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Thread: Happiness with PCB Fab House

  1. #1
    Senior Member Constantin's Avatar
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    Happiness with PCB Fab House

    Hi guys,

    Just a quick note from the field, and I wonder if we can all share happy experiences with PCB fabrication houses/vendors we like. I know Laen is held in high regard with his Dorkbot PDX service, one that Paul has used a lot. For different reasons, I have stuck with iTeadStudio, and I thought I'd mention why I am happy with them.

    For one, the boards work as expected. When they don't, it's my fault. Anyone need a shoebox full of bad PCB layouts?

    Recently, iTead switched to a new submission system whereby you upload the zipped Gerber file(s) directly to the site. This is a neat feature since it allows you to easily order different PCB thicknesses, finishes, etc. as needs dictate and no longer need lengthy letters to the PCB folk to explain what set of Gerbers goes with what board purchase. Stencil uploads are coming later this year.

    Iteadstudio is nice enough to assemble multiple pad files for the stencil for you. I'd love to do this myself so if someone knows of a good stencil program with a good GUI, I would be much obliged! I tried a number and most failed miserably, either to install or use. Anyhow, I usually send iTeadStudio 6+ different boards to fab up and stencil. Thankfully, they are very nice in assembling the gerbers into the Stencil, then send a PDF to for me for approval.

    Most vendor experiences re: fab are pretty faceless (ok, with the exception of the epic collaboration between Laen and Bill Porter re: his wedding ring proposal). So, imagine how pleased I was about iTeads resolution when something went wrong.

    My latest purchase was for about $300 worth of boards and the stencil. One of the PCB boards sets was meant for a GPRS modem, which requires a thinner PCB thickness than the other boards to allow the micro-stripline antenna to work as intended. Imagine my surprise when I got two sets of power measurement boards from iTead (one thicker than the other) instead of a set of thick power measurement boards accompanied a skinnier set of GPRS boards.

    Of course it was the national flag holiday in China, so I didn't get an answer for a week. But as soon as those guys came back, they replied, investigated, apologized and agreed to send me a new set of GPRS PCBs. The easy thing would have been to issue me a refund for the boards. Instead, they ate the cost of fabricating the replacement set of boards and the cost of shipping it to me via DHL from Shenzen. Color me happy that this supplier stepped up to do the right thing.
    Last edited by Constantin; 10-17-2014 at 07:48 PM.

  2. #2
    Senior Member onehorse's Avatar
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    Just noticed iteadstudios charges $20 extra for ENIG, which is standard at OSHPark. Also, OSHPark will partially panellize using mousebites for separation, at itead, you have to cut the boards apart yourself, apparently. I do like that itead offers different thicknesses at no extra charge (some are at extra charge), and I think flex boards are also an option. I know OSHPark is considering these extra features but so far does not offer them. I have some applications that really need low weight and thin or flex boards is the way to get it. So I will give itead a try. Besides,they also offer the boards in six different colors! Ooh, pretty!

  3. #3
    Administrator Robin's Avatar
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    It's good to hear about positive experience with other PCB fab houses, there are several of them out there to choose from.

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    I've only done my first board with OSH park, but I found them very helpful and responsive ( I was inquiring about rush and production times ). My boards were nearly perfect from a production standpoint. A friend complains about OSH park, saying it's a lottery which fab you get (and thus quality) but his last boards where from OSHpark (Sept 2014) and he described them as "beautiful." To my novice eye they looked even finer quality than my OSHpark boards from April 2014.

  5. #5
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    I have only used OSH Park and am happy with them; I see not particular reason to change especially for the quantities I need (typically one or two, so their minimum of three suits me well). I needed tech support twice and they were responsive: earlier this year when the online gerber visualization showed strange banding on a ground plane (they confirmed it was a visualization bug and would not affect the copper) and this week when a heatsink part I made in Eagle was failing their design rules check (I sent them the Eagle board, schematic and library files and they correctly explained what the issue was and how to fix it within 24 hours).

    Turnaround isn't super fast but that is mainly due to the lowest-cost shipping option from the USA to Europe.

    Silkscreen legibility, solder mask, and drill alignment all look good to me.

    Panel and PCB are still my two largest budget items for Eurorack modules, but I don't see a good way to reduce the PCB cost when I typically want one, or at most two, boards and still use mostly through-hole components.

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    I've ordered the same boards from Itead Studio and Hackvana.

