Tuesday 3 July 2018

PCBWay service review (2018)

Following my recent review of Seeed PCB service, I was contacted by PCBWay asking if I wanted to review their service too. Again, I was provided with a discount coupon in exchange for this. Looking at their website this is actually something they seem to offer to all customers - see link here.

The PCBWay website is noticably better than all other PCB companies that I've used - from deciding what to order to the order status as your boards are manufactured (more on that in a bit) is very detailed.

So I put together a quick layout and sent it in. They also offered matte black soldermask, woohoo! During the ordering process I was given the option to gamble and perhaps be upgraded to ENIG for free. This made the wait much more exciting!

Once the gerbers were submitted, before payment is taken they are manually reviewed by the staff at PCBWay. This must save them some headaches from idiots that send in half a set of files or an unmanufacturable board.

I sat for a few minutes refreshing the page every now and again, and then the website broke!

Luckily it came back online a short while later and had the status of "Being reviewed" on my actual gerbers:

That took around 5 minutes (and I passed!) which then took me through to payment (or in my case, discount coupon application)

Over the few days following that, they offer a live status update "View Technological Process" which tells you exactly where your boards are at. Here's what mine looked like:

Then a couple of weeks later I received this in the mail. Well, kind of... this is my one and only minor gripe with this service - the box was much too big for the items it contained. From other companies when ordering just 5 or 10 PCBs they just package in a small bubble padded envelope, but this large box meant that it didn't fit through my letterbox and I had to go and collect it from the post office.

Lots of empty space inside the box!

The PCBs arrived safely vacuum packed in the usual manner, although with an elastic band on the inside too:

So I didn't win a free ENIG upgrade this time, but I did get 11 boards and not the 10 I ordered. Sorry for the lighting in the following pics. Matte black PCBs are very hard to photograph! There was a small order number added to the boards, but they thoughtfully put it underneath an IC so it will not be visible once soldered.

Two of the boards had a strange pattern of circles on the back. It looks like it'd clean off with some alcohol but it didn't. I'm not sure what it is.

The silkscreen quality is typical of low cost boards. As shown in the technological process status the boards are tested and the probe marks can be seen in the centres of the pads:

Finally, the soldermask alignment was very good:

I really like the PCBway website (oh, it has a mobile layout too, that's worth mentioning) and the fact that anyone can get free PCBs by posting a review or video about their services is good if you are short of cash but can afford to spend a short while writing a review. My only suggestion for improvement would be to make the packaging smaller when possible so that orders for a small quantity of boards will fit through a letterbox!

Friday 18 May 2018

Seeed Fusion PCB service review (2018)

Seeed Studio contacted me asking if I wanted to review their Fusion PCB service, of course I said yes :) Full disclosure: they provided a discount coupon for me to use on this service in exchange for the review here.

It took me a while to think of something to have manufactured, but I stumbled across an interesting project here AVR-PCI bridge that I thought could be interesting to play around with.

Seeed offer the "standard" hobbyist level PCB spec, but also give the option to get smaller drill sizes and/or trace widths for a relatively small extra cost directly from the ordering page, rather than having to pay for their "advanced" service. For this board though, the standard specs were more than good enough, so I had it finished in ENIG just because I could! One notable missing option from the standard list was for a matte black solder mask (specifically matte, not shiny black). Elecrow offer this for an extra $20 or so.

So a timeline:

29th April - I placed my order.

2nd May - Board went in to production

8th May - Boards shipped, a somewhat useless(!) photo came with the notification email:


Normally I like the pre-shipping photo, it gives me a slight comfort that I haven't done something really silly with the Gerbers... but this one I can't see anything!

15th May - Boards arrived

I forgot to mention this was using their cheapest shipping option "Post Link". For me in the UK that resulted in the parcel being shipped internationally by 4PX (trackable), and delivered to my house using Royal Mail Tracked. For my purposes, this is great, I have no need for a faster delivery service (this only took 1 week anyway).

The boards had the quantity written in marker on the side for some reason. Not a problem, just an observation!

As you would expect, all of the boards were usable (excuse the shadow of my phone in the reflective solder mask). Just below C5 on the back of the board is the Seeed production code. They do warn about this being added in their FAQ (here).

It's hard to tell in those photos, but 3 of the 10 boards have no solder mask on some of the vias. Here is a close up (top board normal, bottom board missing solder mask). I guess it was just spread too thinly or something, not really sure to be honest. It was the same on both sides of the 3 affected boards. In this application, just a minor cosmetic issue though and will not affect the functionality.

 Here's a close-up of some of this board's finer detail. Looks good:

The silkscreen quality isn't too great, but is no different to other manufacturers at this price point. The alignment is good.

Finally, the solder mask alignment is a little out, but not by any problematic amount. Maybe 2-3mil (at a guess based on the 12mil vias)

In conclusion, I'd definitely use Seeed again. Their pricing is as good as other companies for the low cost, low quantity boards that hobbyists need! The only improvement I could suggest to this service would be the addition of matte black solder mask option to the website (at a small extra cost of course). I'll do a follow up post when I get the remaining parts delivered and soldered on.