PCB Fabrication

PCB Fabrication

When creating PCBs, the quality of the work is the most important element. If the design has a flaw, the work can lead to malfunction, damage, or worse depending on the application. Quality is key. It’s good practice to keep that in mind regardless if the design is complex or rudimentary.

I’ve found that component placement on the board to be a good first step. It allows you to know that parts will fit and connect with the outside world with ease. Once all the components are in place, then traces can be run. Traces are a bit of art. The symmetry and structure to complex boards create patterns that draw attention. If a component needs to be moved or added later, legacy traces typically will need to be deleted and recreated. Don’t waste your hard work. Get you component placement right the first time. If additional components will be added later, factor that in. It can take weeks of work to get a first pass done on a complex PCB design. You don’t want a do over, most likely you won’t be afforded with one.

Be prepared to make changes. It’s highly unlikely the first rendering of your layout into a Gerber file will be ready for production. I’ve used these programs to quality check my layouts. I’ve managed to find something in each that brings me back to make another change.

Fritzing – http://fritzing.org/home/
Gerbv – http://gerbv.geda-project.org/
GerbLook – http://gerblook.org/
Mayhew Labs 3D Gerber Viewer – http://mayhewlabs.com/3dpcb

There is another windows based program you can try, however I have not tested it.

ZofzPCB: FREE 3D Gerber Viewer – https://www.zofzpcb.com/

Once you iron out all the wrinkles, you should print out the layout on paper. This has helped me tremendously. Imagine going through all the steps and placing your order with a manufacturer just to have a board arrive that components fail to fit on. It’s happened and it will continue to happen if a mock up isn’t tested. I’ve found design flaws that didn’t appear any other way.

Once your design is done, sit on it for a few days, if you can. Check your work again after that break. If possible, have someone else check your work. When the trigger is pulled for production, it rarely can be undone. Avoiding waste is good financially and environmentally.

After all that, you’re ready for production! There are many manufacturers available, but the one I’ll showcase is PCBWay.com (https://www.pcbway.com/). You’ll need to create an account with them. Once you do, the landing page as of this writing has an instant quote to get you started. I basically set my specs based on my design, uploaded my gerber files as a zip, and submitted it for them to review. Once it clears, they notify you that it’s either ready to be ordered or they found a problem. They offer other services such as multilayer PCB fabrication, PCB assembly, and flexible boards.

It is a relief to have this type of service available. The projects that I’m working on take a considerable amount of time. It allows me to focus more of my attention on engineering and design tasks. Depending on your needs, even the casual hobbyist could benefit from these services. I hope you have enjoyed and found this useful. Happy building!

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