Before we begin
No part of this story is sponsored in any way. All opinions expressed are of my own.
This story is intended for anyone interested in manufacturing electronics and doesn’t know how to go about doing it. This story gives you a high-level idea, covering as many aspects as possible for prototyping and small volume manufacturing for startups and individuals alike.
- Schematic Design
- Bill of Materials(BOM)
- PCB Layout Design
- Ordering Components
- PCB Fabrication
- PCB Assembly
This will be your first step after ideation. You will need an EDA tool to draw schematics. There are several great EDA Software. Here are some of them:
Eagle, Altium and OrCAD are undeniably great tools. However, they are a bit pricey. They do offer some free tools. However, those free tools lacks some features and have restriction on commercial use. For those reasons, I always prefer using KiCad or EasyEDA.
If you’re an absolute beginner, I recommend using EasyEDA. It’s quite powerful and easy to use. Most common parts are already present in its library, greatly reducing the development time. Selecting a “Verified” component while drawing a schematic will save you time and money.
You can watch some videos from KiCad’s YouTube channel to quickly learn the basics.
KiCad is an Open Source EDA software that’s relatively easy and packs a punch with its great features. Once you are comfortable using EasyEDA, try to learn KiCad. While offering a lot more flexibility, learning KiCad will also help you in your career.
Bill Of Materials (BOM)
It’s advisable to prepare BOM as you draw the schematic. If you don’t do that, you may either order a wrong component or order a wrong footprint.
I personally use Google Sheets to make BOM — It’s free and can be accessed from all my devices.
Your BOM may look like this:
- With the part number, embed a link from where you are planning on procuring that part — Saves a ton of time while ordering
- Cost/1000 units column gives you a rough estimate on how much your product is going to cost you for medium volume manufacturing
PCB Layout Design
This is one of the difficult steps in Electronic design. Make one small mistake and you’ll end up losing a lot of time and money. Although PCB fabrication charges have come down significantly, the shipping fees and import duties(if any), remain high for Indians. Also, for every hardware revision, you’ll lose 1–2 weeks.
If your schematic has more than 2–3 SMD components like ICs and you’re a newbie, I advise you against doing layout design on your own. However, if most of your design has through-hole components, you can attempt to do this yourself.
Should you decide to outsource this work, you have a lot of options. Here are some:
- My first choice has always been PCB Power. Their Layout Service is incredible in terms of price and service. For a 2 layer board with <75 components, their price is as cheap as 1800 INR(inclusive of 18% GST). Their engineers are a pleasure to work with and they always deliver on time. You can get the quote on their website without contacting anyone — Which is great.
- The other option that you have is from SeeedStudio. They are a good manufacturing house and I believe they shall offer a good layout service. However, I never tried this service as the price is significantly higher than PCB Power.
- The last option that you have is to approach someone in your network to help design layout. Often times, it costs a lot more than the above 2 options and you’ll most likely not get your design on time.
Should you choose to do layout design on your own and if you are a beginner, your first preference should always be EasyEDA, followed by KiCAD. EasyEDA, while being simple, is quite powerful as it already has verified footprints of 1000s of parts in its library. Before you begin the layout design, Design for Manufacturing guide by SeeedStudio provides a ton of information on how to go about doing layout design.
Congratulations on completing Schematic and Layout designs! The next step is to get the design fabricated.
Before you send your design to fabrication, make sure to review your design at least 2–3 times. You may also use several forums to get your design reviewed by other people and fix any issues you may have, before sending your design to fabrication. I know it’s tempting to send your design to fabrication and then to figure out any problem(s). However, it’ll waste your precious time and money.
For PCB fabrication, you may have a ton of options. However, these 4 options provide great value for your money:
- PCB Power — Indian manufacturing house
- JLCPCB — Chinese manufacturing house
- SeeedStudio — Chinese manufacturing house
- OSHPARK — US Manufacturing house
Although JLCPCB and SeeedStudio are dirt cheap to manufacture, you will have to pay a lot on shipping. The shipping costs for 10 units will be around 30 USD mark. On top of that, there will be Customs Duty and service charges. These shipping fees, customs duty and service fees will be around 2500–3000 INR for 10 PCBs. If your invoice cost is ~US$30, you’ll end up paying ~US$50(3800INR) + FCY Charges on that.
You may also need to transmit your identity documents to the shipping company to release the shipment from customs. If for some reason, your shipment is held at customs for more than 2–3 days, you may have to pay bondage charges that quickly add up.
Because of all these reasons, it’s generally recommended to order your PCB from PCB Power. Their service is quite good for prototyping and they also offer free shipping on all orders. If you’re living in metro cities, once shipped, the PCBs shall reach you in 2–3 days.
If your PCB has SMD components, it’s advisable to get a Stencil. Having a stencil will save a ton of time while you’re assembling the components.
When ordering from outside India, not mentioning your company name will help a ton clearing the customs. If you end-up mentioning company name while submitting the order, you’ll have to produce IEC Code and a letter from your company. This complicates things greatly.
After you placed an order for fabricating your PCB, it’s a good time to order your components. If all of them are in stock with your supplier(s), they take anywhere between 1 and 2 weeks to reach you.
Here are 4 options you have to order the components. This is sorted as per my recommendation:
LCSC is a sister company of JLCPCB. Almost all the passive components are available on dirt-cheap prices. It’s quite difficult for other distributors to match LCSC’s prices. Definitely, do check them out first.
One of the problems with LCSC is that the components go out of stock quite often and it takes forever for that component to come in stock again. Keep that in mind while you ordering.
Even if you factor-in shipping fees and import duties, components are still a lot cheaper than the competition.
You need to be registered as a business, generally, to purchase the components from Element14. Flat 200INR for shipping is great and you don’t have to pay import duties on components.
For the components I can’t find in LCSC, Element14 will be my second preference.
All the other distributors, although being great, charge high shipping fees(US$20 - US$30). You may also need to pay customs duty and other charges on the imported components. If you can’t find the components anywhere else, you can buy from Mouser or Digikey or Arrow.
When buying more than 100 components, ask the distributor if they can put the components in a “Reel”. With reels, your assembly will be a lot easier and quicker.
Once you get all the components, take a print-out of your BOM and verify if you ordered all the correct components. If you miss any passives, you may still get them locally in your city. Although I recommend against buying components from local markets like Koti in Hyderabad or SP Road in Bangalore, sometimes you can’t escape from buying locally.
For PCB Assembly, you have the following options:
Although PCB Power and SeeedStudio offer great service, for assembling prototypes, their price is slightly on the higher side.
I recommend you to do a quick Google search and get in touch with local assemblers. You can share your BOM and then get the price estimate. Local assemblers love if you can provide stencil and have all your components in reels.
Not all the boards assembled by local assemblers work and that needs to be kept in mind. The number of failed boards is solely dependent on how good the assembler is.
EEVBlog and EEVBlog2 YouTube channels are incredible. PCB Design for Manufacture Tutorial provides a great deal of information on how to design and manufacture the electronics. If you’re into electronics, you should consider subscribing to EEVBlog and EEVBlog2.
I am glad you reached the end of this story. It does take a lot of effort to build something on your own. But the joy you get when your designs work will trump all the hardships you may have faced while during the process. I wish you all the very best in your efforts. Until next time, happy hacking!
And yeah, Epstein didn’t kill himself, of couse. :P :P