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'[EE:] Low cost PCB Fab in the US'
2005\08\29@082818 by izx

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Sorry, forgot tag! :)
------------------------

Hi,

I've been looking for a PCB fab to make cheap PCBs in small quantities
(1-3) for prototyping (I'm in the US). For 2-layer boards I'd want with
soldermask/silkscreen, and I also work on 4-layer boards as part of a
research project at school.

I'm aware of ExpressPCB/PCB123, and ExpressPCB's "MiniBoard" offer is great
for bare boards, but both are quite expensive for the types of boards I
mentioned above, and plus, lock you in to their own (often inferior) layout
software.

What are some good PCB fab companies for one-off quantities with reasonable
prices? Preferably turnaround time should be 7-10 days at most.

Thanks,
-Ishaan

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2005\08\29@084111 by Bob Axtell

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Try PCBexpress (different vendor) and 4PCB.com. I've used
them both with great success. They are less than the ones you
listed below.

--Bob

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{Quote hidden}

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2005\08\29@090840 by Christian A. Weagle

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> I've been looking for a PCB fab to make cheap PCBs in small quantities
> (1-3) for prototyping (I'm in the US). For 2-layer boards I'd want
with
> soldermask/silkscreen, and I also work on 4-layer boards as part of a
> research project at school.

I have use both barebonespcb.com (a division of 4PCB.com, AKA Advanced
Circuits) and AP Circuits (Alberta Printed C.).  Both of these companies
are serious vendors, who offer a range of capabilities starting with the
minimum thing that could be called a PCB and working up to 16-layer RF
monstrosities with blind and buried microvias, ceramic stiffeners,
teflon, etc. etc.

2005\08\29@123234 by Jesse Lackey

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barebonespcb.com is great when soldermask / silkscreen is NOT needed.
The main appeal is the 1-day turnaround.  I have had occasional problems
with boards (say 2 times out of 20) - a via hole or two not being
drilled, and once a trace was simply in a different place than in the
design.  That said, I use them all the time and am happy with the results.

When I need soldermask & silk, I use pcbfabexpress.  5 day turn, $13
each / min qty 5 boards.  About the only downside is a 25 drills per sq
inch (on average) maximum, so a dense thruhole design they may not do
without another $50 premium.  However their boards have been 100%
flawless and 100% on time.  I've used them probably 20 times at this point.

I recommend both.
J


Christian A. Weagle wrote:

{Quote hidden}

2005\08\29@151944 by Bob Axtell

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Christian A. Weagle wrote:

{Quote hidden}

I used AP Circuits for years, but I have become disenchanted with 1/2oz
copper as
a primary conductor size. Since I always use 1oz in my normal designs,
the action
(mostly GND signal) of 1/2oz copper is not representative enough of the
final
product to be of any advantage.

barebones (4PCB) uses 1oz laminate, so works better for me.

--Bob

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2005\08\29@152452 by Bob Axtell

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Jesse Lackey wrote:

> barebonespcb.com is great when soldermask / silkscreen is NOT needed.
> The main appeal is the 1-day turnaround.  I have had occasional
> problems with boards (say 2 times out of 20) - a via hole or two not
> being drilled, and once a trace was simply in a different place than
> in the design.  That said, I use them all the time and am happy with
> the results.
>
> When I need soldermask & silk, I use pcbfabexpress.  5 day turn, $13
> each / min qty 5 boards.  About the only downside is a 25 drills per
> sq inch (on average) maximum, so a dense thruhole design they may not
> do without another $50 premium.  However their boards have been 100%
> flawless and 100% on time.  I've used them probably 20 times at this
> point.
>
I agree about PCBFabexpress. They are an interesting company; they do NO
work themselves, they simply subcontract to other shops who have excess
capacity but who do NOT want to be known as a low-priced (proto) shop.
That's why their specs are a little bit odd. I had one problem where
they were unable to fab a board because they couldn't read the Gerber
somehow; the same Gerber at another shop was read immediately.

--Bob.


{Quote hidden}

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2005\08\29@154730 by olin piclist

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Bob Axtell wrote:
> I agree about PCBFabexpress. They are an interesting company; they do NO
> work themselves, they simply subcontract to other shops who have excess
> capacity but who do NOT want to be known as a low-priced (proto) shop.
> That's why their specs are a little bit odd. I had one problem where
> they were unable to fab a board because they couldn't read the Gerber
> somehow; the same Gerber at another shop was read immediately.

I've had bad experiences with these bozos and don't use them anymore.

Their silly restriction about charging you a lot extra when you exceed 25
holes per square inch in annoying enough in itself.  I knew about that
restriction and sent them a board once that had just under the limit.  Eagle
tells me exactly how many drills there are and of course I know the size of
the board, so I knew I wasn't over the limit even though close to it.  They
complained about my violating their 25 holes per square inch rule anyway.
When I showed them exactly the size of my board and the number of holes,
they agreed the average was under the limit, but some areas were over!  Well
duh!  If I look at the .1 inch by .1 inch area around any hole it will be
100 holes/sq-in.  Then they told me that the restriction applies to any
square inch of the board.  When I told them where to stick it and to cancell
the order, they suddenly decided it wasn't that big a deal and I wouldn't
have to pay the extra anyway.

