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Friday, 13 June 2014

Low volume PCB FAB shops

I mentioned a few days ago that I'd started to use Fritzing for PCB layout as well as breadboarding, and promised to share my experience of PCB Fabrication Companies for Fritzed designs. Here we go.

I needed three iterations for the lobstar board, and I got each one made by a different manufacturer.

Three versions of the lobstar

FritzingFAB

I sent the first iteration (on the left in the picture) to FritzingFAB, the service organised by Fritzing. As you might hope, it's really easy to do from the Fritzing user interface. I was a little over-confident and decided to order two copies of the board. Fritzing charge a set-up fee, and they also charge for postage, so the cost per board is significantly lower if you order multiple boards.

Two copies of the board cost £18.90 (including VAT and Postage), and my boards arrived 11 days after I placed the order. The board has black silkscreen on white solder-mask and the solder pads have a lead-free HASL finish.

Ragworm

I sent the second iteration (middle in the photo) to Ragworm. Ragworm need gerber files (as do most PCB FABs) and these are easy to export from Fritzing. This time I ordered a single board, which cost £9.67 including VAT and Postage. The board arrived in nine days. It comes with white silkscreen on red solder-mask, again with lead-free HSAL solder pads.

As I mentioned a few days ago, Ragworm contacted me later with an offer of more boards at a reduced price, so you may find your cost per board is lower than my figure suggests. Ragworm also included a freebie with each order in the form of a prototyping board.

OSHPARK

I've heard good things about OSHPARK, and decided to try them for the third lobstar version (on the right above). They expect gerbers, and they have a neat preview service which shows you what your order is going to look like. You have to order boars in threes, but they are amazingly cheap; three boards cost £5.96 including postage, and they arrived in 13 days.

OSHPARK boards come with white silkscreen on a purple solder-mask and they have ENIG Gold on the solderpads. That finish looks very attractive, and it's also easy to solder. Best of all, it stays shiny and easy to solder for much longer than the HASL finishes do.

Conclusion

All three vendors offer an excellent service. 
  • Use Fritzing if you want to support their wonderful free software.
  • Use Ragworm if speed is the key requirement.
  • If cost matters most, OSHPARK will be hard to beat.