Tour of Advanced Circuits – A PCB Manufacturer

Although not a hack in itself, many of you may be interested in seeing how a printed circuit board is made in the manufacturing world.  This tour of Advanced Circuits does a good job of explaining the process. The article explains how a PCB will go through a CAD/CAM review, drilling, deburring, and the various chemical etch, plating, and curing processes.

Although many hackers make their own PCBs, having it professionally done can be a good option depending on how many copies are needed. One benefit of this is that PCBs can be checked by an optical inspection process, or even by a “flying lead” machine which works by contacting leads automatically in a computer controlled setup.

A video of this incredible machine is included after the break.  Around 0:26 is when it really starts to get going.

Comments

  1. fartface says:

    Most boards are not tested, once they have the design down they just crank up the machine and produce them. pin testing on boards only happens on very high dollar devices like Cisco router motherboards.

  2. PeterF says:

    Wrong!
    You can order anny board you like with a e-test.
    It is not standard and you have to pay extra for it but the option for a e-test is standard!

    I have at least 2 low cost Boards made in double digits that went though a e-test at the manufacturer.

  3. LegallyObscure says:

    Not to hijack the thread, but do any of you HAD readers have experience with NDA’s regarding these fab houses ? I’m thinking of producing some prototype designs for manufacture, but patent apps are not fully completed. so how “secure” are these board manufacturers when it comes to other people’s intellectual property ?

  4. ColinB says:

    Really cool! I was able to read the first page, but now it’s been Hackadayed (think “slashdotted”). I’ll have to finish reading it later.

  5. goldscott says:

    Great article. At work we get PCBs manufactured by Advanced Circuits, and they do a great job. We routinely get 4mil trace/space and high pin count microconnectors. Never seen any issues or defects. So, I’m a happy customer.

  6. vic says:

    Very interesting. I’m quite surprised that the process is so different from what you would do at home, doing the different operations almost in the opposite order.

  7. Jeremy says:

    I’ve used Advanced Circuits before and they are a top quality board house but you definitely pay for it! I’ve ended up using Silvtronics, Laen’s PCB Order Service for small runs or prototypes, or PCBCart. All of which are tons cheaper and gives me the same quality.

    FYI, I have also tried Imagineering (pcbnet) but haven’t been overly impressed. Too thin of soldermask, silkscreen is often off the mark, and the holes aren’t plated.

    Good source of info on creating a panel of boards and such: http://www.eevblog.com/2010/11/15/eevblog-127-pcb-design-for-manufacture-tutorial/

  8. Squonk says:

    Hey, this article has been Slashdoted before on June 28th, 2011:
    http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/11/06/28/213207/How-Printed-Circuit-Boards-Are-Made

    Please cite your sources.

  9. Squirrel says:

    Only problem I’ve had with their boards (somewhere around 11 of them so far) were design errors by me (oops)

  10. Jeremy Cook says:

    @Squonk – this article came through on the tip lines on June 26th.

  11. Red says:

    Yes, an e-test can be done on any board, whether it is cost effective or not is another matter.

    I’ve been using AC for years. Their customer service is hard to beat.

    Once or twice I’ve had a board go through that wasn’t picked up by their DFM check (which is free to use, you don’t have to order a board from them to use the DFM check) and I’ve had their tech’s call me and stay on the phone while we go through the D codes trying to find a problem.

    I’ve the many different designs they have made for me over the years and the 1000’s of boards, I can only remember 2 defects that were the result of something in their process, and they replaced those panels immediately.

    Their educational discount is also great, it makes experimenting with different layout implementations on some of our more complex designs feasible.

    For those who disregard AC because of price, be aware of the $33 two layer board. They will make anything up to 60in^2. I’ve done many boards this way over the years. When I am prototyping a design I will often fill out a 60″^2 panel with several versions with shared power and ground nets, but done in a way that they can easily be cut apart and separated once I figure out which works the best.

    If you do panelize different designs for the $33 offer they charge an extra $50, but it’s a one time charge, not effected by the number of panels ordered. When you order 5 panels that’s 300 square inches of board for $215, which is pretty darn good considering it’s 2 layers, top/bottom silk, and top/bottom soldermask.

    Also, AC now offers a board assembly operation. I haven’t used them yet, but the cost doesn’t seem to unreasonable…

    @ Legally

    I’ve no experience with them with NDA’s, but I would give their sales department a call and talk with them, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

  12. charper says:

    @LegallyObscure

    I’m normally the paranoid type (and I get paid to be for some of my ‘projects’).

    However – what can they really gather from just your raw dxf file? I’m guessing there’s not enough information silkscreened on your board for them to figure out what your board is doing, much less what parts it’s using or why.

    You might have to worry about cloners if you have some product where the full BOM is given out or is available. However, just building a board, where information on usage or parts is private, I think you’re fine. Having said all that, I would trust Advanced Circuits a little more as they are a US-based company with US-based manufacture. Intellectual property is taken more seriously here than some other places in the world.

  13. MJN says:

    I used to use AC. In college they treated me great, even though my orders were always teeny. When I graduated, I continued using them in my professional career. I routinely placed very expensive orders with them. I got god awful customer service, which just didn’t make sense.

    I put up with this for a while due to loyalty – but finally I had a fairly complicated 6 layer PCB. I had it electrically tested (I always do this for PCBs with layers I can’t see). When I soldered up the first board – I discovered a short circuit. So, I blamed myself, and started removing components. Eventually I had every component removed. Still shorted. So either their electrical tester was broken or they lied about testing. Either way, I reported it – they told me they’d remake as many of the PCBs as were shorted, and didn’t even apologize or offer any explanation.

    I’ve never used them again. I mostly use Sunstone Circuits and Prototron Circuits these days.

  14. Life2Death says:

    Fartface, would you happen to work at a 3-Letter, dumb named PCB fab that I happened to work for that made Cisco boards?

  15. phishinphree says:

    I HATE advanced circuits. They have never once given me a quote lower than the competition. Also I’ve tried many times to unsubscribe from their e-mails but they keep sending them. bad business, bad reps, bad prices. I sincerely hope they go belly up. That bitch rep Linda can go to hell.

  16. Derek says:

    “Really starts to get going?”

    That thing is slow. The SPEA machines where I work, on the other hand, are not and they test active circuitry.

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