Eurocircuits Printed circuits blog

What keeps us busy at Eurocircuits, projects we are working at, new idea's, background information and a platform where you can participate, give your opinion and guide us to what is important for you as an electronics developer

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Posted by   Dirk stans  on 10 Mar 2014  | Posted under   Meet Eurocircuits Hits: 146

World of Electronics 2014 - Een leuk beursgadget - registreer nu reeds !

 

"De virtuele memo", het beursgadget voor de branche Industriële Elektronica, is een praktisch dagelijks gebruiksvoorwerp met een plezante functie:"geheugensteun".

De virtuele memo stuurt draadloos, via de lage energievariant van Bluetooth, een unieke code uit gelinkt aan een geheugensteuntje wat u er voordien heeft in geplaatst. Deze code ontvangt u via uw smart phone waar de "memo APP" u het geheugensteuntje weer laat zien. Vermits meerdere personen deze info kunnen ontvangen kan men zo boodschapjes aan mekaar doorgeven: "Schat, vanavond komt mijn moeder op bezoek." Het aantal mogelijkheden is daardoor zeer uitgebreid.

Voor de elektronicaliefhebber zullen we uiteraard weer alle ins en outs beschrijven en kenbaar maken.

 

Het gadget kan u alleen bekomen, als u zich als bezoeker voor de beurs aanmeldt en tijdens de registratie aangeeft dat u het gadget wil ophalen.

Registreer nu als Eurocircuits klant als eerste via deze link en verzeker u van uw gadget en een gratis toegangsbewijs. Vanaf eind maart zal iedereen kunnen registreren en is het aantal gadgets mogelijk snel uitgeput.

Meer info over de World of Electronics vindt u hier.


Posted under Meet Eurocircuits
Posted by   Patrick Martin  on 26 May 2014  | Posted under   PCB Visualizer Hits: 2763
  1. Panel editor - the next level of efficiency in PCB Visualizer

“I want my boards delivered as a panel, but I need to see what it looks like before I place my order”

“I want to make sure that I have got the maximum number of circuits on my assembly panel”

“My assembly people need fiducials and tooling-holes in exactly the right place.  I haven’t got time to make a drawing, but they want to check the panel’s OK for them before I order.”

Eurocircuits have always had options to deliver a customer’s circuits in a panel (see our Panel Guidelines), but there has never been an opportunity to see the panel before placing the order, to experiment to find the best circuit “fill”, or to order a special layout without providing a drawing.  The new PCB Visualizer tool, Panel Editor, changes that.  Now you can view the Eurocircuits panelisation you have specified before you place your order.  Or, if you need a special panelisation, you can create your own panel directly on-screen.  Place your order confident that what you have seen or what you have laid out is what you will get as your finished panel – and there will be no delays while our engineers query your requirements.

How do I …..?

  1. Use PCB Visualizer Panel Editor to get a fast price without uploading data?
  2. View or modify my eC-panel by Eurocircuits?
  3. Make a custom panel?
  4. Set up/change panel and board properties?
  5. Change the step and repeat values?
  6. “Fill” a panel?
  7. Define special panel settings (stepped blocks, rotated circuits/blocks, custom blocks e.g. “nested” for L- and T-shaped circuits?)
  8. Add my own border features (tooling holes, fiducials, text etc.)?
  9. Specify panels with several different circuits (multipanels)?
  10. Get confirmation I did it all right, even if I did it for the first time? Use our pre-production approval process.

Our BLOG explains it all and contains 2 movies to illustrate the processes.

See separate sections for each topic.  If you have any questions, use our online chat line to talk to one of our engineers.

1. Use PCB Visualizer Panel Editor to get a fast price without uploading data?

Most Panel Editor options can be used before you upload your data.  For this, PCB Visualizer  uses dummy PCBs.

There are three panel options.  To select one, go to the Delivery format box at the top of the screen.  For more details of each, see our Panel Guidelines.  Selecting eC-panel by Eurocircuits or Custom panel by Eurocircuits automatically opens the Panel menu.

 
delivery format

eC-panel by Eurocircuits

Specify the repeats you want in X and Y.  Select the panel border, and the PCB spacing from the pull-down boxes.  All eC-panels are eC-registration compatible.  This means that they have the necessary tooling holes in the border if you want to use a solder-paste stencil with our eC-stencil-mate or eC-stencil-fix.  As they also have our standard pattern tooling holes and fiducials in the corners (see Panel Guidelines p. 6), they are 100% suitable for use with other registration systems.

Click Panel editor to see the panel with the dummy PCBs.  For the full range of options, see below.

Customer panel by Eurocircuits

Click the Panel editor wizard and proceed as below to specify the step and repeat, border and separation distance required.  Ignore the red warning message about the 0,0 panel size – this will be changed by the Panel editor.  PCB Visualizer will display the default board size, so for an accurate price enter the correct circuit size, make any other size changes required and click Apply.

