since you are risking less you can order more and try things out. Truly awesome for an electrical guy.

Re:Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36605038)

"principles", dickweed.

Re:Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (1)

Mysteray (713473) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605454)

He was impressed with the market principals, too:

Lots of guys now order from a couple big shops

Re:Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (1)

Omega Hacker (6676) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605438)

I luckily managed to completely miss the "bad old days" of crazy-expensive boards, though it's still not "cheap". So far I've managed to get by without the really quick turn times, but I've got a deadline coming up here that may change that.

For most of my boards though the turn time isn't critical, and many of them are experimental anyway. I can pipeline the wait for PCBs with other stuff, and all is well. However, I end up using the DorkbotPDX group PCB [dorkbotpdx.org] order for most everything, because it's cheap and scalable ($5/sqin for 3 copies, period). I recently placed an order for a bunch of tiny boards, it came to something like $6 ;-)

Been to a few smaller "get off my lawn" fabs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36606294)

Remember the bad old days when one had to layout the board by hand using "puppets"? Basically various little cutouts one applied to a grid and then hand taped wire runs. Or even better my hand-wrapping days.

Re:Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (4, Interesting)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605492)

I design PCB's for a living, these days. Most board shops I work with have yearly tours/open houses: if you want to see an up-to-date shop see if they're throwing one. It's pretty cool to see. I'm mostly impressed by the electrical test machines: they look like a dozen mechatronic herons madly going after fish.

When I can wait a bit, I use myropcb [myropcb.com] because if I'm ordering 200 boards the size of postage stamps they're less than a dollar a piece including soldermask and silkscreen on both sides, if I can wait 10 days. (It'd be a lot faster but they tend to go slowly through US customs.) If I'm willing to pay a bit more, I use Circuits West [circuitswest.com] , who will crank out up to 60 square inch boards for $31, and have had great quality.

However, the really great thing about milled boards is the turn time -- if you have a mill. I regularly go from hastily drawn schematic to finished, working board in under two hours, if it's a simple design. We can do three revisions of a board in a day, and *then* send it out to get a green board, once we're sure we have something working, and have a tested design ready for large-scale production in three days. We *love* having a PCB plotter in-house. It takes some thinking and experience to lay out good boards for it, but it sure helps productivity.

While I'm shilling companies that have saved me in crises, Vector Fabrication [vectorfab.com] is not the cheapest place to get PCB's, but they'll produce a 30x30 cm 14 layer board with 3 ounce copper in two days.

Re:Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#36606970)

SOB, do you still have my email? if so, flip me yours again.

Re:Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 3 years ago | (#36607570)

I used to but don't anymore, it doesn't appear. I read your other post in this article and your company will be seeing an RFQ next time I have a big ugly piece of test hardware to get fabricated. Specific questions: do you do conductive fill vias? do you do laser (or whatever technology) blind microvias on the 0.008" size range? and how small a drilled via can you put through a 0.187" thick board? I'm jbump at front range internet.

Re:Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#36612728)

expect an email from the famous fat man's wife. :)

Re:Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 3 years ago | (#36608506)

As a hobbyist I use Seeed Studio a lot. Very cheap for small boards and about a 1 month lead time from ordering to delivery.

The biggest problem I have is a lack of good and unrestricted PCB layout software. I mainly use Cadsoft Eagle with a budget license, but there are some fairly severe limits on board size. I do arcade stuff and the JAMMA connectors are longer than the maximum board size my license covers, and the next one up is about $700. A bit high for a hobbyist.

I tried gEDA and a few others but they all either seem to have major flaws or require a lot of effort to learn. To be fair Eagle isn't exactly the friendliest bit of CAD software but there are at least plenty of parts libraries and tutorial/forum material available.

Re:Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 3 years ago | (#36611824)

At work I use Altium, which is fairly easy to learn but has some weird bugs, draconian licensing, and breathtaking price, and Cadence, which is *not* easy to learn, has the most convoluted, cumbersome, and wretched new-parts-creation system I've ever seen, exostratospheric price, but the best PCB layout I've ever used. It's just dreamy. I also occasionally use OrCAD, which is quite reasonable if not outstanding on all fronts: schematic, layout, and parts creation.

