PCB Manufacturing HackChat Transcript

A event log for Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Manufacturing

Curious about how PCBs get manufactured? This chat will demystify the process and discuss ways to save you money!

Shulie TornelShulie Tornel 08/04/2017 at 19:420 Comments

Welcome everyone! Let's get started

Jonathan Hirschman 

@Jonathan Hirschman
is our host.

re east coast weather: TS emily remnants?

Could you introduce yourself please?

Jonathan Hirschman 
hi everyone! I'm jonathan from PCB:NG

goebish has joined this room.12:05 PM

Lucas Coelho Cavalheiro 
Hi Jonathan.

Jonathan Hirschman PCB:NG is what we always wanted from an electronics manufacturer, but didn't exist. So we made it ourselves.

Paul Stoffregen hiya

ZiggyInKC howdy!

Lutetium There's a sheet for questions:

Jonathan Hirschman Hi y'all

charliex evenin'

ZiggyInKC which is the proper spelling of "y'all"

Lutetium y'all

darryln that is correct.

goebish hi

billybob hi

Jonathan Hirschman OK, so I guess I should start answering questions....

Lucas Coelho Cavalheiro @Jonathan Hirschman what does the NG stands for?

sheffieldnick ST:NG ? :)

ZiggyInKC <cue music>

Jonathan Hirschman Hah. "Next Generation". We found that there's a big overlap between electronics folks and yes, ST:TNG

Jonathan Hirschman Most of our customers get it.

Lutetium Jonathan has an interesting background- could you tell us about it?

when i look at it, i see "pcb-ing" (and sitting)

Jonathan Hirschman Sure, happy to talk about myself :)

Jonathan Hirschman I sold my last business in 2010. I swore that I never wanted to write code or do sysadmin stuffs again.

Jonathan Hirschman And I wanted to learn how make things. Tangible stuff.

Kevin John has joined this room.12:10 PM

ross.mohan has joined this room.12:10 PM

Jonathan Hirschman So I taught myself some electronics, and then PCB Layout. I got pretty good at it, and was teaching engineers how to do PCB Layout by 2011.

Jonathan Hirschman They all had the same questions for me - how to I make my design?

Jonathan Hirschman That led me to just how horrible PCBA is (PCB Assembly).

Jonathan Hirschman So I sarted researching, and by 2014, I was ready to launch the company. Started raising money. That's a fun story :)

wes Hi all!

Lutetium hi Wes

Jonathan Hirschman PCB:NG shipped its first order in August 2015. We operated for our first year doing it the dumb way that the rest of the industry does it.

Jonathan Hirschman But we were takin notes and writing software...

Jonathan Hirschman And we launched our beta in July 2016.

Lutetium Let's talk about manufacturing PCBs! There's a few questions that people have on the sheet.

Lutetium sFirst up: How difficult is it to create flexible PCBs for prototyping?

Radomir Dopieralski "we will fix it in software" ;-)

ZiggyInKC "you can't hardware yourself out of a software problem"

Jonathan Hirschman It's very difficult. Anything do to with flexi is difficult and expensive. There are two options...

john701 Maybe you could give an idea of how to start. I've never had a pcb made.

Jonathan Hirschman First is to get something like the BotFactory Squink. So if you have $5k in pocket, that might work for you.

Jonathan Hirschman otherwise, make small PCBs with connectors and string them up with pre-cut FPC.

sako0938 Oh I wish I had that in the bank :)

Jonathan Hirschman Next question?

john701 how to start a first pcb?

0live I'd love to know what you used to teach yourself "some electronics"

darryln could you give an overview of how your assy process works?

James Murphy I'm looking for the Jonathan Hirschman Chat. Is this it?

Lucas Coelho Cavalheiro @Jonathan Hirschman so where is the PCBs manufactured and assembled? (for PCB:NG)

Jonathan Hirschman ok, let me talk about getting started.

Jonathan Hirschman So, best way to make your first PCB is to download some decent, but easy software, and just jump in. DipTrace is very, very easy, and they provide a great tutorial.

Todd Yes, what did you learn to design with, Eagle?

Jonathan Hirschman It's good to have something in mind that you ant to make.

Jonathan Hirschman Speaking for myself, not an Eagle fan, especially not for beginners.

john701 something in mind? that is certainly not the problem :-}

Jonathan Hirschman Well, pick something easy. Like a 555 timer circuit or something. Don't conquer the world for your first step.

Jonathan Hirschman Mine was a reading light.

john701 Okay, it has an LPC812

Jonathan Hirschman How did I teach myself electronics? breadboards and books. there are many good choices for getting your hands dirty.

john701 Simple to send the serial to ws2812 led strip

sheffieldnick I love the "Getting to Blinky" tutorial series of free videos. They use KiCad -

wes Where are some of the best resources I can go to research PCB design?

