Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Poll: Really cheap quick-turn PCB place

  1. None

    0 vote(s)
  2. 1-2

    1 vote(s)
  3. 3-8

    1 vote(s)
  4. 9-30

    1 vote(s)
  5. 31-100

    0 vote(s)
  6. 101+

    0 vote(s)
  1. Jun 22, 2010 #1
    I have the idea of making a PCB quickturn website that both improves the ordering experience vs the competition, and hugely undercuts them by offering a simplified product. However, I want to gauge interest because the website would need a lot of orders to be profitable (about 10,000 per year). I've attached a rough sketch of the advanced AJAX interface that would let users upload Gerbers and immediately preview them and do small fixes like moving the origin, mirroring, and flipping polarity (so there wouldn't need to be humans checking/fixing gerbers--hence saving costs). One interesting feature I'll mention would be the ability to save boards and share the URLs publicly with others (good for the DIY/open-source crowd). The pricing would be $10 for a 10 sq. in. board that has non-plated througholes but sharp 6mil/6mil trace/space, and $20 for plated through-holes (still no soldermask, though). Min order quantity would be only 1 piece with free shipping and 1-2 day turnaround.

    So, what do you guys think? Is there a market?

    Attached Files:

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 22, 2010 #2


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Would your main competition be PCB Express?


    I have a technician who has used them for various test fixture widgets and such. It seems like some company offers a simple PBC layout software package for free as part of their PCB fab process. Do you know who that is? Who would be your other competitors?

    Also, I wouldn't want a PCB without silkscreen -- too hard to solder without shorts. And silkscreen and plated through holes would be part of my usual order, if I were to order boards from you.
  4. Jun 22, 2010 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Just curious. How many layers are in your usual order?
  5. Jun 22, 2010 #4


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    For text fixture widgets, usually just 2 layers. For real production boards, usually 4 layers. For complex "emulator" boards (where we prototype mixed signal ASICS), those are usually 6-8 layers to make them easier to route (and faster to design).
  6. Jun 22, 2010 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Thanks berkeman. I don't want to hijack the OPs thread so I won't ask more here.
  7. Jun 23, 2010 #6
    It sounds like you're coming from the professional side of things, and cost may not be an issue for you. You don't mind spending $100 per board, correct? I suppose the target market would be the students and hobbyists, who are willing to sacrifice features for cost (and may make a lot of mistakes, increasing the importance of low cost per turn). In fact, the biggest "competitor" would be DIY boardmaking (toner transfer, etc.).

    A lot of the quickturn PCB places do offer full software. But would you really want to use it? It is primitive, and more importantly it locks you into the pcb vendor. I think it's better to use real software like Eagle (or better yet, Altium) and to export Gerbers. However the Gerber export process can be tricky and hence it's important to preview everything.

    The real problem for my proposal is the volume of orders that would be required to make it work. I think the best advice anyone could give me is on how to do real "market research" to see if the target (10,000 orders/year) can be met. Maybe posting on forums isn't the best approach.
  8. Jun 23, 2010 #7
  9. Jun 23, 2010 #8


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Interesting. Took me a little bit to figure out what it was!

  10. Jun 23, 2010 #9
    I've used sunstone circuits for hundred of boards. The quality is good but
    they aren't cheap. They turn files into boards in only three days though.

    I've been planning to try batchpcb.com but they're understandably slower.

    What would your proposed service offer in the way of turnaround time?

    The free Eagle PCB layout editor is great. All the PCB shops accept its files
    without hassles.
  11. Jun 25, 2010 #10
    In my service the PCBs would also be batched into panels. In fact, that is the way everyone does things. I'm writing my own software to do it. Did you know that getting a computer to pack shapes optimally into a larger shape is one of those big, half-solved problems of computer science? The best solution involves using physics simulation code and a lot of shaking!

    Turn around time would be as quick as PCB Express's. Boards would be done in the the states. Also, hopefully, it wouldn't take a week to fill up a panel. Such a volume would be too low to be profitable. (But then again, although Batch PCB claims it takes a week for them to fill a panel I don't see how that is true because they also say they are on panel #926. That's actually very good news for my prospects. But again, I wonder how I can take my market research farther... I will certainly monitor Batch PCB's panel count and also try to figure out how big their panels are.)