At home I use gEDA. Schematic works fine, parts creation is pretty straightforward, layout is kludgy and not pleasant. (But newer revs have a gcode exporter built in, so it can go straight to a mill, which is nice.) I've used Eagle a little and it's pretty reasonable, although yeah I'm frustrated by the limitations. A friend and I are starting up a little company, and we use Eagle for small easy boards, and gEDA for larger more complex boards because it doesn't have those limits. I'm writing some scripts that I hope will allow me to import Eagle parts into gEDA formats (although I've written a bunch of scripts for gEDA already so it's so easy to make symbols it's not worth importing them, and it's fairly easy making footprints.)

I just downloaded KiCAD but haven't had a chance to try it.

I've also used PADS, which is okay but I feel like it's primitive for the price.

Sparkfun.com also has a cheap board fab service if you have long lead times, but it hasn't been competitive with myropcb.com for me, but that may be because I'm running production lots rather than one-at-a-time boards. (I cut those on the mill at work, and until recently was doing those via chemical etching at home, although now I have a mill at home.) I'll check out Seeed's prices/capabilities.

Re:Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 3 years ago | (#36613530)

I tried KiCad but it seems fairly klunky... It amazes me that we can't come up with a good UI for cad software yet. One of the biggest plus points for Eagle is how well integrated it is, especially the way you can update the schematic and instantly have that reflected on the board.

Re:Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 3 years ago | (#36619096)

We *have* come up with good UI's: you just pay through the nose for them.

My favorite nice intertool integration feature of Cadence is that you can open schematic in one window on one monitor, layout on the other monitor, put layout in 'move part' mode, then click on a part in schematic and mouse over to layout and that part is stuck to the cursor, ready to be placed. When you're doing huge boards with repetitive layouts that's an unbelievable time-saver. On Altium, my favorite intertool integration feature is that I can change the definition of a part (symbol or footprint) in the library files, then click on it and hit 'update' and the tool will find all occurrences of that part in open documents, and update them, so (for instance) increasing drilled hole and annular ring size on a DIP's legs to make it fit the drill I have rather than the one it was modelled with is a thirty second operation. Both Altium and OrCAD have spreadsheet-driven setups, which I also love, because I can write an open office macro to fill a pin grid array numerically and with x/y coordinates, then open the spreadsheet file in the layout/librarian tool and import a mostly-finished footprint. All I have to do is add the silkscreen/keepouts.

I'll give KiCAD a run this weekend.

Re:Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 3 years ago | (#36621128)

Eagle has the update from library to schematic/board thing too, and I agree it is handy.

Re:Been to a few smaller PCB fabs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36614214)

I design PCB's for a living, these days. Most board shops I work with have yearly tours/open houses: if you want to see an up-to-date shop see if they're throwing one. It's pretty cool to see. I'm mostly impressed by the electrical test machines: they look like a dozen mechatronic herons madly going after fish.

When I can wait a bit, I use myropcb [myropcb.com] because if I'm ordering 200 boards the size of postage stamps they're less than a dollar a piece including soldermask and silkscreen on both sides, if I can wait 10 days. (It'd be a lot faster but they tend to go slowly through US customs.) If I'm willing to pay a bit more, I use Circuits West [circuitswest.com] , who will crank out up to 60 square inch boards for $31, and have had great quality.

However, the really great thing about milled boards is the turn time -- if you have a mill. I regularly go from hastily drawn schematic to finished, working board in under two hours, if it's a simple design. We can do three revisions of a board in a day, and *then* send it out to get a green board, once we're sure we have something working, and have a tested design ready for large-scale production in three days. We *love* having a PCB plotter in-house. It takes some thinking and experience to lay out good boards for it, but it sure helps productivity.

While I'm shilling companies that have saved me in crises, Vector Fabrication [vectorfab.com] is not the cheapest place to get PCB's, but they'll produce a 30x30 cm 14 layer board with 3 ounce copper in two days.