TIP: Don’t put in the border elements at this stage as they will be lost when you upload the real board data.

Customer panel by customer.

Use this panel option if you have already prepared Gerber files with the complete panelisation for a special layout or for a multi-panel (panel with several different designs).  Your layout should meet our panelisation requirements for panel border and distance between the circuits.  This option won’t open Panel Editor as the files will display correctly in PCB Visualizer.

TIP: All delivery panels require a border to hold them together during transport and handling.  If you have not included a border or want to put additional features into the border, select Custom panel by Eurocircuits and specify a 1-up panel using the Panel editor wizard.

2. View or modify eC-panel by Eurocircuits

Step 1.  Load the job into PCB Visualizer.

Use the “Price Calculator” option to get a price and then upload your data.  Or choose the “Analyse your data” route, so that PCB Configurator fills out the board parameters for you.  Go to Shopping basket and click the PCB Visualizer column for the job you want.

Step 2.  View eC-panel by Eurocircuits.

If you have already specified the step and repeat, border size, PCB separation method and distance, click the Panel editor wizard to see the panelised circuit.

NOTE:

The router path is shown as a hatched area.  Our engineers will place rout tabs in this area to ensure a stable panel.

TIP: If there are areas in which you do not want rout tabs to appear due to sensitive components etc., specify them in a mechanical drawing.

You can now change:

  • Repeat in X and/or Y
  • PCB separation method
  • Panel border
  • PCB spacing

For any other changes, click “Advanced panel options”.

Click “Apply” at the bottom of the screen and the price in PCB Configurator will automatically update to the new configuration.  Click the orange “Save changes” box to update the basket.

 
price summary

In the next menu just click Continue.  There is no need to re-upload the job.

MOVIE: create and view an eC-panel with panel editor

 

This film gives an overview of how to make an eC-panel with our new panel  editor module, part of our PCB Visualizer software.

 
YouTube settings

You can always view this video in full screen mode by clicking the right symbol  on the navigation bar and upgrade the resolution by clicking the setting symbol .

3.  Lay out a custom panel by Eurocircuits.

TIPS:

  1. For hints and tips on designing stable panels including panelising round circuits and handling overhanging and heavy components, click here.
  2. If you are using an external assembly company and they supply a detailed dimensioned drawing of their requirements, you may find it easier to use the Launch inquiry route to get a price.  Upload your single circuit data, the drawing and your step and repeat instructions (as a README file) and our engineers will lay out the panel and give you a price.  This may take up to 1 working day.

PROCESS

Step 1.  Load the job into PCB Visualizer as Section 2 step 1 above.

Click the Panel editor wizard.  Ignore the red warning about the 0,0 panel size – the Panel editor will complete the correct size.

Step 2.  Select your panel border and enter your preferred value:

Step 3. Set up the circuit separation method and spacing:

Step 4. Choose the panel content type.

Select:

  1. Stepped PCB if you want to build your PCB out of single circuits.
  2. Stepped block if you want to build your panel out of a custom block of two or more interlocked or “nested” circuits, typically L- or T-shaped.  For this option, see below.

 

Step 4. Select “Stepped PCB”. And click “Next >”.

Step 5. Set up the basic step and repeat, and the rotation if required.  Additional options will be available in the editor.

Step 6. PCB Visualizer now shows the board together with top and bottom birds-eye view, the Panel and board properties menu and the panel tools menu.

  1. Swap top and bottom views by clicking on the bird’s eye menu, or using the tool menu icon.
  2. Pan and zoom with your mouse or use the pull-down zoom menu.

Click the orange “Apply” button to accept the panelisation and go back to the PCB Configurator menu.

4. Change panel and board properties.

Use this menu to change:

  • Panel size.
  • Panel border
  • Board separation method
  • Board separation distance

Or to add eC-compatible registration holes if you want to use a solder-paste stencil with our eC-stencil-mate or eC-stencil-fix.

TIP: If the board size is incorrect, PCB Visualizer will show a dummy panel.  Correct the size in the menu (“Board size”).

5. Change the step and repeat of the job

Click within the existing stepped circuits to select the block.  This opens the “Stepped PCB properties” menu.  You can now change the repeat and the rotation of the PCB.  Use to action

6. To “fill” a panel

  • Un-tick the Automatic X and Automatic Y boxes in the “Panel and board properties” menu.
  • Select the panel size you require (e.g. the Eurocircuits recommended maximum panel 350 X 250 mm, or your assembly company’s maximum size e.g. 300 x 200 mm)
  • Use the “Step/repeat block properties” menu to change the step and repeat and rotation to find the best fit
  • Re-click the Automatic boxes to get the final panel size.