    The ITead boards were meant for prototyping and were inexpensive. 5 Boards for $10 IIRC. While the prototypes of my High Power LED shields had no functional problems, under magnification the drill precision of the 12 mil vias was clearly out of center and was one of the reasons I did not go with ITead for the production boards. The other reason was that (in 2013) ITead did not offer 2oz copper and thinner boards. Both were required for better thermal performance.

    Hackvana boards were my choice for 100 production boards. In that quantity it came down to $1.44 per board (incl. shipping) with HASL, 0.8mm board thickness and 2oz copper. As can be seen in the image, the drill precision is better than the ITead boards.The thinner boards were actually cheaper. ENIG was also available and a little bit more expensive, but Mitch who runs Hackvana convinced me that the flatness that ENIG provides would not be necessary for my non-BGA board. While all the gold plated patches look great on a naked board on a populated board where there is solder on all the patches and the vias are all tented there is no gold left to be seen anyway ;-)
    Mitch in general was very helpful and pleasant to deal with!

    I've had a number of board made by OSH Park and while in general more expensive the drill precision on these boards is outstanding. Color is obviously a matter of taste. I personally find the purple boards with the golden ENIG coating beautiful enough to wear as jewelry! For relatively quick ( ~ 2 weeks turnaround) standard boards for me OSH Park has my business. Also, when problems arise it is always better to talk to someone who is proficient in the English language ;-)
    Last edited by Headroom; 10-18-2014 at 08:11 PM.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Constantin's Avatar
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    Hi one-horse,

    Agree that the $20 charge for ENIG from iTead is on the high side but on a $ / sq in basis, they still beat just about any fab house in USA and they offer framed stainless stencils for the cost of Pololu Mylar sheets in the USA. Turn times and shipping costs are not a great differentiator either.

    EDIT: But just discovered how important ENIG likely is for fine-pitched components such as the MK20DX or Mini54 chips likely is. It could certainly help explain inconsistencies re: bridging pins. Glad to hear about Hackvana. One thing I don't like about these quotation-based services is the greater effort involved in placing an order: Itead / Seeed / OSH Park etc. make it very easy.

    Very interesting observations re: the vias, BTW. I use a lot of 13 mil vias in my PCB designs but few of them are related to anything but GND so absolute positioning is not as important to me as it might be for others. All of my signal traces are 10 mil and up (16mil is the default) and power traces are 24mil and up by default. The backside of the board is usually a continuous GND plane. So perhaps these widths protected me from some of the issues that Paul reported?

    When I first tried OSH park, their DRU file did not allow for 13 mil vias and their distance requirements for the solder mask were also wider. That must have changed in the meantime. This discussion makes me wonder whether I should pro-actively increase the via diameter to 20+ mils to ensure a good connection from the top to the bottom of the board.
    Last edited by Constantin; 10-18-2014 at 12:44 PM.

  8. #8
    Senior Member PaulStoffregen's Avatar
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    I've used iTead several times, usually for their 10x10 cm size or larger, where OSH Park would be very expensive.

    Their quality is definitely not as good. I've had a few boards where they had some sort of trouble with etching, where traces were much thiner that they should be. Only once have I found a board where a connection was actually broken, but several were just barely connected. Their drilling precision isn't nearly as accurate. When I know I'm drawing a PCB for iTead, I usually set the design rules to 8 to 10 mil spacing and I usually make the vias quite a bit larger.

    I would never use iTead for production boards. But for a large PCB like a front panel holding lots of buttons and knobs, they're a pretty good option. I just make sure to set the design rules to larger sizes if I know I'm sending the files to iTead.

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    Anyone know if most board houses are ok with soldering pads to the very edge of PCBs, even though it doesn't pass DRC?
    The OshPark ones I had made were just fine with it.

  10. #10
    Old thread, but FWIW, I am on my sixth order with ITead and have had zero problems. Several of the orders included tiny WQFN chips, the pads for which were perfectly etched and masked. Total price for the most recetn order, shipped to North America was $36USd for ten pieces. These were 10 pieces at 9 sq in each, so 90sq inches for $36. That works out to 40 cents per sq inch, with the DHL.

  11. #11
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    I just got some boards made with PCB universe, and I am quite happy with the quality! And quite cheap as well (if you are doing a run of at least 10) Although for one board, I needed no solder mask on the back, which they messed up 3 times so far. Good news is that they are very willing to re-make boards if they mess them up.

    It should be mentioned that I needed higher drill precision, and they were able to accommodate a .031" routing tool, so I could have some very intricate cuts made in the board.

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