Best Boardhouse

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by nDever, Mar 22, 2012.

  1. nDever

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Jan 13, 2011
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    Hey Guys,

    I am planning on getting my first board done in the near future. Based on your experiences, does any one have any suggestions as to which board house produces the best quality boards at the lowest rates?
     
  2. John P

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 14, 2008
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  3. ErnieM

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 24, 2011
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    Well... it depends. The very best rates with great turn time is ExpressPCB, but you are constrained to using their software to do your layout. It is very good but you don't get the files to go to another house for production.

    Sunstone (pcb123.com) has their own layout program too but I know even less about them, they do seem expensive. The program computes the board cost as you go.

    Generally a house that gives you the development software is constrining your hand to use elements they want to use. Custom tooling may be possible but is discouraged.

    There are several low cost/free programs to use, I happen to like Kicad.

    I'm keeping my eye on Advanced Circuits (4pcb.com) right now as their online quotes look good but I have yet to use them. Maybe next week.

    I have used EIConnect (dot com) several times. They are used to professional orders but if you pay with a credit card they would take your order. They run frequent specials such as free tooling or faster ship same price when they are slow. Most houses will run a few extras to make sure they complete your order, these guys ship any extras to you free.

    (Getting extra parts drove my stock room and accounting departments completely bonkers. Apparently accounting cannot account for something that is free.)
     
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  4. mcgyvr

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 15, 2009
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    How many boards do you need? Ernie listed a few of the common "prototype" board houses. But if you are talking about any decent volume a "regular" board house will be cheaper.
     
  5. jimkeith

    Active Member

    Oct 26, 2011
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    ExpressPCB.com does both high quality and volume production. For $75 they will sell the gerber files so you can go elsewhere (offshore). I have used their software with great success--very friendly compared to most programs--working on a small board today.

    Otherwise, if I have the files, I go to Advanced Circuits (4pcb.com). They provide high volume, high quality and great rates. Lowest price when you can accept a longer lead time, but will do fast turn around for a higher price.
     
  6. n1ist

    Active Member

    Mar 8, 2009
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    If you can wait 2-3 weeks, try Itead Studio (or likely Seeed Studio; they use the same board house). A lot of people like DorkbotPDX as well for protos
     
  7. Stuntman

    Active Member

    Mar 28, 2011
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    The board size was not stated, but I can tell you that ExpressPCB has their miniboard service, which basically means if you can fit your board (or combination of boards) into a 3.8" x 2.5" space, you get (3) prototypes for about $62 SHIPPED. If you want them silkscreen and soldermasked (production style finished), the same three boards are something like $85 SHIPPED.

    I have used this and had great luck. Again, the downside is having to use their software and then having to pay for the converted files should you choose to manufacture your board elsewhere. That said, for most home hobbyists, their service will probably be your best options for the life of your product (which often is only one batch).
     
  8. mcgyvr

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 15, 2009
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    Never said they wouldn't do volume. I did say they won't be the cheapest though. We get PCB's all the time.. (thousands and thousands a year) A "regular" board house will usually beat any of the "prototype" houses easily. By "prototype" I mean the ones with extensive internet presence/their own free software,etc.. They need to amortize the cost of this "free software" and everything else into the end users price.

    Just like Protomold (quick/cheap injection mold tooling) their mold prices are cheap and lead time is only a few days but their pricing for any decent volume is many times more than a regular injection molder will be per piece.. (like $2.00 per piece versus $0.20 per piece)
     
  9. nerdegutta

    Moderator

    Dec 15, 2009
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    Hi.

    I've made a list of board houses. I've not tried any of them, since I'm making my own boards. The list is here.
     
  10. jimkeith

    Active Member

    Oct 26, 2011
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    I sometimes put two or three circuits on their miniboards and saw them into pieces. This is necessary in one case because the board is otherwise too small for them to manufacture via their automated system--files in, boards out, delivered within about 4 or 5 days, and that is across the country too--just make sure that the order is placed before 2pm eastern time. Never had a problem with their quality--only mine because they make exactly what you give them--garbage in, garbage out! Never tired their multi-layer because I have always been able to get by with two sides.
     
  11. nDever

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Jan 13, 2011
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    Thanks guys for your input. Right now, I am looking at only a few prototype boards, so it won't be a volume. I have been leaning towards ExpressPCB because of their deal mentioned by Stuntman. I have used their software as well, and it seems simple to use, but as it has been said, their component library is limited to the parts that they recognize. If I custom make my own components, is there a high chance that the actual will work out? Has anyone here customized their parts before?
     
  12. jimkeith

    Active Member

    Oct 26, 2011
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    Easy to make custom parts in ExpressPCB--I do it all the time.
    My biggest problem with them involves excessively large hole sizes in their std parts library, so I have to redo some to better suit me.
     
  13. ErnieM

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 24, 2011
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    Yeah I make custom footprints all the time in ExpressPCB... well, I seem to always make my own footprints no matter what program I am using. What is good about their software is it will not let you do something they cannot reproduce,be it spacing or drill diameter or such.

    If you use their program to make the schematic then the layout program knows what connects to what and will highlight the connections for you. That is very helpful.

    That is not to say your circuit will work first time. I average between 1 and 2 turns before it all works. Never higher then 3.
     
  14. monster_catfish

    Active Member

    Mar 17, 2011
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    I spotted a very minor bug in the error checking feature of ExpressPCB. On a circuit board I recently had made there, I noticed small discrepancies with that feature in the vertical task-bar that allows you to link the circuit schematic to the trace pattern, click on PCB pads in turn, and have all other pads that should be connected to the selected pad marked with blue dots.

    As I ran that check after completing the board layout, a couple of the pads on my board were indicated as being connected to pads on the other side of resistors, and I also noted that a ground connection from one of my IC sockets was not highlighted with a blue dot, even when all the other ground connections were so marked with the blue dots.

    I carefully re-checked my circuit schematic and board layout to be sure that the errors were not mine, before placing the order, so that subtle inconsistency in the error-check feature did not amount to a major hindrance for me. It did initially have me scratching my head though, so I figured there'd be no harm mentioning my observations here, so that other Express PCB users can be aware of that tiny bug that may surface when they check their final PCB layout.
     
  15. hspalm

    Active Member

    Feb 17, 2010
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    I have recommended these before. If you can make it below 5x5cm you get 10 PCBs for $1 each. They don't have perfect solder mask or silk screen (it's not as bright white as you'd want it) and you should not trust their 6x6mil limits, go at 8x8mil to be sure. I've had some ground plane floating onto signal traces (6 mil spacing). So I think it's perfect for your first run, you can afford to discard them if you make a mistake.
     
  16. ErnieM

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    Apr 24, 2011
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    While you and I know there is no difference to the sides on a resistor, the program doesn't know that. So it very literally assigns a side to each end of the resistor and insists you connect it in the layout the same way you did in the schematic.

    It just makes things easier if you do it that way. All layout programs let you spin parts, so just spin the resistor till the pads match in both schematic & layout.
     
  17. monster_catfish

    Active Member

    Mar 17, 2011
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    Ah, that explains the mystery. I thank you for this clarification, Ernie.

    I checked the circuit till I was blue in the face, asuming all along I had made some elementary error, before finally concluding that it had to be a bug. Now I see that my assumtion was incorrect.

    It is odd though, that such an anomaly only occurred on a single PCB trace, and not on others that were similar in terms of component placement. All told though, Express PCB is an excellent outfit, with really easy to understand software that perfectly suits a newb like me.
     
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