What PCB plotter do you have?

Webserver circuit boards (1)

PacketShaper (917017) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605004)

See if they can fabricate some circuity to make a webserver that can take a slashdotting...

Very interesting yet an advertisement (1)

blackC0pter (1013737) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605082)

It's great to see how PCB boards are made. I create lots of PCB designs but never get a chance to see how they are actually made. It's refreshing and cool to see that part of the process.

However, the article partially reads like an advertisement. I've used the mentioned company and their pricing is good when comparing US based PCB fab shops. If they are going to advertise on slashdot, I'll share my experiences with different fabs. I've found the best deals are with non-US companies: http://www.bittele.com/PCB_Pricing.asp [bittele.com] . Disclaimer, I don't work for this company but I use them all the time. I found them to be the best deal and offer great service. Most US fab shops don't even look at your boards before building them. These guys have extensive capabilities, great prices, and also review your design. The only downside is that the lead-time is not as fast as some of the automated PCB fab shops in the US. But most of the time spent on a board is not on the actual PCB fabrication, it's the assembly that takes a long time. Also, completely automating a prototype assembly isn't exactly feasible: hand placed parts, BGA placements, BGA xrays, setting up hundreds of different parts to be automatically placed on a board, etc. Note, this only applies to prototype PCB and PCBA. Production builds are a different ball-game.

Re:Very interesting yet an advertisement (1)

rckclmbr (2319110) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605312)

Have you tried www.sunstone.com ?

Re:Very interesting yet an advertisement (1)

blackC0pter (1013737) | more than 3 years ago | (#36606500)

Yup. It's still more expensive than shops outside the US. PCBExpress is a division of theirs and is cheaper than sunstone but more expensive than outside the US, but super fast!

Re:Very interesting yet an advertisement (1)

CaptainLard (1902452) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605770)

Most US fab shops don't even look at your boards before building them.

That's because they have computers to check your boards. Most major board houses have online submission and DRC checks. 4pcb (aka advance circuits) usually gets you the files back within 30 minutes complete with .pdf printouts of each layer along with a quote for every conceivable quantity and delivery schedule. And in case anyone needs some anecdotal evidence, every board house I've used (big and small) has called me at least once to clear up some issues with my boards.

Re:Very interesting yet an advertisement (1)

blackC0pter (1013737) | more than 3 years ago | (#36606578)

My comments were mostly about the automated US based shops that come closer to price parity with non-US based shops. The shops that do DRC checks in the US are expensive and are not price competitive with outside shops that do DRC checks.

Our setup is automated - your files are processed as sent without design review.

This quote is from a fully automated pcb fabrication site, pcbexpress. It's super fast and very cheap but the files are made as is without the DRC checks. https://www.pcbexpress.com/products/order1.php?type=4 [pcbexpress.com] . In the end, you will need to choose two items from this list: fast, cheap, full DRC review.

Backwards processing (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605216)

It's interesting to find out that they process things backwards from what one would expect. They apply the resist and use it to protect the places they WILL etch away, then protect the parts they DON'T etch with tin, then remove the resist and then etch.

Can someone familiar with the process answer why they do this extra step, instead of simply protecting the copper they want to keep with the resist and bypassing the tin-plating step altogether? The only reason I can come up with is that the electroplating step that creates the vias needs a complete circuit to all the vias, and after you etch you lose that. But if you electroplate before etching, you still have that current path.

Isn't the copper that is etched off recovered and used to electroplate? Or is the cost of the copper more than the cost of tin plating, unplating, and recovering the tin?

Re:Backwards processing (2)

everydayotherday (1291642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36606582)

Inner layers are processed as you would expect. Etch resist is applied to the areas you want to keep, then copper is etched away. The outerlayers are different. The resist image applied to the board exposes the what you want to keep. It can be considered a "plating resist". The exposed image is then plated with copper (this is where the hole walls get plating) then tin. The resist is then removed. The tin then acts as the etch resist. It's a pain to etch through copper. That is why copper plating is only applied to where it is needed.