Another problem is they get very uppity about all holes must be plated.
Their web site says that they always plate all holes.  The first board I
tried with them had some mounting holes.  I had read the web site and
decided I didn't care if they got plated, so I submitted the job.  It got
held up because of this issue.  Even though their web site says they plate
all holes, the hold up the job and bitch at you about it if there are holes
with no copper running to them.  I explained that I didn't care, and they
did process the job with all holes plated.  I also asked them how to avoid
getting held up with this in the future.  They said to put a note on the
little "extra instructions" box on the web order form.

The second board I again had mechanical holes and again didn't care if they
got plated.  I carefully put a note in the box on the web form saying it was
OK to plate all holes.  The job still got held up.  This was a real pain
because I was gone for a while and had counted on the boards being there
when I got back.  Instead I found that they were held because there were
holes with no copper running to them.

I think I tried a total of 3 boards with them, and each one was an annoying
and slow process.  We have a rule here not to use PCBFabExpress.


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(978) 742-9014, http://www.embedinc.com

2005\08\29@155041 by PicDude

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Another great appeal is being able to put multiple circuits on the same board.  
I've used them about 10 times or so, and no probs so far.  Beware of the
charges though -- there is a $10 handling charge that they don't tell you
about up front.

I've used PCBfabexpress as well once, and the boards were a bit warped/twisted
(not from packaging), but not to the point of being a problem.

Cheers,
-Neil.


On Monday 29 August 2005 11:32 am, Jesse Lackey scribbled:
{Quote hidden}

2005\08\29@183452 by Dwayne Reid

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At 01:19 PM 8/29/2005, Bob Axtell wrote:

>I used AP Circuits for years, but I have become disenchanted with 1/2oz
>copper as
>a primary conductor size. Since I always use 1oz in my normal designs, the
>action
>(mostly GND signal) of 1/2oz copper is not representative enough of the final
>product to be of any advantage.
>
>barebones (4PCB) uses 1oz laminate, so works better for me.

Hi there, Bob.

You might want to check with APC on what that 1/2 oz copper spec means.

My understanding is that the laminate starts off at 1/2 oz before
drilling.  The board is drilled, imaged, and the drill holes sensitized
(activated) for the plating process.  Next, the board is
electroplated.  This applies the plating to the holes and also builds up
the trace copper thickness to 1oz nominal.

We get some of our high current boards plated to 2oz or 3oz thickness.  S&P
Flex Circuits (Ottawa, Ont, Canada) tells me that they start off with 1/2oz
laminate, then plate to the desired copper thickness.

In short, I would be *extremely* surprised if the boards supplied by APC
are not at least 1oz weight / thickness.

dwayne

PS - I've got the latest batch of boards from APC in my hands as I write
this - my uncalibrated thumbnail tells me that the traces feel about as
thick as the edge connector traces on a production board from S&P.  I'm
comparing to an edge connector since it doesn't have a solder mask covering.

dwayne

PPS - I figured I'd better double check my facts before inserting foot in
mouth.  APC's web site states: "60/40 Fused Tin-Lead over 1 Oz of Copper" -
<http://www.apcircuits.com/services/proto1/overview.html>

dwayne

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2005\08\29@191243 by William Chops Westfield

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On Aug 29, 2005, at 12:19 PM, Bob Axtell wrote:

> I have become disenchanted with 1/2oz copper as a primary conductor
> size. Since I always use 1oz in my normal designs, the action
> (mostly GND signal) of 1/2oz copper is not representative enough
> of the final product to be of any advantage.

I thought "standard procedure" for 1oz double-sided boards was to
start with 1/2oz laminate and build that up to 1oz thickness in the
process of making the Plated-through holes.  From a quick glance
at the AP site, they do the same.  Am I missing something?

BillW

2005\08\29@193727 by Bob Axtell

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_I_ might be missing something. I haven't used APC in a couple of years now
because of thin copper. If they are at 1oz now, I'm happy for them, but when
I bought them previously, they were not at 1oz. Sorry, I'm sticking to
my story.

--Bob

William Chops Westfield wrote:

{Quote hidden}

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2005\08\30@231232 by Jesse Lackey

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Hi Olin - I had exactly these issues with them as well, when first using
them about 2 years ago.  A board rejected because of the drill density,
another due to nonplated holes even though I said it was fine on the
notes on the website.  Annoying time delay and phone call frustration.

They have streamlined things and neither is an issue anymore.  You pick
radio buttons explicitly on the website for both things.  No problems.

Another nice thing about them is they use 2oz copper for top & bottom
layers.  For prototyping a 3500W AC DMX switcher this was essential
and saved a bunch of bucks vs. anywhere else.