Lutetium Here's a question about 0805s

Lutetium Is there much cost saving in going smaller than 0805 for production? I use 0805 for prototypes so I can hand solder.

ross.mohan this is great and Thanks Am trying to watch/read screen and work at same time -- am I mistaken, was this not to be a podcast, instead we're in text/chat mode? *thx*

Todd Forrest Mims notebooks are good.

Lutetium s@ross.mohan this is text based

Jonathan Hirschman that's a great question. We've found that, in terms of manufacturing, that the best thing that you can do is use the biggest components that'll work for you. It increases yields, and it reduces labor for us :)

Kevin John When submitting design files to PCB manufacturers, there is always a step where I have to map the layers of my gerber files and specify which layer is top copper or bottom mask, etc. Why isn't there an industry standard for the file extensions that would save me the trouble, and make it easier for me to share gerber files with partners (who will want to order boards themselves) without having to help them place the orders?

Jonathan Hirschman In fact, we wanted to "reward" this notion, and we have a feature called EconoMode. If you go Econo, we give you a steep discount vs. using fine pitch and smaller than 0603 passives.

darryln @Todd: yes, Forrest Mims books very good for beginners

Jonathan Hirschman With Econo, we offer assembled boards starting from $3 each.

sheffieldnick Thanks @Jonathan Hirschman, that was my question :)

Jonathan Hirschman You're welcome, @sheffieldnick

Lutetium If you have questions, please add them to the sheet so we can answer everything:

Ross @lutetium thanks is fritzing considered cheating here, or ought not to be mentioned? seems like great way to cycle cheaply through a number of design iterations Sorry basic questions but is "Econo" a work-along/'competitor'/supplement in this space?

Lutetium Next question: For hobbyist PCBs, do you like PCB assembly for all the SMD parts, but ship with separate thru-hole components for the buyer to solder on?

Paul Stoffregen just tried your site's quote. It doesn't ask for the number of parts, only board size. Is the assembly price really same for a sparse layout of 805's versus a board tightly packed with 402's?

Jonathan Hirschman @Paul, no - but let me get to the question.

Lutetium @ross.mohan @Paul Stoffregen @Kevin John could you add your question to the sheet please?

sfrias1 Hi all, lately. :-)

Jonathan Hirschman We only offer SMD at this time. We leave it to the user to source their own through-hole stuff.

@lutetium yes

Lutetium Next question: Any chance you'll do something similar to OSH Park's shared PCBs. In other words, after getting one made myself, I could point people to your service if they want to buy the board?

Jonathan Hirschman It's a possibility :) But the funny thing is that the types of users that would want that have not showed up as customers for the most part.

Jonathan Hirschman We built PCB:NG for makers/hardware enthusiasts/Tindie sellers, etc. but instead we just got product design firms and engineers :)

Jonathan Hirschman We see interest, we'll add that.

Lutetium Question: Is there any verification that footprints will fit, do you have any recommended service that can provide standard PCB footprints?

Jonathan Hirschman Tindie was actually something that spurred us to make PCB:NG, ironically.

Jonathan Hirschman We have a unique function during the ordering process that does just that - if we have the footprint in our database.

Jonathan Hirschman Can't recommend any service at this time :(

Lutetium question from @darryln :: can you describe your on-demand assembly process?

Jonathan Hirschman Hmm, @darryln can you refine that question a bit?

darryln parts + boards = finished goods, but untested?

Jonathan Hirschman The general answer: you order like any ecommerce transaction, we make, we ship :)

darryln but only smt, right?

charliex yield?

darryln actually my question was more about what is your internal process

Jonathan Hirschman we're turnkey. yes, SMT only. We do not offer testing at this time. Our customers mostly prefer to do it themselves.

Jonathan Hirschman Ah, ok, let me jump into that. The reason why PCBA is so expensive, is well, labor. It takes, on average, 3 DAYS to get an order in for PCBA. It takes, on average, 8 hours for someone to set up a job. So we built an totally automated front-end system that takes the order, and also extracts all the data that we need for our back-end automation tech.

Jonathan Hirschman There are only two of us at PCB:NG right now, but we do a lot of orders. Mostly because of our software and automation.

Jonathan Hirschman We use "normal" equipment - pick and place machines, reflow ovens, etc. but they're largely unmanned.

Jonathan Hirschman Does that answer the question?

sheffieldnick So does your backend automate grabbing reels of components for the pick'n'place, or are those still attached by hand?

Jonathan Hirschman we don't use reels :)

sheffieldnick ?!?

Jonathan Hirschman how do you put 6 0402 passives on a reel feeder?

charliex with a reel and two followers

darryln how do you not do that?

charliex with a reel and two followers

darryln how do you not do that?

Jonathan Hirschman let's just say that we've invented some cool stuff and leave it at that.

darryln trade secrets, ok that's fine

sheffieldnick I presume most fab houses have a reel of 3000 0402 passives, and just grab the first 6?