Re:Backwards processing (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#36613936)

Yes, I understand what they are doing. The question is why apply a resist layer to put down a tin layer, and then remove the resist and then etch the copper? Why not just put down a resist layer directly and etch what the resist doesn't protect? That seems much simpler. "It's a pain to etch through copper" may be true, but that is what happens either way.

Re:Backwards processing (1)

everydayotherday (1291642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36630052)

Why not just put down a resist layer directly and etch what the resist doesn't protect? That seems much simpler.

More simple, but processing that way wouldn't plate copper in the holes drilled for vias. It sounds like you're forgetting that step.

This is just a cover-up. (1)

DoomHamster (1918204) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605266)

Bah! I call shenanigans! I didn't see a single unicorn, pixie, or elf in those pictures...although that might be a gnome on page 4 pic 2.

Maddening Industry (1)

Moof123 (1292134) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605270)

Board houses CAN do amazing things, however getting straight answers to design rules usually gets a "It depends..." response. Nothing worse for a hardware designer than having to wait until you spit out a GDS file to get surprised about cost of certain process combinations, or incompatibility of certain process options (i.e. getting sold on edge plating or blind vias only to find out the hard way that that results in MUCH worse etch tolerances).

Most the companies I've dealt with consider their design rules to be semi-secret, even to their customers... If you work with them long enough you get it figured out, but in a high mix business like I was in (every board was a very different stackup with very different requirements) it got to be absolutely frustrating to constantly get surprised, then have to dig up email threads to defend yourself against angry project managers now that the price point blew up or the board has to be completely redesigned despite doing pretty thorough due diligence.

Re:Maddening Industry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36605934)

Agree. I'm not sure whether it is because whether they regard the info as a trade secret, or because they are worried that the customers might expect them to actually meet specification. I can see that they have to push their specification to the limit to remain competitive ("but Joe down the road can do 4mil, why can't you?) but in doing so the yield drops (My board didn't work. Why didn't you mention that 4mil was only a 80 percentile?). Their way out might be to avoid providing specifications.

Good old days (2)

gary_7vn (1193821) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605776)

Whatever happened to the good old days when we would construct mnemonic circuits out of "bear skins and stone axes"? Seems logical to me!

Re:Good old days (1)

OddJobBob (1965628) | more than 3 years ago | (#36608416)

I remember doing layouts by sticking tape on acetate sheets, cutting the tape tracks with a razor blade - health and safety would not allow that now I imagine.

Re:Good old days (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 3 years ago | (#36608564)

Well some of us still build devices without a PCB of any kind. Valve amplifiers are a good example; I am building one from a kit where all components are just soldered leg-to-leg with each other and a few anchor points on the case.

Re:Good old days (1)

gary_7vn (1193821) | more than 3 years ago | (#36609978)

I know, and I am in awe of people like you. I was making an obscure reference to an old Star Trek episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever" written by Harlan Ellison, the highest rated original series episode. Spock and Kirk had to go back in time to 1930's earth to rescue McCoy, who had accidentally injected himself with a substance that made him insane. Spock had to repair their tricorder, but wasn't doing well with the tubes etc available. I just checked and I got the quote slightly wrong, "I am endeavouring, ma'am, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bearskins." I thought you would appreciate that.

Re:Good old days (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 3 years ago | (#36610458)

Ah yes, I didn't get the quote at first but I did enjoy that episode. Probably one of the earliest sci-fi shows to introduce the concept of not altering the past for fear of changing the future.

How PC boards are made? Hey, I know this one! (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 3 years ago | (#36605920)

It starts with a mommy engineer and a daddy EE geek who love each other very much.

If you want actually cheap boards... (1)

allanw (842185) | more than 3 years ago | (#36606108)

If you want really cheap boards for prototype purposes, consider these sources:

Seeed Studio [seeedstudio.com] : these are a total of $10 to $45 for 10 boards, plus a small amount of shipping from China. I get my boards in 1-2 weeks.