I suggest giving them another try.  no, I'm not getting kickbacks from
them... :)

J


Olin Lathrop wrote:

{Quote hidden}

2005\08\30@232155 by Jesse Lackey

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I agree!  I do multiple images all the time.  gerbmerge is your friend.
 A little gerbmerge action and a good pair of tin snips makes this a
reality.  Now that Eagle puts the drill table in the excellon file (as
of a year ago, maybe more) gerbmerge can merge drill tables from
multiple designs as well!  And there is no limit on number of different
drill sizes.  happy happy joy joy.  :)

The only downside is the rapid rise in their prices - used to be, $25?
lot fee and 40c? 50c? sq inch.  Now its $44 and 64c.  Unless its gone up
again since I started typing this email...  However that $10 fee (I
don't remember that, but certainly could have been) doesn't happen anymore.

J


PicDude wrote:

{Quote hidden}

2005\08\30@235307 by Chen Xiao Fan

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Last time when I was in US, the students in the lab were using
AP Circuits. They later switch to Chinese vendors through agents
in US. The total cost is much lower even after adding the
not-so-low EMS/FedEx charge. This is especially true for big power
boards (2-layer only, thick and wide traces for high current,
low quantity as well). I should say that the quality of 2-layer
boards are much better than AP Circuits.

For one small 4-layer boards (low voltage VRM stuff), the
particular Chinese vendor did not offer good enough quality and
the price was as well not so cheap after adding the FedEx charge.

I am not so sure about the situation now since I left the lab.
The lab had its own PCB manufacturing machine but later dropped
the machine because of high maintenance cost.

Regards,
Xiaofan

{Original Message removed}

2005\08\31@050854 by Vasile Surducan

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On 8/31/05, Chen Xiao Fan <@spam@xiaofanKILLspamspamsg.pepperl-fuchs.com> wrote:
> Last time when I was in US,

When are you now please ? if you're in the People Republic of China,
are you interested to take some orders for some electronical complete
products ?
Maybe you're located in the electronics city Shanzei ? Or have some
trusted friends with good technical english-chinese acknowledges,
interested in ?

thx,
Vasile

the students in the lab were using
{Quote hidden}

> {Original Message removed}

2005\08\31@075109 by Chen Xiao Fan

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No I am not in PRC now. I am now in Singapore. I myself have no
interests in trading now. I guess life is much easier (if a bit poorer)
to be an engineer than to be a businessman.

Still I would like to promote Chinese product and service since
it is where I am from. The average GDP in China is still very
low (US$1200) even though there are quite some very rich people there
(1% of 1.3billion is already a huge number).

I think there are already quite some people using the service from
Chinese vendors for small production run (I remember last year's
discussion about Olin's EasyProg and he was using Chinese vendors
through a middleman). There are already quite some trading companies
acting as the middleman in the states. I even tend to believe that
Chinese manufacturers actually have less profit than the western
trading companies. I was in Shenzhen in the year 1995 and worked for
a costimetics bag company(?!?!). The bags were sold very cheaperly to
Hong Kong exporters, then sold to western importers and then to
the big companies like CHANEL/CD/Kenzo/LANCOME/... I will say these
companies only act as a cheaper production base for the big MNCs. They
can always move to other place next time when China becomes too
expensive. The area around Shanghai is already very expensive.

Regards,
Xiaofan

{Original Message removed}

2005\08\31@085815 by olin piclist

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Chen Xiao Fan wrote:
> (I remember last year's
> discussion about Olin's EasyProg and he was using Chinese vendors
> through a middleman).

That was last year.  Now I'm going directly to a different Chinese vendor.
The outfit in Arizona (E-TekNet) that front ended their cousins and uncles
back in China got uppitty with the price at the same time making stupid
mistakes and not following clear written directions two production runs in a
row.

In one case I had them build a bunch of boards that had 9 parts and only 5
different ones.  They failed to install the second largest part on the board
even though I had sent them.  Even the most minimal of sanity checks would
have uncovered that.  This can only be due to laziness and a "we don't give
a crap" attitude.  I then asked them for a partial refund ($85) to cover the
cost of purchasing the replacement parts and reasonable technician time to
install them.  I kept getting a runaround about how the owner wasn't around
and only he could decide to give me a refund.  In the end it took 2 months
for them to issue a refund.  I might have not been so pissed if they had
said "We're really sorry and don't know how this could have happened.  We'll
make sure this never happens again, and of course we'll refund as you ask
immediately.", and then actually do it.  It might have even been smart of
them to refund a larger portion than I requested or give me a discount on a
future order, but I would have been OK with just getting $85 back
immediately with a sincere apology.  The fact that neither happened shows
the problems start at the top and aren't therefore likely to get fixed any
time soon.  They seem have forgotten that there are a lot of manufacturers
out there and that an $800 customer one month could turn into a $8000 (or a
lot more) the next month.

We do some production on our own, and sometimes recommend or help set up
production for our customers.  There is no way I'd put my reputation on the
line by recommending or even mentioning E-TekNet to a customer now.


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(978) 742-9014, http://www.embedinc.com

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