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'[EE] Small-Production PCB Manufacturer Experiences'
2007\03\13@223527 by Forrest W Christian

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I regularly do production runs of 100-500 boards.  I used to use
expresspcb, but since I needed stencils for the new SMD stuff I'm doing,
I decided to switch to using gerbers.

Note I'm talking production here, not proto.  For proto, I'm using
Alberta PRinted Circuits and am happy with them.

On the production side, so far, I've used Advanced Circuits (4pcb).  
Took advantage of their $500 free offer.   Loved the boards.   But a bit
pricey.  So I looked around a bit.

On the lowest end of the price scale, I found PCBCart.   Pricing was
great so I threw a simple, one layer board, no drill/vias (SMD only) at
them.   7 day turn + holiday backlog.   Got an email from them asking
questions about the board, and even got a panelized gerber from them so
I could get a stencil made.  Then nothing.  No email.  No update to the
web site with estimated ship date, or anything.   After two weeks of
sending them an email every 48 hours just requesting status, I gave up
and filed a dispute with paypal (figured that would get their
attention).  Now the status says "failed" which I take it means that I'm
not going to get the boards at all.

So, I'm back in the market for a PCB vendor.   Looking for someone
cheap, but consistent.  Note I didn't say fast.   I can deal with the
fact that once I send my gerbers it takes 2-3 weeks to get 250 boards.  
I just have to make sure I order early enough that this isn't a
problem.   I just want to know that the order is going to happen, and
not have to deal with "where the heck is my order".  I can also deal
with about any design limits (I.E. track/pad spacing, etc.).  Oh yeah,
RoHS/Lead free is a must.

So, I'm interested in people's opinion of their favorite fab houses.  In
my research, I've figured out that price wise pcbontime.com, myropcb,
qualitypcb and ourpcb are pretty decent, but  I have no idea about the
flakiness of the companies themselves.  Imagineering, pcbonline, and
advanced circuits are pretty close price wise.  Olimex and Futurlec are
actually at the high end of the price scale when you're talking
production, so I'm not really interested in them at all.

Again, I'm more interested in "dirt cheap and reasonably good customer
service", as long as they meet the very minimal technical requirements I
have (RoHS, etc).

-forrest

2007\03\13@231003 by Brian Kraut

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I have almost taken advantage of the $500 offer at Advanced Circuits before,
but for the several hundred quantities I have been ordering it has always
been less money to use Imagineering http://www.pcbnet.com/ even after the
Advanced offer.  They have always had consistently good quality and on time
delivery.  Their prices get even better if you don't need quick delivery.

I agree that AP Circuits is number one for small quantity protos or small
runs when you don't need solder mask and silk screens.

Brian Kraut
Engineering Alternatives, Inc.
http://www.engalt.com

{Original Message removed}

2007\03\14@052116 by Mike Harrison

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On Tue, 13 Mar 2007 20:37:27 -0600, you wrote:

{Quote hidden}

That's surprising - I've used them for 6 boards so far from 1 to 4 layers, and service and
communications have been excellent. I noticed their website was very slow yesterday so maybe they've
been having comms problems.


2007\03\14@082654 by Carl Denk

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REcent experience with Imagineering was, for 3 boards (2 panelized, I
cut apart), a phone call day after order from their tech support with
several questions related to copper areas, really appreciated someone
was looking and took the time to call on a small first time order.

Brian Kraut wrote:
{Quote hidden}

> {Original Message removed}

2007\03\14@124901 by Vitaliy

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Forrest W Christian wrote:
[snip]
{Quote hidden}

Forrest, have you considered outsourcing your boards to a contract
manufacturer? Depending on the complexity of the board, it may be more
economical -- even for a small run.

If the board has enough complexity, and especially if it's mostly
through-hole, China is the way to go if you want "dirt cheap." Contact me
off-line, if you need help finding a reliable source.

Best regards,

Vitaliy

2007\03\14@132258 by Forrest W. Christian

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Vitaliy wrote:

> Forrest, have you considered outsourcing your boards to a contract
> manufacturer? Depending on the complexity of the board, it may be more
> economical -- even for a small run.
>
If you mean assembly, yes I've considered it.   At around Qty 50/month
it's a lot cheaper to do this in-house.   A typical board with 50
placements will cost me around $5 to have built.  50 boards would be
$250.  An employee here can screen and populate around 50 boards in 3
hours, which at $10/hr is $30.

