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The two-layer board shown in the image above is just one of many that is easy to design and produce with relatively low cost. If you’ve moved past the initial design phase and you’re ready to begin preparing for manufacturing and assembly, then you’ll have to follow some important steps. The exact steps really depend on whether you are building on top of a development or breakout board, or if you are going to contract with a short-run manufacturer.
PCB Assembly on Your Own
PCB assembly, also referred to as PCBA, is the process of assembling all your components directly on your circuit board. If you’re working with a breakout board, you’ll have to do all the assembly yourself. There are some services that allow you to order a small run of simple two-layer boards with copper etched in a specific pattern. If you’re a real do-it-yourself type of person, there are some kits available that allow you to actually etch your own two-layer copper board using a toner transfer process. However, this process involves some noxious chemicals and can produce low quality boards.
If you are using an Arduino or similar board, you’ll have much less assembly work to do, and you’ll spend more of your time programming your board. You’ll still need to connect components on the board as shown in your schematic, which is a relatively simple procedure. The same can be said of a breakout board. In both cases, you’ll be less reliant on the PCB layout side of the design process.
If you plan to outsource fabrication and assembly to a manufacturer, then there are some more steps you will need to take before your board hits the production line. On the design side, you’ll need to have a complete PCB layout for your board, as was described in the previous section of this guide. You’ll also need to choose what type of manufacturer you are looking for. Some manufacturers can help you by sourcing components from reliable distributors, while other manufacturers require you to send them your components. Different manufacturers will compete on prices, and some manufacturers will not take short run orders of PCBs.
Once you’ve decided on a manufacturer, you’ll need to submit your board details, bill of materials, Gerber files, and other design data. With short manufacturing runs, you’ll need to wait a few days for your fully assembled board to arrive. In regard to cost, the cost of assembly is highly relative and mostly depends on the type of components being used (through-hole vs. surface mount), the number of unique parts, the size of the boards, and any special requirements. You can save some money on manufacturing if you decide to assemble your board on your own. If you decide to go this route, then you’ll need to procure your own components and some soldering equipment.
This Raspberry Pi board will come-preassembled; you’ll only need to add your additional components to create a fully functional device
Preparing Deliverables for Your Manufacturer
After preparing your Gerber files, bills of materials, and any other required information, you’ll need to send these files and your layout and schematic files to your PCB manufacturer. Most PCB manufacturers run a design for manufacturing (DFM) check before beginning fabrication. This is done to ensure the design meets minimum tolerance requirements and ensures your board can be produced with maximum yield. These checks normally focus on examining clearances between neighboring conductive elements like mounting pads, vias, and traces.
If your board passes a DFM check, then the PCB manufacturer will notify you that they are ready to begin manufacturing it. This process usually takes around 2-5 days for shorter manufacturing runs. An average 5 cm by 5 cm PCB might cost you about $1-$5, depending on the fab house you select. Now you can sit back and wait for your boards arrive in the mail!
If your PCB layout does not pass a DFM check, then the board fabricator will notify you of any required changes to your design in order to begin manufacturing. If extensive redesigns are required, then you’ll need to make revisions yourself. If the required revisions are minor, then most board houses will modify your design files for you.
Sourcing is another aspect of preparing for manufacturing when making your own circuit board. Some components have long lead times or may not be available when you start preparing for manufacturing. If you work with the right design software, you’ll have some tools that give you visibility into the component supply chain directly from your electronic components database. Component sourcing problems are a primary reason for delayed board delivery, so you’ll need to check component availability if you want your manufacturer to assemble your board.
If you are planning to assemble your board yourself, then your manufacturer will deliver bare boards without any components. You’ll need to weigh the lead time for different components against the lead time for your fabricated boards. If you’re itching to get your board built and tested, the last thing you need is a 3 day lead time on your boards and a 3 month lead time on your components.
Preparing for Manufacturing in Upverter®
When you’re preparing for manufacturing, you need to quickly convert your design data into the format your manufacturer requires. The image below shows a list of available file formats you can use when preparing for manufacturing. You’ll notice that the list includes Gerber files, netlists for use in simulation programs, drill instructions for CNC machines, your bill of materials, and even 3D STEP models for your board. You can quickly download these files to your device and send them off to your manufacturer.
You might use some of these components while making your own circuit board