Build your own Circuit Board

A "new fashioned" televisor, using an Arduino to drive the motor and display.

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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Andrew Davie » Sat Jul 29, 2017 1:02 am

My order from PCBWay arrived today, and I thought I'd do a bit of a comparative review of several manufacturers I've used.

pcbway1.jpg
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PCBWay was recommended to me by a colleague at work, who is a bit of a perfectionist (hard to please). I was, therefore, pretty sure these guys would do a good job. The image above shows three of the boards from PCBWay - a populated board and front/back of unpopulated board.

The order was placed on 10 July and arrived on 28 July - that's 18 days, the majority of which was taken by the el-cheapo post option I chose. That's pretty quick for the $9 postage that I paid. I've seen upwards of 50 day deliveries from some HK/China places. The order I made was for the prototype service - where you get 10 double-sided boards for just US$5 + shipping. So my total all-up cost was just US$14 which is roughly 1/3 of the cost of the other services I have tried (OSHPark and SeeedStudios). Postage is the killer in these situations. SeeedStudios offers a similar prototype build/cost, but postage was a lot higher. OSHPark was significantly more expensive, as they charge by the area of the board, and that quickly proved uneconomical. I was up around US$40 for these two, which was not pretty. So, PCBWay the hands-down winner on cost.

pcbway_order.jpg
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The packaging from PCBWay consisted of a box not much bigger than the circuit boards, with the boards inside surrounded by sturdy and shrink-wrappped plastic. The box was partially mangled during transit, but the boards were in perfect condition. I would like to see them pack with perhaps a bit of foam wrapped around the boards inside the box. Mine were not damaged, as I said, but nonetheless, the box wasn't offering any protection for crushing. I was pleasantly surprised to count 11 (I got a free one!) and they look very nice indeed. I chose blue again, similar to the SeeedStudio ones, but this time there's no "production run" number added to the board, because PCBWay's ordering page allows you to specifically request that they do NOT add this to your board. So I was quite happy to see that - I'd previously written about my displeasure at having "stuff" added to my "stuff". Just remember to add a note on your order asking PCBWay NOT to add order numbers, and they comply. Great.

pcbway2.jpg
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pcbway3.jpg
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The first impression I had is of the silkscreen logo. Whereas on earlier boards from the other guys the logo came out very poor (well, useless), on this one it's excellent. The fine detail in the high-resolution logo has been preserved, and you can actually see the dots and textures in the Baird logo. If I had to guess, I'd say that the silkscreen resolution on PCBWay boards is at least twice, probably four times that of the earlier boards I got from SeeedStudios. In short, there's no need to re-do the logo, as it looks just fine. The attached picture is a bit blurry because of my camera - the boards look nice and sharp. The brown splodges are the resin from the solder. I've experimented with a new soldering technique, too - I solder the pins, then clip them off, then re-flow the solder to form a rounded "blob" on the bottom which covers the rough and sharp clipped-off leads.

With OSHPark, there's a lovely web ordering system that allows you to upload an eagle BRD file and it shows you a graphic of each of the layers - I really really liked that feature. PCBWay and SeeedStudios don't offer that - nor do they allow uploading BRD files. So, top marks to OSHPark for that part of their ordering system; it was very useful especially for spotting errors on the board. I do hope that other PCB manufacturers take note and offer similar pre-ordering views of the manufactured board, too. PCBWay and SeeedStudios instead require gerber files - which is a lot more fiddly and obviously I got something wrong with the SeeedStudios order, because it was missing traces. To generate gerber files in Eagle you have to run a script, which is easy enough but fiddly. Fortunately the PCBWay order came out perfectly and all expected tracks were there. As I said, I think the missing tracks on SeeedStudios was my error and certainly it would have been easier to spot if there was a visual of the board before ordering, like on OSHPark.

PCBWay's website has a realtime and detailed progress log you can view to see all the stages of manufacturing. I used this often just to see how quickly things were progressing. I liked that part of their website.

PCBWay_progress.jpg
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This shows it was just on 2 days from the order to the shipping. That's way better than their initial estimate of 3-4 days, so they were pretty quick. Very interesting to read the steps it goes through during manufacture, as shown above. So the shipping itself was just over two weeks. Shipping for US$9 this is a bargain in my opinion - but combined with $5 for the 11 boards I got - US$14 total (and somehow I managed to score a $1 voucher) so yeah, absolute bargain really. Can't be beat - for me with the freebie board it ended up at about US$1.27 per board (board size was 64 mm x 84 mm).

One thing I noticed/disliked with the OSHPark boards is that they had a sort of perforation in the middle of each edge of the board - this is clearly so the boards could be "snapped off" some sort of much larger production board. The end result is a little "prototype-ish" because you don't have a smooth edge on your boards. The SeeedStudios and PCBWay boards, however, came up with nicely cut/milled edges so these two win out on that.

I was able to pay with PayPal, which is my preferred means of payment on the interweb. There was one "gotcha" which I questioned via online support at PCBWay. That is, US$1 was added to my order for using PayPal. Now I understand the merchant is charged by PayPal and they are just passing this charge on to the customer. What is unusual is that PCBWay explicitly list/add this at payment time. I have purchased literally hundreds of things on the interweb, and this must be the first time I have actually seen a "PayPal charge". In fact PayPal's terms as I understood them are that you are not allowed to charge more for paying with PayPal than with any other method, but a close read of the PayPal rules seem to indicate that PCBWay are not actually doing anything wrong. PayPal encourage vendors to include the fee in the cost of the item. PCBWay prefer to explicitly highlight the fee as a separate charge. Well, they seem to be ever so slightly in breach of PayPal rules - they are apparently not allowed to charge me more than PayPal charges them, and for my small order PayPal actually charge them slightly less than $1. But on the other hand, for bigger orders PayPal charges them a lot more than $1. So anyway, I got on my high horse and gave the support person a bit of a grilling on this. I think PCBWay are going about this the wrong way - but hey, it's a few tens of cents and hardly worth it. I will say, though, that the support staff were courteous and rapid in their responses, so that's a good sign.