The manual cost to place with my own employee can be calculated as follows:

Labor cost is roughly 0.003/second. ($10/hr,  16.666.../minute,
0.003/second). Even if you figure 5 seconds a placement, the cost is
only about 1.5cents/placement.   Heck, even if we could only place one
every 30 seconds (even I can do this well), we'd still be in the same
ballpark.

>If the board has enough complexity, and especially if it's mostly
>through-hole, China is the way to go if you want "dirt cheap." Contact me off-line, if you need help finding a reliable source.
>  
>
I'll probably shoot you an email since I would be interested in
outsourcing this, but I just can't figure out how at my volumes it makes
any sense at all.

-forrest

2007\03\14@142703 by Vitaliy

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Forrest W. Christian wrote:
>> Forrest, have you considered outsourcing your boards to a contract
>> manufacturer? Depending on the complexity of the board, it may be more
>> economical -- even for a small run.
>>
> If you mean assembly, yes I've considered it.   At around Qty 50/month
> it's a lot cheaper to do this in-house.   A typical board with 50
> placements will cost me around $5 to have built.  50 boards would be
> $250.  An employee here can screen and populate around 50 boards in 3
> hours, which at $10/hr is $30.

Yeah, these are relatively simple boards. Do you hand-solder them in-house?
Are they PTH?

> The manual cost to place with my own employee can be calculated as
> follows:
>
> Labor cost is roughly 0.003/second. ($10/hr,  16.666.../minute,
> 0.003/second). Even if you figure 5 seconds a placement, the cost is
> only about 1.5cents/placement.   Heck, even if we could only place one
> every 30 seconds (even I can do this well), we'd still be in the same
> ballpark.

Mmm... that doesn't really make sense to me. The relationship is linear,
unless you have a huge fixed overhead.

>>If the board has enough complexity, and especially if it's mostly
>>through-hole, China is the way to go if you want "dirt cheap." Contact me
>>off-line, if you need help finding a reliable source.
>>
>>
> I'll probably shoot you an email since I would be interested in
> outsourcing this, but I just can't figure out how at my volumes it makes
> any sense at all.

A lot depends on your market. If the potential market is big, and the demand
is elastic, it makes sense to produce larger quantities, but charge less per
unit so you can sell more. Keep in mind that your goal should be to maximize
your _total_ profit, so it doesn't matter how much profit you make on each
unit (many people forget this).

I've found that 1000 boards is usually the magic number, at which point it
becomes a no-brainer for almost any size board. Sometimes you can save
enough money to make it worth your while to place an order just once a year,
instead of building the boards on a JIT basis.

Vitaliy

2007\03\14@151225 by Rob Robson

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Vitaliy wrote:

> Keep in mind that your goal should be to maximize
> your _total_ profit, so it doesn't matter how much profit you make on each
> unit (many people forget this).
>

Some may choose to balance the above goal with some other ones, like the
desire to support the local community so that regional expertise is not
lost.  If you can still provide a decent living for yourself and for your
employees this way, why not keep it local?  The minimum cost/maximum profit
mindset can have undesirable longer-term consequences (many people forget
this).

RR


2007\03\14@174525 by Forrest Christian

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Vitaliy wrote:
> Yeah, these are relatively simple boards. Do you hand-solder them in-house?
> Are they PTH?
>  
We've been doing PTH in the past.   We're switching to SMD.

For PTH we've been doing solder-pot soldering, where you insert all of
the components through the board into anti-static foam.  Then you flux
the entire board, preheat/dry it a bit and then dip it into a solder pot
for 3 seconds.   Fast, quick, efficient.   Generally a board takes me no
more than 30 seconds to solder after everything is in place.

With the SMD, we're applying RoHS compliant solder flux using a manual
stencil process.   Small boards we're v-scoring so we're able to stencil
a few at a time.   After the stenciling, we manually place the
components (generally 1206 or larger so it's easy for a human to place),
and then bake.   The switch to SMD is because it's actually faster to
place SMD than PTH if you're good with the tweezers, and it's easier to
deal with RoHS that way.  PTH components (which we keep to a very low
minimum) get soldered by hand.  We generally try to keep the PTH pins
under 10 or so per board.   If it's more, we're leaving it in the Leaded
environment and the entire board as PTH.   Most of these devices are
RoHS exempt anyways.