DorkbotPDX [dorkbotpdx.org] : based in the US, but only sends out batches every few weeks. They charged based on raw square inches.

And for volume, pcbcart.com is really great. Probably over 10x cheaper than Advanced Circuits.

Of course it's so cheap since it's outsourced, but that's life. Advanced Circuits is ridiculously expensive in comparison. Their best price on a prototype run is $33 each, 4 minimum order, plus $30+ shipping. I'd only consider them if I had to get my boards within 5 days and was willing to pay for that.

Not affiliated, just a happy customer.

If you want to keep Americans in business... (2)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 3 years ago | (#36606714)

On the other hand, you can buy your boards for the expensive American price, and it still won't be the most expensive component in your project.

From a board shop right now (1)

everydayotherday (1291642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36606248)

I'm surfing slashdot from a PCB shop right now.

That's who I use (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36606280)

That's who I use for my two player PCB's and they do a great job with a variety of turn around times. I'd recommend them to anyone interested in having custom high quality PCB's built in small or large quantity

Where's the popcorn? (1)

dlgeek (1065796) | more than 3 years ago | (#36606528)

Nice photos, but where's the popcorn?

(For those who aren't aware, Advanced Circuits always throws in a free bag of microwave popcorn with every order, as a hook/customer appreciation measure).

Never failed me (1)

marshallh (947020) | more than 3 years ago | (#36606832)

I recognize this place, made some boards there :) US based PCB fab is more expensive, but quicker and QUALITY. Chinese houses like pcbcart? 6/15 of my boards made with them failed. I even stayed away from their spec limits quite a bit. Half of those that failed did so within a few heat/cool cycles of running (they have FPGA and SDRAM on them, so not THAT much heat). The rest developed electrical shorts that were still there even after I'd completely depopulated the boards. Advanced Circuits? Never have they failed. Even the PCBs I abused with a rework station never lifted any traces. Even the 0.5mm SMD pads that lifted like paper off the PCBcart boards, they are STILL THERE on the 4pcb/advanced circuits prototype. I just reworked my design into 4 layers and did another proto from them. No problems either. If you are a student, you can get on board their 33each (2 layer) and 66each (4layer). Note their shipping charges are a tad high so it works out to about $48 and $88, respectively. Oh yeah, I wasn't paid by them either, I just am a happy customer. Started using them in high school (thanks Forrest) and now near the end of college they have never let me down.

Re:Never failed me (1)

Alioth (221270) | more than 3 years ago | (#36620644)

I've used PCB Cart. I've never had a single board fail.

You kids and your technology.. (1)

GrBear (63712) | more than 3 years ago | (#36606874)

Back in the day we drew out the traces out on paper in large scale then photographed it. The copper clad board was coated with chemical. We put the film negative on top of the copper board, blasted it with UV then dumped it in a bath. After the copper etch bath etched away the copper (and hopefully you did it right or some of your traces dissolved too) the board was given it a tin bath.

Now.. GET OFF MY LAWN!

Re:You kids and your technology.. (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 3 years ago | (#36609546)

People still do that. However, for boards where you can have relatively thick traces (25 mils trace and space, say), I have heard good things about the laser-printer toner transfer [blogspot.com] method.

Re:You kids and your technology.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36610208)

You can do 10-mil traces and SMT with toner no problem. I've done it. The most nerve-racking and annoying part my whole at-home process was 2-sided masking and registration and drilling (which, if you don't have a CNC is always going to be a problem).

There are only two things absolutely necessary
  - Roller heat laminator - forget an iron
  - This green film (sold as Green TRF) that sticks to the toner and seals the pits and non-uniformities.

I think it is also better to use dextrin coated transfer paper. This is either sold by a company specifically for doing PCB proto, but it is also sold for artists/modelers to do general transfer work (its the same exact shit).

Not to knock on the blog link posted, but that is the most ghetto method and will only give acceptable results for large traces with the assist of a felt pen. It is good in a pinch. You can do much better than that if necessary though.

