Homemade Test Jig Is Cheaper Than Outsourcing

In the past, [Sjaak] has had his testing and programming jigs made for him in¬†Shenzhen, but realized they weren’t that great of a value. They weren’t terribly expensive in the grand scheme of things, but they didn’t include any wiring, so he was still spending his own time and money. His quest to develop his own in-house jigs not only netted him a considerable cost savings in the end, but also produced a nicely detailed post on his site for anyone else who may be heading down the same path. That’s a win-win in our book.

The idea behind a jig is pretty simple: essentially it’s just a mount that holds the PCB, and a set of pins which contact the appropriate points on the board. The jig can then provide power, programming, status LEDs for testing, etc. Basically anything that you can’t or don’t want to include on the final board, but will help in testing or programming them.

To start, [Sjaak] begins with a blank PCB in Eagle and imports his target board. With the two lined up, he can then mark where he wants the pins to go on the jig, and add labels to the silkscreen to make things a little easier during diagnostics. The target board is then removed, the file converted to Gerber, and it’s sent off for manufacturing. With a few more tweaks, the file is then exported to DXF and laser cut out of acrylic. When the PCBs come back, it’s just a matter of sandwiching it all together with some standoffs and adding the pins.

[Sjaak] mentions that he was inspired by an old post on how SparkFun was internally handling their test jigs, though we think with a dash of automation he could make things even easier for himself.

Bed of nails and accuracy in PCB manufacturing

A few days ago, we mentioned the new ARM-powered Teensy 3.0 project on Kickstarter. The creator, [Paul Stoffregen], decided to share the trials of building a test fixture along with a shocking comparison of the accuracy of different PCB manufacturers in an update to his Kickstarter.

Because [Paul]’s Teensy 3.0 has more IO pins than should be possible on such a small board, the test fixture to verify if a board is defective or not is fairly complex. To test each board, a Teensy is placed on dozens of spring-loaded contacts arranged like a bed of nails. From there, another Teensy (this time a Teensy 2.0) performs a few tests by cycling through all the pins with several patterns.

Because the spring-loaded contacts require rather precise drill holes in the PCB of his test fixture, [Paul] thought it would be neat to compare the accuracy of several board houses. In the title pic for this post (click to embiggen), [Paul] demonstrates the capabilities of OSH Park, Seeed Studio, and iTead Studio. The lesson here is probably going with a US company if quality drill work is a necessary requirement of your next project.