Jonathan Hirschman :)

Lucas Coelho Cavalheiro I'm glad to hear you've done that successfully.

Lucas Coelho Cavalheiro So you have your own facility for assembly?

Paul Stoffregen FWIW, most 402 passives come on reels of 10,000 pieces

Jonathan Hirschman Most fab houses make a reel with leaders and the like. we don't - too labor intensive. Our prices can be 90% less than market, so we have to be efficient :)

darryln one more and i'll stop - so we have to design in your stock parts?

Jonathan Hirschman Yes, we have our own factory, in brooklyn.

Lucas Coelho Cavalheiro How about the PCBs? Also made inhouse?

Lutetium Next question is from @Kevin John :: When submitting design files to PCB manufacturers, there is always a step where I have to map the layers of my gerber files and specify which layer is top copper or bottom mask, etc. Why isn't there an industry standard for the file extensions that would save me the trouble, and make it easier for me to share gerber files with partners (who will want to order boards themselves) without having to help them place the orders? Why is there always extra information like mapping, board thickness, etc, outside of the design file?

Jonathan Hirschman Nope, if it's in stock at DigiKey or Mouser, and we let you select it, we place it.

darryln @Jonathan Hirschman that's pretty awesome

Lutetium if you have questions, please put them on the sheet:

Lutetium I mean new questions :)

Jonathan Hirschman Good question, @Kevin John . The industry has no specs, pretty much.

Jonathan Hirschman So it's up to the vendor to use regular expressions and guess, or give a good UI to let folks configure it correctly. We try to do both. But the electronics industry is horrible about standardizing anything.

Jonathan Hirschman I mean, there's no agreement on what 0 degree rotation means :)

darryln or 0603

Very relevent question from @ecomer Just looked at your example of gerber files. I see no XYRS - how do you handle rotation?

Jonathan Hirschman Hi @ecomer there should be an XYRS file there, too - but that's what we use if you have it. If you don't have it, you can place your components and rotate them in our interface.

Jonathan Beri Heck, even Gerber's are not standard across the industry...

Jonathan Hirschman see:

Lutetium Next question from @Ross Any facilities/plans for on-site testing (eg MIL-STD) burn in, heat, etc etc? as add-on service?

Radomir Dopieralski what would you expect from soa community that still uses freedom units ;-)

davedarko Muahaha

Jonathan Hirschman the answer is yes - once we can automate and standardize those offerings. Not a trivial task.

Lutetium What does it take to standardize?

Jonathan Hirschman well, think about testing. everyone needs to test something differently. use a different testing jig. etc. etc. so that means either use lots of labor, or figure something else out ;)

Lutetium HA, true. Next question is from @sheffieldnick :: How do your prices compare to the cheap Chinese fab houses? I'm in the UK and the UK/European PCB fabs are crazy expensive :( well out of the reach of hobbyists.

Jonathan Beri @Jonathan Hirschman have you seen OpenFixture?

Jonathan Hirschman Let me put it this way - we regularly ship to Asian customers.

Lutetium Anyone getting here now, there will be a transcript posted in about an hour: 

Jonathan Hirschman Our prices are totally competitive - as low as $3 per unit for the PCB and the assembly labor. Parts extra :)

Lutetium We're just about out of time, and the last questions on the sheet are about electronics design and marketing. Anyone else have a question about manufacturing?

sheffieldnick Awesome :) You'll be getting my first order next week!

Jonathan Hirschman i can stick around longer if there are folks that want more.

charliex @Paul Stoffregen did you run thru a quote, how'd it compare?

Jonathan Hirschman oh wait - anyone that wants to order, use code HADNG and get 20% off :)

Paul Stoffregen Oh, I just took a very quick & cursory look - truth is, I'm pretty good at hand soldering my own prototypes

charliex i guess kitchen table it is

Lutetium Nice, thanks for the discount code!

sheffieldnick Yes, thanks so much @Jonathan Hirschman :)

Jonathan Hirschman my pleasure. and you can always go to and get a quote without registering.

Lutetium We've got a design question which I'll throw out to the group: Any tips for low-power PCB design (battery powered)? In sleep mode my ICs should be using 10-40uA but I'm measuring over 10x that. What are common gotchas that waste power?

davedarko ADCs and LEDs

Jonathan Hirschman thanks to everyone for stopping by - i'll hang for a while

charliex $144 for a double sided 4" x 4" for 6-24

Paul Stoffregen my experience is there's usually something unexpected drawing too much current

Radomir Dopieralski and bad caps with leaks

charliex or the chip isn't really in sleep mode, or partial

john701 Thank you, Jonathan for your time and your answers. I learned a lot all.

Todd Thanks - Interesting chat. Going to see how DipTrace is.

Radomir Dopieralski like spanish inquisition?

Lutetium Thanks @Jonathan Hirschman !

Jonathan Hirschman you're all quote wlecome.