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Automation Printed Circuit Board Resources

In one of my first posts, I talked about using the prototype PCB industry for low volume machines.  Overall, I think creating custom PCBs are great, although they aren’t always the best solution.  Four years and a of experience later, it’s time for an update with links to more resources.

Designing PCBs

Simplified software just for creating custom break out boards would be great, but I doubt there is enough of a market for such a program.  So I use Eagle PCB, because of its widespread use (and thus available support).

Affordable PCB design software includes:

  • At least 3 open source options, the gEDA suite , Kicad, and FreePCB.  Kicad is probably easier to use than gEDA, but I haven’t used either.  Someday I plan to try out gEDA and Kicad, using the Fedora Electronics Lab Linux distribution installed in a VirtualBox virtual machine.
  • Eagle PCB ($49-$1494).  A little overkill for automation PCBs, but works well, and has a lot of support (tutorials, support from CADSoft, SparkFun library, etc).
  • PCB programs tied to PCB proto houses, including PCB 123 from Sunstone and PCB Artist from Advanced Circuits.  These programs limit your flexibility (check the links for details), but should be simpler (for example, there shouldn’t be any Gerbers to create and possibly screw up), and are definitely worth considering.
  • Various other commercial PCB programs, including Target 3001! (59-2999 Euros), Power Station 32 ($50-$2995), Easy-PC ($477 and up), Edwin XP ($700 and up), Vutrax, Proteus PCB ($249 and up), and DipTrace ($75 to $695).

Getting Your PCB Made

There are many good options, but since I do not know enough to rate them all, I will mention a few:

  1. I’ve used Sierra Proto Express for many years with excellent results.  Their newer Web PCB service gives even more options, including longer delivery times (with lower prices).  I always order at least 3 boards, since 3 PCBs don’t cost more than 1.  Typically pricing for the No-touch service is around $110 for 3 PCBs.
  2. If you just need 1 PCB at the lowest cost, and can wait a while, consider BatchPCB, since they charge by the square inch.  IIRC, pricing is $2.50/sq in for 2 layer, and typically delivery is 3-4 weeks.
  3. If you don’t need hand-holding, have multiple designs, and want lower prices, consider Gold Phoenix.  I had excellent results getting 6 different PCB designs made by them at about $140 for 155 sq in.
  4. You might prefer a PCB house that will take the files your PCB design software creates directly; that is a little easier than creating Gerbers.
  5. Although I don’t use this option, look at the details and consider if PCB houses with free software, such as Sunstone and Advanced Circuits, are a good choice for you.

Component Notes

I’m still using Phoenix for most of my terminal blocks.  For small quantities, Mouser is still typically best, but check your local distributor for larger quantities; ours is significantly less expensive than Mouser or Digikey.

There seems to be a lot better selection of European-style terminal blocks than there was a few years ago, but I haven’t looked at them in detail (I only have so many hours in a day).

I’m looking at using Phoenix UM holders, since I’d like more size options than the UMK series has.


1 Ram { 09.14.11 at 9:03 am }

“If you just need 1 PCB at the lowest cost…” is a question that bothered me for several years – as a DIYer and as a person providing crossover design services to DIYers (and therefore having to provide 2 PCBs – but still not 10!) Finally I bit the bullet and started my own PCB batching service you can see at I’m helping DIYers facing this conundrum order only what they need – 1 or more 2-layer PCBs, at $1.50 per square inch which includes 2 sides soldermask, 2 sides silkscreen, immersion gold finish, and 100% flyprobe testing. No setup costs, no minimums. The PCBs are made by the Bangalore plant of a European PCB major.

2 PCB Assembly { 12.18.13 at 2:00 am }

I’m helping 2-layer PCBs Assembly. The PCBs are made by the California plant of a Oversea PCB major.

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