>> Labor cost is roughly 0.003/second. ($10/hr,  16.666.../minute,
>> 0.003/second). Even if you figure 5 seconds a placement, the cost is
>> only about 1.5cents/placement.   Heck, even if we could only place one
>> every 30 seconds (even I can do this well), we'd still be in the same
>> ballpark.
>>    
>
> Mmm... that doesn't really make sense to me. The relationship is linear,
> unless you have a huge fixed overhead.
>  
The cost to manually place a component is mainly time.   Flux is dirt
cheap per board, and our volumes are small enough that we don't really
have to hire someone to do it.  However, we do have to consider at what
point is it cheaper to outsource.  What I'm saying is that at the going
rate of $0.10 per component at my quantities, I can hire lots of people
to do the placement for me.    If I could get assembly at
$0.01/placement I'd outsource in a minute.
> A lot depends on your market. If the potential market is big, and the demand
> is elastic, it makes sense to produce larger quantities, but charge less per
> unit so you can sell more. Keep in mind that your goal should be to maximize
> your _total_ profit, so it doesn't matter how much profit you make on each
> unit (many people forget this).
>  
My market is relatively cost insensitive.  My products are significantly
lower priced than the competition (like 1/10th of the competition), but
the market is extremely small.   500/year per product is my
expectation.  I also rev the products fairly quickly to respond to
customer needs so I generally will buy 1-200 boards, go through those,
make any design changes, and then proceed.

My niche is specifically figuring out how to do those very low volume
products which are simple to build (throw 40 components on the board,
and 8 hours of programming), and that noone wants to build because they
are interested in either selling 100 units at $5000 each or millions of
units at $19.95 each.

I'd rather sell 500 each of 20 different products at $150 each.  

I expect to hit a nerve at some point on some product and find out that
500/year is a decade or two too low of a quantity for that product.  At
which point I'll pick up the SMD design

-forrest

2007\03\14@232416 by Brian Kraut

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Another consideration which is the big one why I still do my boards myself
is the cash outlay for outsourcing them.  The boards that I do about 300 a
year of have about $35 in parts on them.  If I need to have 300 boards made
to get a good price I will have to shell out ten grand at once.  Now I just
give Digikey orders for a years worth of parts and have them schedule the
deliveries to spread them out over the year and still give me the quantity
prices.

Brian Kraut
Engineering Alternatives, Inc.
http://www.engalt.com

{Original Message removed}

2007\03\14@232421 by Brian Kraut

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What temp do you set your solder pot for with 63/37 leaded solder?  I just
started using one and I don't know what the ideal temp is yet.

Brian Kraut
Engineering Alternatives, Inc.
http://www.engalt.com

{Original Message removed}

2007\03\14@234235 by Forrest W. Christian

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Brian Kraut wrote:

>What temp do you set your solder pot for with 63/37 leaded solder?  I just
>started using one and I don't know what the ideal temp is yet.
>  
>
Hot.

In reality, I have no good way to measure it, since the solder pot is
really a $5 thrift store electric skillet with the thermostat munged so
it goes higher than originally intended.   An IR thermometer doesn't do
any good on the solder...the thermometer can't get a reading.  Although
it just occurs to me that the outside of the skillet might work just as
well.

I'm firing up the pot later tonight so I'll see if I can take a
reading.  I also just ended up with a DMM with a type-K thermocouple so
I'll try that as well.

-forrest

2007\03\15@000426 by Brian Kraut

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Are you using the skillet for surface mount or through hole?

Brian Kraut
Engineering Alternatives, Inc.
http://www.engalt.com

{Original Message removed}

2007\03\15@004534 by Forrest W. Christian

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Brian Kraut wrote:

>Are you using the skillet for surface mount or through hole?
>  
>
Through hole.

Take a cheap electric skillet with a mechanical thermostat.

Open the thermostat up and bend the contact inside so it closes at a
higher temp than it was designed for.  This step may be optional
depending on how how the skillet will go with the thermostat.

Add bar solder.

Pre-stuff circuit boards with all components.  Take a dip in flux, then
a preheat on a old electric grill.  Once most of the flux moisture is
driven off, dip in solder pot.  Actually more like set in solder pot (no
the boards won't sink) for like 3 seconds.  Pull out and wait for solder
to solidify.  Put on cooling rack.

-forrest

2007\03\15@095238 by PicDude

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Piggy-backing on this thread, since I'm also looking for a small-run PCB
manufacturer (individual or company).  Would really prefer in the US, and in
S. Florida even better.  I have different versions of a product, each version
having different firmware, and a few different passives.  SMD (SSOP, SOT-23,
0805) on the bottom and thru-hole on the top.  I usually do 10 to 100 units
of each version (panelized as 2x5 units per board).  I've found with the
different versions that it's easier when dealing with individual assemblers
or small companies.  Any links to people who do this are appreciated.

