Making PCB's
The PCBWay

Article :  Andy Collinson
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Making PCB's

There will come a time in your hobby or career when you decide to use a printed circuit board (PCB). The reasons will differ from experimenter to constructor, but using a properly designed PCB is reliable, you're less likely to make errors during assembly and higher durability than veroboard and breadboard. The time has now arrived when its cheaper to have your board professionally made by PCBWay. At $5 for 10 boards you can not even buy the materials to make your own PCB cheaper than this.

Home Made or Bought?

Whilst it is entirely possible to make a PCB in your home workshop or kitchen, the process involves harmful and dangerous chemicals, which also need special handling and precautions. In particular, PCB echant used to dissolve copper, is corrosive and you can not pour away excess solution down your sink or drain as it will damage the pipes. If you cut a copper clad board with a hacksaw, you need to take care not to inhale the dust and the copper swarf may harm some vacuum cleaners.

You cannot easily make a silkscreen (the printable side with component designations ) or a solder mask. The solder mask sometimes called solder resist is a protective polymer layer that covers and protects the PCB against oxidation and prevents solder bridges across adjacent tracks. De-flux pcb cleaner, and a lot of time are also required. Lastly home made PCB's are non-correctable. A mistake in your design or layout and you're left with a wasted board. So, what's the alternative? Use PCBWay and have your board professionally manufactured.

PCBWay

PCB Way is a company in Shenzhen, China that offer professionally made PCB's at very reasonable cost, in fact cheaper than you can buy the materials to make a PCB yourself. In addition, PCBWay also have the facility to assemble your components onto the board as well.

Inside the PCBWay Factory

Below are some exclusive photographs of the PCBWay factory in Shenzhen.(Left click to zoom.)

The left picture shows how the board and component storage area. One thing to notice is how incredibly clean and organised the factory is!

The right image is one of the gerber files scanned into a computer. A magnified view of th front and back layers can easily be inspected on the monitor.



The left picture shows just a small number of the dedicated manufacturing machines in the factory.

At Pcbway, you also have the option to add your components to your board.. This is one of the assembly areas, and the central black tubing is part of the fume extraction system.



If you choose the assembly option, your PCB will arrive with all components hand soldered. Note the factory has excellent fume extraction and exceptional cleanliness.

Every PCB is inspected (right photograph), note the multi-meter for checking vias and track continuity



PCB Specification

When you order your PCB you have many choices for your PCB specification. The first is the board size and shape where you specify dimensions. You do not have to stick to standard square or rectangle boards, circular boards and diagnoal shapes can also be produced, there are many examples of the PCBWay website.

The next choice is number of layers. This will already have been decided for you when you drafted your PCB layout. It is impressive to know that PCBWay can manufacture PCB's with up to 14 layers!

You then have a choice of PCB material. The FR-4 material is both a name and a rating. The name is applied to the material used - fiberglass-reinforced epoxy-laminated sheets. The rating "FR" stands for flame retardant, while the 4 is the class rating of the board. You can also have the board made from aluminium, copper base or Rodgers. The Rodgers laminate material is better at high frequency and microwave as it is less lossy.

Next comes board thickness in mm, minimum track spacing and hole size. These are all usually set when you create your PCB layout.
Finally you have a choice of 9 colours for the solder mask, and a choice of either white or black for the silk screen layer.

Getting Your Design to PCBWay

All that is required to make your PCB is a gerber file. A gerber file is an ASCII text file encoded in a special format (gerber format). The gerber format contains information on the pcb silk screen, component outlines, copper layers, solder mask and component hole size. All PCB design programs can produce output in gerber format and PCBWay can handle formats from all major PCB programs, such as KiCad, Orcad, Altium Designer and FGeda-PCB.

Specific help for the following programs can be found on PCBWay. Because information can change these links are direct to PCBWay's website:

Generate Gerber file from KiCad

Generate Gerber File from Altium

Generate Gerber file from Eagle