    So you're a prolific customer! Can you tell me what you'd sacrafice for a much lower price (like, 10x lower)? Ie, soldermask? What about plated-through holes? (I know the last one can be a biggy, since the vias would need to have wires soldered through. Although if done right it takes 10-20 seconds per via.) But, you wouldn't need to sacrafice anything in terms of precision, drill accuracy, etc.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2010
  12. Jun 26, 2010 #11
    Sounds similar to what I'm doing: http://dorkbotpdx.org/wiki/pcb_order

    I too came to the conclusion that swapping and shaking was the best way to build a good panel and invested a lot of code into doing it. I create some damn efficient panels.

    It works to a point, but there's WAY more to doing this than just efficiently packing boards. In fact, that's the _easiest_ part of it. Not only do you need to pack them efficiently for YOUR profit margins, but you need to make sure you have the right mix of percentage copper coverage in the right places on and properly balanced between both sides of the panel or else your panel won't be manufacturable (or prohibitively expensive to manufacture).

    Keep in mind that a lot of places (4pcb, etc..) will quote you a very attractive price without looking at your panels-- and they'll stick with their quote at first-- but if your panels are costing them a lot of extra work, they'll dump you. You need to actually make a panel and send the gerbers in to be quoted to find out how much this is going to cost you long term.
  13. Jun 30, 2011 #12
    I'm doing the same thing at http://www.hightechproto.com [Broken] So much software to write.

    I wrote a pannelizer program for the HeeksCAD project that uses a kind of modified chess playing algorithm to pack it. Limited look ahead decision tree. The best optimizations came from pruning the decision space. For example if there are multiple of one board, or boards of similar extents then the problem can be reduced in complexity by many times. Eventually I got it so that it can do in 5 minutes what would take me a couple of hours.

    That being said, Gerber rs-274x is just nasty. So many ways to do the same thing, some of which are complicated beyond all reason. I pine for the day PCB manufacturers will accept high resolution TIFF.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  14. Jun 30, 2011 #13
    "So, what do you guys think? Is there a market?"

    I hate to discourage anyone, but here is my take... and feel free to take it lightly, the farthest I usually get is doing the schematic and someone else finishes the layout and handles ordering the PCBs.

    Is there a market? Yeah, one already crowded with people. You are competing against a lot of other people who already have market share in a field where a decent number of people are going to tend to go with who they have worked with/know already. It also is a field that is hard to advertise in.

    Without a completely unique product it will be hard to compete. There are already free PCB layout tools from manufacturers, companies that will get you quotes and evaluate your design in minutes, etc. Unless you have something completely new I would say its going to be tough.
  15. Aug 7, 2011 #14
    Hi folks, first post here.

    I'm doing a new project and need a small number of 4 layer PCBs. The design has to be highly compact and the guys I've been using are not able to facilitate my needs at a good rate.

    I've been on a Google quest to find cheap PCBs. So far, the sites provided by LaenFinehack and jonpry have been by far the most economical. High-Tech Proto has the better specs though, .008 drill and .005 clearance. Though, DorkbotPDX has the lower minimum quantity with comparable cost. I really need the .008" drill. DorkbotPDX's minimum .013" is going to be bit rough for me.

    I was really sad to see that High-Tech Proto now has a post on the home page saying they're not taking orders right now due to supply issues. Any news on what's happening with that? I was really hoping those guys would be able to take my order soon.
  16. Aug 11, 2011 #15
  17. Aug 14, 2011 #16
    I've used IteadStudio a few times now and have for the most part had good results. The quality certainly isn't up there with more industrial type manufacturers like Sunstone. Hole spacing is generally off, high pitch pads sometimes are shorted, and they've been known to modify people's designs and not informing them. See here: http://www.eevblog.com/2011/03/11/eevblog-155-itead-studio-pcb-prototype-goof/

    For my personal projects I'll usually go with Itead and have my boards in about 3 weeks, depending on how many Chinese holidays are going on at that time. Boards for my research and school projects almost always come from Sunstone.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook