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A review of Elecrow's PCB service

Ken YapKen Yap wrote 06/18/2019 at 09:04 • 5 min read • Like

Update 2019-11-03: There is a way to perhaps reduce the shipping cost. Elecrow has an official store and runs promotions on Aliexpress. The price shown next to the item is not the correct PCB fab price, you have to look in the description for the actual price. You send them the Gerber archive by email and wait for the confirmatory quote. For the case of 10 x 10cm x 10cm bords it is currently 5.9 USD. However the shipping can be very cheap if you are willing to wait. Perhaps your design is proven and you just want to build your stock. Currently it's 1.09 AUD for 28-50 days to AU by 4PX Singapore Post OM Pro, whatever that is. This seems to be their way of attracting new customers.

When I saw on PCBShopper, a PCB fab price comparison site, that Elecrow was having a EOFY sale of USD0.99 for up to ten 100x100 mm boards, shipping extra, I decided to sample their service. (This sale, until 23/06/2019, appears to be available to all, not just new signups, but can only be availed of once.)

First of all I should mention that my project is not demanding at all, it uses THT components on a 0.1 inch pitch grid. It does however have quite a few chips, and 66 nets.

This time I sent in my first design using Kicad (eeschema, pcbnew and freeRouting). I had already debugged the circuit on a breadboard and also double checked using the Design Rule Checker (DRC) and the very useful Highlight Net feature of pcbnew. The latter is the desktop equivalent of doing a continuity check on the wires in the schematic, and will guard you from rookie errors like forgetting to connect the (invisible) power pins of a component.

Elecrow's PCB order page has the usual selection of options. I took the cheapest options which were all I needed. You also specify a Gerber package (zip or rar) there. I didn't find a link to a Gerber viewer but there are many online viewers elsewhere. There is an instruction page explaining how to order, and the technical parameters. As soon as you have entered all the parameters and uploaded a Gerber file, you will be asked to pay, by credit card or PayPal. This is in contrast to my previous fab (PCBWay) where it underwent checking by a staff member before I was emailed to start the job by paying.

After I had paid, I received email thanking me for my order. After a while my account page showed the order In Production. No other feedback. I supposed this was good and meant that my job had passed the design rule checks, but can be disconcerting if you were expecting some feedback.

My job stayed In Production for a week, even though such jobs normally take only 2 days. There was no progress display. It's possible that they assigned jobs from the offer a low priority. Elecrow is not just a fab but also do assembly, and make modules. For $1, I can't complain. So I just busied myself with other stuff.

A week later, I got an email saying that my order had shipped, with an attached photo of the package just before insertion into a parcel bag.

I had taken the cheapest postage option, PLT Express, (did I already mention I'm cheap? 😀) so I was prepared for a long wait. But I was surprised a week later when I was notified that the package had cleared customs and would be delivered in a day or two. And so it was. From submission to receipt was just over 2 weeks, a nice surprise. It turns out that PLT Express is run by DHL. I wonder why if Elecrow can get the service that cheap, the other fabs don't use this service. Postage charges may be different for other countries.

The package was a sealed bubble wrap one, and contained 11 boards, 1 spare just in case. (Wonder if one would get 6 if one ordered 5?)

So how is the quality of the boards? The front copper side:

The back copper side:

I have absolutely no issues with their work, they did a good job and merit the review stars they have on the PCBShopper site. It's just that their customer facing site is not so polished.

Well it took me a while before I assembled it and then some procrastination before I worked up the courage to power it up (did I draw the schematic correctly, did I use enough bypass capacitors, and all sorts of worries) but it works fine.

A clock using the DS1287 as RTC. Two IC positions are not populated as those are used if one wants to drive multiplexed LEDs directly. U7 is a boost voltage converter for driving strings of LEDs in larger displays.

But there are lessons I will take to the next Kicad design. I should probably put the mounting holes in the schematic instead of just the PCB so that they can be plated through and joined to the back copper layer which is ground.

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Discussions

Ken Yap wrote 09/25/2019 at 19:09 point

And not to be outdone, JLCPCB has this on their front page:

Amazing Offer: Only One $2 order(5pcs, 100x100mm, any color) in one package before, Now it allows Many $2 orders in one package.(Ends Oct 10th)

A bit unclear but I think it means you can combine shipping for several 5 PCB orders.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Jacob Hahn wrote 09/26/2019 at 13:01 point

I have always used JLCPCB. Great price, shipping, and service!

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Ken Yap wrote 09/23/2019 at 20:44 point

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K.C. Lee wrote 09/20/2019 at 03:58 point

I have used their PCB service for a few years for HaD contests.  Unlike most projects, I pushed my PCB to the limits of their design rules.  I stopped a couple of years ago, so this might not be the case.

Their solder mask alignments sometimes can be way off.
Their silk screen alignments sometime can be way off.  They skipped back side silk screen for my Eagle Cad files.
They did use e-testing on my boards - shown by tiny scratch marks on pads.  On one batch, my fills was 6 mils from copper traces (min spacing) and it caused a short on a couple of PCB.  They hand cut the shorts with a knife.

Ran into courier issues with them as DHL China insists that the shipping cost was to be included in the custom declaration which unfortunately exceeds the $20 exemptions and cost me $45+ fees for an otherwise duty free package.  So never use them again.  I eventually recovered the money from DHL because they incorrectly filed the forms.

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Ken Yap wrote 09/20/2019 at 07:58 point

Because our gubbermint got the big platforms like eBay and Amazon to collect GST at point of sale, a small package from an indie seller probably flies under the radar and they didn't bother. But if it had been a big order maybe > $100 they might have held it for GST owing.

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K.C. Lee wrote 09/20/2019 at 12:22 point

Australia duty De Minimis exemption is $1000 vs $20 in Canada.
http://www.borderlinx.com/pages/faq/duty-free-limit

Couriers here in general will not let a package slip through even when it is less than $0.50 over the limits because they get paid their fees for filing the paper work and collecting duty (much higher than the GTS collected). 
Our postal system tends to overlook a bit more depending on port of entry.  Sadly their service level dropped over the course of last few years. It went from 1 week to 2+months.

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Ken Yap wrote 09/20/2019 at 13:02 point

That's not the case anymore. The $1000 allowance was for duty free exports for both visitors and residents. In the past based on this an informal limit of $1000 was applied to imports with no connection to travel but then the law was amended to collect GST with *no lower limit*. Since it would actually cost more to collect minuscule amounts the government leaned on the big e-commerce firms to collect. Amazon resisted for a while then gave in. Since the post office doesn't want to collect, it relies on customs flagging high value imports. Both the PO and customs are overworked. So purchases from smaller players not participating in the scheme will slip through.

I have nothing against paying GST, I just don't want it to be a drain on my time.

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JeffP wrote 09/20/2019 at 02:59 point

Good job . I love the old MCS48 controllers and am playing with them again at the moment ( hence finding your project).

Single stepping them with leds in bus lines is as close to a pdp11 that i have got so far but am working on a 8048 version of a 'switch & light' computer ( pdp11/altair8800).

What assembler are you using for the MCS48 parts ? Tasm ?

I am working on the 8048 RETROshield for the Mega2560 ( retroshield@groups.io ).

Want to sell one of those PCBs ?

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Ken Yap wrote 09/20/2019 at 03:39 point

Thanks! There are two assemblers that worked well for me, asm48 and asxxxx. I can send you one of the PCBs for the cost of postage or you can take the design files and get them fabbed. Or modify them. I think I released the design, see my GitHub pages.

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