In conclusion then - I've now tried three different PCB manufacturing services - OSHPark, SeeedStudios, and PCBWay. OSHPark has an excellent web preview of what your board is going to look like, and accept eagle format BRD files. But OSHPark gets real expensive real quick because they charge by board size. SeeedStudios are cheap at $5 for 10 boards, but their silkscreen resolution is very poor and postage to Oz an absolute killer. PCBWay are cheap and quality and price are excellent. Furthermore their postage is very cheap and fast. In my experience, then, there is no contest. I'm choosing PCBWay in future - despite my dislike for added-on PayPal fees, their prices are nonetheless awesome, the quality is awesome, and the shipping time was also awesome. So they're definitely going to get my next order and I can happily recommend that you should consider placing yours with them too.
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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Steve Anderson » Sat Jul 29, 2017 2:14 pm

Thanks Andrew for that exhaustive evaluation of these three suppliers. At the bottom of the PCBWay homepage they claim to have 4.7% of the world market, I find that surprising unless they mean just for prototyping services which may be true.

I need to knuckle down and learn Eagle, I toyed with it a while ago and got nowhere, more dedication required!

Steve A.
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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Andrew Davie » Sat Jul 29, 2017 2:29 pm

Steve Anderson wrote:Thanks Andrew for that exhaustive evaluation of these three suppliers. At the bottom of the PCBWay homepage they claim to have 4.7% of the world market, I find that surprising unless they mean just for prototyping services which may be true.

I need to knuckle down and learn Eagle, I toyed with it a while ago and got nowhere, more dedication required!

Steve A.


Eagle is a PITA and not very intuitive. However, if you stick with it, it does the job nicely. I will be happy to provide free support if you have trouble with anything :)
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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Steve Anderson » Sat Jul 29, 2017 6:38 pm

Thanks Andrew, I'll probably take up your offer at some point or another. As I mentioned before I was hoping Eagle would be similar in feel and function to AutoCad - but it's not. Totally different. For the moment I have other things to address so it's on hold for the time being.

Steve A.
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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Steve Anderson » Wed Aug 16, 2017 8:35 pm

Right, I have built up a device (a PIC18F25K20) in Eagle which is not in the default libraries and placed it in a library as shown in the screen-scrape below. For the life of me I cannot see how to place/add this to the schematic. Help!

Part of the problem is all the on-line tutorials are for previous versions so perhaps it's just a procedural difference.

Steve A,
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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Andrew Davie » Wed Aug 16, 2017 8:56 pm

Steve Anderson wrote:Right, I have built up a device (a PIC18F25K20) in Eagle which is not in the default libraries and placed it in a library as shown in the screen-scrape below. For the life of me I cannot see how to place/add this to the schematic. Help!

Part of the problem is all the on-line tutorials are for previous versions so perhaps it's just a procedural difference.

Steve A,


Not near my computer but you have to select library/use open... From the menu first. Then it's in the list of pieces.
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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Andrew Davie » Fri Aug 18, 2017 11:00 pm

The latest version of my circuit board arrived today. The ArduinoVisor. I'm a bit frustrated in that I've run out of the LM2596 units, so I'll either have to scavenge an earlier board, or wait until my order from AliExpress (28 July) arrives. The board looks fine - but the manufacture/delivery from PCBWay was quite a bit slower this time (30 July). In this board, the components are more neatly spaced and I've added a couple of pull-down/up resistors - and the MicroSD is now running off 3.3V.

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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Andrew Davie » Sun Aug 20, 2017 1:17 am

I got too eager and desoldered some of the missing bits from a previously failed circuit board. Waste not want not. Unfortunately, on supplying power, there was smoke. :( I didn't bother analysing it much - I'll start afresh when the missing components arrive and treat this one as lesson learned.
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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Andrew Davie » Mon Sep 04, 2017 2:50 pm

The order of 50 LM2596 DC-DC converters arrived today, so I was finally able to assemble a complete "ArduinoVisor" board. Haven't had a chance to test it yet, but here it is with the magic smoke still encapsulated... fingers crossed.... I do hope this works; the board is quite nicely laid out and the spacing of everything is correct.

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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Andrew Davie » Mon Sep 04, 2017 8:15 pm

It's alive! Worked very first time!

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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Andrew Davie » Tue Sep 05, 2017 4:09 pm

I've got a bit of a production line going. Here's another two sets. I'll be giving these away to those who express interest and/or who have helped me along the way.

productionLine.jpg
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Edit: Working!
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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Andrew Davie » Tue Sep 05, 2017 4:24 pm

I did a quick calculation - purchase of components (including shipping), including the board, cost to me is US$9.67
Edit: An amazing price really - considering this price includes the microcontroller which alone is priced from a large online electronics supplier at about US$30/unit.
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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Klaas Robers » Tue Sep 05, 2017 7:49 pm

Well done Andrew !
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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Andrew Davie » Tue Sep 05, 2017 8:16 pm

Klaas Robers wrote:Well done Andrew !


Thanks Klaas - as you know, you were a major reason for this getting to this stage. Can I send you a board as a keepsake? Maybe you might even test it out?
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Re: Build your own Circuit Board

Postby Andrew Davie » Tue Sep 05, 2017 8:19 pm

Steve - would you accept a board, too, as a thank-you?
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