I worked for company making scada controllers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36607812)

I worked for a company building (designing/building/manufacturing) SCADA controllers and industrial process controllers. I had built my own printed circuit boards in college, and where I worked, I would draft schematics, layouts, plot the circuit layouts, and send them to a board manufacturer. We would then populate the boards with chips, make any last minute bug fixes if needed (unlike software, bug fixes here involve cutting traces and soldering wire), testing the board and shipping. I always found it funny to hear people talk about 'the circuit board got all wet...surely it must be ruined...' heh.... after populating boards, we would wave solder them (put the circuit board in a machine that sends a ripple ...a wave of solder where the top of the wave just touches the components for a second and solders all components on the board in less than a second... then because we used solder with water soluble flux, we would wash the entire board. We used a Sears Kenmore dishwasher (we didn't use the heat cycle). Of course, since all chips follow Texas Instruments Mach32 test protocol (hermetically sealed, gross leak test, fine leak test, bake and cryogenic freeze tests, high altitude tests, centrifuge tests), there would be no problem washing all chips and getting all that flux off. Never ever had a problem. Hundreds of thousands of circuit boards, millions of chips, hundreds of gallons of water. No problem. "Dude, oh no, you got yer phone all wet, itz probly broken forever man..." NOT!

Re:I worked for company making scada controllers (1)

squizzar (1031726) | more than 3 years ago | (#36608872)

I've tried fighting my mobile phone company when they refused to honour my warranty due to 'water damage'. Two occasions - on one the LCD had broken (how do I know? Fixed it with a cheap one from ebay), on the second the stupid joystick bit had fallen out (no problems sir, that's a common fault, send it in we'll replace it). Both times got 'It's got water damage, that's why it's not working, we can't fix it, please pay us to send your handset back.' I wrote several letters, emails, phone calls etc. Was about a month before I got a form letter back from customer services.

It's quite clearly a scam to make you buy phone insurance next time around. There's got to be some environmentalist somewhere who'll take on the cause of stopping phone companies from making people bin phones that need a single part replaced because of spurious 'water' damage that is in no way the actual cause of the phone malfunction. I've tried to point out that a building full of EEs, that design circuits as complex if not more than a mobile phone, think they are talking out of their arses. It's like taking your car in to have the windscreen repaired and being told you've got a small oil leak, so the whole car needs writing off. Bastards.

But what about the software? (1)

strangluv2 (1050350) | more than 3 years ago | (#36607990)

Designing a PCB beyond run of the mill, low speed electronics can be reduced to CAD type etch a sketch artwork generation, however, you get beyond a few dozen parts and/or high pin count FPGAs and microprocessors the task of designing such a PCB is very involved and a specialized field. One of the limiting factors is the software used in the design process, the schematic capture, library parts creation, and the layout editor itself and auto route technology. The software for this task can get very expensive quickly as you move up the chain; these can be $100K plus PC based applications, and only two companies do this, Mentor Graphics and Cadence (yes; there are half dozen minor players). With a small market for this stuff, none of it works as advertized and it can take years to learn the systems and where the land mines are. The learning process itself is daunting, there are no books or college courses really, for high end PCB design and the use of the tools. The software itself has its roots back to the '80s with both companies, and it is obvious that much of it has not been dusted off and seen significant development in decades. There is an open source project or two out there, but the real pros are just too busy cranking out designs to participate. If I were a young computer science student, electronics and graphics guru I think this area is one I would look into; the big guys need some heat and we would all love to see a new player and startup in the high end PCB EDA market. As far as PCB design as a career choice, look elsewhere, these jobs are now going offshore, like everything else in electronics in the USA, we are losing our edge.

Poor tools (1)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 3 years ago | (#36610324)

I checked out the Advanced circuits site in the link. Their free cad tool has a rather poor library, there doesn't seem to be ANY micro controllers in their library and their own line library can't seem to find common parts either. (Try searching for 2n2222 or 2n3904 and comes up empty!) Even Eagle's free cad tool has a bigger library and lot's of user contributed parts. Only problem with Eagle is that few houses use their file format, though there are ways to make Gerbers from them.

Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?