ITEAD Studio PCB Prototyping

 

As an electronics engineer, I’ve encountered many time the PCB prototyping problem.  I can draw very fast an electronic schema and design the according PCB board.  But once you have the design ready, then what?

In my initial years I was developing and etching the PCB myself with chemicals.  First I was using photosensitive boards and later I switched to toner transfer method.  All these methods are quite time consuming and sometimes very messy.

A couple of years ago, I bought a small CNC machine at home and switched then to engraved PCBs.  Via isolation milling the CNC was capable of producing very nifty boards in pretty clean way.  That method was ideal for single sided boards; for double sided boards, it was not ideal.  Through-hole plating still requires chemicals or a manual intervention (wire soldering).  Also the fine grained components (.5mm pitch chips) were very hard to solder in absence of a soldering mask.  Again the soldering mask can be added with some UV paint, but requires an extra step.

So, I moved on to some more professional PCB prototyping…  In Belgium, however, it’s not that easy to get prototyped PCB’s or you have to pay a lot of money for it.  Mass production is pretty useless in case of prototyping, you’ll get a lot of boards for a lot of money; but if there is a mistake in the design, it’s all wasted.

enc28j60-0Not so long ago I discovered the PCB services offered by ITEAD Studio, a Chinese manufacturer.  I ordered a couple of boards I designed around the Chinese New Year and still got them pretty fast (2-3 weeks).  Delivery is indeed a lot slower compared to the European services, but the price is without competition.

The quality of the board is surprisingly good.  The soldering mask even withstands a couple of soldering and desoldering cycles.  The quality of the silk screen was a bit a disappointment when compared to rest; but it is the least of your concerns when prototyping.  Next to this text you see a 25x magnification of one of the boards produced by ITEAD.  The chip has a pitch of 0.5mm, the vias have holes of 0.6mm.  The HASL finish is very easy to use, especially when you’re soldering the components manually like me.

After soldering the first board (controller for a STM32F4 and a ENC28J60) didn’t work.  The ENC28J60 was capable of receiving ethernet signals, but couldn’t send any.  Double checked a second board for defects and I couldn’t find any!  So what was wrong?  Defective chip, defective magnetics?  None of that, human mistake, I soldered a 47 ohm resistor instead of a ferrite bead in the output biassing…  Once fixed, the board worked flawless; I mounted 2 others with the same result.  Still have 9 to go, as the prototyping service of ITEAD delivers 12 boards for a more than reasonable price (don’t forget to add the shipping costs).

ITEAD’s limitations are more than acceptable; at least for my designs.  Only panelizing is not allowed, except when using a silk screen and then cut the boards yourself.  Below are a couple more pictures of the boards produced by ITEAD.  I’m very pleased with their service and the delivered quality.

EOS 5D Mark III-101-3255 pca89685 pca89685-1

 

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3 Responses to ITEAD Studio PCB Prototyping

  1. Algen says:

    Hi,

    I was looking for some information on PCB Design today when I came across your awesome website.

    Great stuff!

    Actually, I just put together an infographic about “Assembly Methods for Printed Circuit Boards”. As someone that who’s on Electronics, I thought you might get a kick out of it.

    Let me know if you want to check it out.

    Cheers,

    Algen

  2. Mark says:

    Hello
    I want to say thanks for this article. You are really great electronic engeneer. I’ve never heard about ITEAD Studio and always scared to buy something of chinese manufacturing, I always use this site to buy some components http://hardware.be/weidmuller but I looked on ITEAD Studio and it’s not bad…so I’ll buy some componets there.

    • PatrickPatrick says:

      You’re welcome, glad you liked the article.

      Chinese manufacturers are nog bad at all for as long as you stick to ‘RAW’ components. Complex items are most of the time bad copies of the original, stay away from these. I had for instance good and bad results with led bulbs, one batch was even dangerous, another batch was exactly what I wanted. Thus, be careful…

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