-Neil.



On Wednesday 14 March 2007 12:25, Forrest W. Christian wrote:
{Quote hidden}

2007\03\15@135152 by Scott Touchton

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Offered to the list along this topic of discussion:  

Excellon MC-30A pick and place machine.  Operational, but OLD! (how many
5.25" floppies do you have?)

Sometimes finicky - card edge connectors and numerous cable connectors.

Cost:  FREE!  You come and get it off of our dock.  Included are some 12 and
8mm feeders.  

Weight approx 1100lbs.  Has been moved in a pickup before, so it is doable
but not fun.  Rent a U-haul with a lift gate - much easier.

We ran our final production off of it, and moved it aside to make room for a
QUAD QSP.

Scott




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2007\03\15@141532 by wouter van ooijen

face picon face
> Excellon MC-30A pick and place machine.  Operational, but
> OLD! (how many 5.25" floppies do you have?)

(I think 22" in total for drives, much more for actual floppies)

Now that is an offer! If only you were around the corner...

Wouter van Ooijen

-- -------------------------------------------
Van Ooijen Technische Informatica: http://www.voti.nl
consultancy, development, PICmicro products
docent Hogeschool van Utrecht: http://www.voti.nl/hvu



2007\03\15@142805 by Scott Touchton

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part 1 1493 bytes content-type:text/plain; (unknown type 8bit not decoded)



Forgot to add the most important part:  Machine is located in Morgantown,
PA.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Offered to the list along this topic of discussion:  

Excellon MC-30A pick and place machine.  Operational, but OLD! (how many
5.25" floppies do you have?)

Sometimes finicky - card edge connectors and numerous cable connectors.

Cost:  FREE!  You come and get it off of our dock.  Included are some 12 and
8mm feeders.  

Weight approx 1100lbs.  Has been moved in a pickup before, so it is doable
but not fun.  Rent a U-haul with a lift gate - much easier.

We ran our final production off of it, and moved it aside to make room for a
QUAD QSP.

Scott




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Checked by AVG Free Edition.
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11:27 AM




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Checked by AVG Free Edition.
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11:27 AM





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2007\03\15@144242 by Brian Kraut

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part 1 1927 bytes content-type:text/plain; (decoded 7bit)

Sold.  Give me a contact number or call me at 904-536-1780.  I have a friend
in Pottstown that can pick it up as early as tomorrow.

Brian Kraut
Engineering Alternatives, Inc.
http://www.engalt.com

{Original Message removed}
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2007\03\18@000547 by Vitaliy

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Rob Robson wrote:
>> Keep in mind that your goal should be to maximize
>> your _total_ profit, so it doesn't matter how much profit you make on
>> each
>> unit (many people forget this).
>>
> Some may choose to balance the above goal with some other ones, like the
> desire to support the local community so that regional expertise is not
> lost.

What expertise -- stuffing circuit boards? The local community should get an
education, find a better job -- and let people in developing countries have
an opportunity to earn a living.

>  If you can still provide a decent living for yourself and for your
> employees this way, why not keep it local?

Because if outsourcing makes economic sense, and I don't outsource, my
competitor will -- and she will drive my employees and I out of business.

> The minimum cost/maximum profit
> mindset can have undesirable longer-term consequences (many people forget
> this).

The long term consequences of the "keep it local" mindset are (when enforced
at the national level): loss of productivity, higher cost of living,
unemployment. When left unenforced, this mindset ruins its own followers (a
good thing for the rest of us).

Vitaliy




2007\03\18@001007 by Vitaliy

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Brian Kraut wrote:
> Another consideration which is the big one why I still do my boards myself
> is the cash outlay for outsourcing them.  The boards that I do about 300 a
> year of have about $35 in parts on them.  If I need to have 300 boards
> made
> to get a good price I will have to shell out ten grand at once.  Now I
> just
> give Digikey orders for a years worth of parts and have them schedule the
> deliveries to spread them out over the year and still give me the quantity
> prices.

If it makes economic sense, by all means -- use local labor. If it doesn't
make sense, outsource!

Our first product was first manufactured in-house, then outsourced to a US
company in another state, then outsourced to a Chinese manufacturer. Every
time, we were able to cut the cost in half, and free up resources for higher
value activities.

Vitaliy

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