7. Define special panel settings.

  • Stepped PCB
  • Stepped Block
  • Block (Custom block of nested PCBs: L-shapes, T-shapes, etc...)

These allow you to customise your panel layout.

Tools

 

TIPS:

  1. To deselect a tool, double-click the Select button or pick the next tool.
  2. To select a border element that is below another border element, you need to click with the right mouse button to first highlight it (orange border), then you can click with the left mouse button to select it.
  3. Use “Reset the panel definition” to
    • restart the Panel wizard – select “Create new panel definition”
    • clear everything and go back to the PCB Configurator menu – select “Clear panel definition”

7.1.  Add stepped PCB pattern

TIP: Use this function to step and repeat PCB blocks or to add rotated PCBs.

  1. Click the tool “Add stepped PCBs”.
  2. Select the orange location box where you want to repeat the same circuit pattern.



  3. This opens the “Stepped PCB properties” menu.  Enter the repeat values you require and click the location boxes as required.



    TIP: By default PCB Visualizer will retain the last repeat values used.  If these are incorrect, simply change them and the screen image will correct automatically.
    .
  4. Add spacers as required to control the distance between the blocks. Click “Select the object to edit” to clear the location boxes and show the true distances.

    TIP:
    The spacers change the distance between the blocks of circuits, not the individual circuits.  Change the distance between circuits in the “Panel and board properties” menu.

7.2.  Rotated blocks:

There are two ways to panelise with rotated and non-rotated circuits depending on your requirements.  To build a panel with rotated circuit patterns, follow the procedures here.  To put rotated and non-rotated in a set, see below.

  1. Click the tool “Add stepped PCBs”.
  2. Select the orange location box where you want to add the rotated pattern
  3. Enter the required repeat and rotation values



  4. Add a spacer to control the exact distance between the blocks.

7.3.  Panelise with stepped blocks (“nested” PCBs).

Use this function to interlock (“nest”) L-shaped or T-shaped PCBs.

  1. Open the Panel editor
  2. Select the border required
  3. Set your preferred PCB spacing and separation
  4. Set the Panel content type to “Stepped Blocks”
  5. Click “Next>” to open the “Edit block definition” box.  Click “Edit block”.



  6. This opens the editing screen.



  7. The offset will normally remain at X = 0, Y = 0 for the first circuit.  For the demo job, change the rotation to 180°.



  8. To add a second circuit, click “Add a PCB”.  To avoid a second circuit being placed directly over the first circuit, it is given a notional offset, roughly 20% of its X & Y dimensions.



  9. Add the desired offsets for the finished set. Click Apply to return to the wizard.



  10. Click “Next>” to move to the “Define step values menu”.  Enter your preferred repeat and click “Finish”.




7.4.  Add a spacer.

Use this function to increase the width of a single border or the space between blocks of circuits.

  1. Select “Add a spacer” tool.
  2. Click on the orange locator box where you want to insert the space
  3. Enter your chosen spacer value.



  4. Click on “Select the object to edit” or “Apply” to show the new image.

TIP: Tick the Automatic box if you have a fixed panel size which the circuits do not fill exactly and you want to maintain e.g. the relationship between the circuits and the panel edge.  The automatic spacer will push the circuits into the required position.

8.  Define customer specific border elements.

TIPS:

  1. To see how these different options work together, see the illustration of an eC-panel above or the finished panel at the end of this section.
  2. All border elements are dimensioned from 8 reference points.  These are placed in the middle of the laminate border in the 4 corners and on the centre line of the panel.  For each tool click the tool, select the (first) reference point, and the tool menu will open.
  3. Border elements (except drill holes) can be placed on copper, soldermask or legend layers, and on top, bottom or both sides.


8.1 Add a drill hole border element.

  1. Select the “Drill hole border element” tool and the reference point.
  2. Enter the drill hole diameter plus the copper, soldermask and legend clearances and any offset required.



  3. Click to insert the hole.  Select the next reference point – the values entered will carry over.


8.2 Add a frame border element.

 

Specify the width, the side and the layer required (copper, soldermask and/or legend). Unless an offset is specified this will appear in the centre of each border.

 

8.3. Add a clearance border element.

 

Tooling holes, fiducials and text come with automatic clearances to your chosen values.  Use the clearance function if you need to clear copper, soldermask or legend for any reason.  The cut-off allows the corner to be rounded.

8.4. Add copper pad.

 

For example as a fiducial.  You can specify the pad size, the clearances from copper, soldermask and legend, and the offset from each reference point.

 

8.5. Add text border element.

 

 

 

Enter the text, dimensions, layer (copper, soldermask or legend), and the clearances required.  The cut-off value gives a curved clearance.  The soldermask and legend clearances will default to the copper values but they can be changed if you prefer.

8.6. Add hash fiducials

 

You can set copper, soldermask and legend clearances for hash fiducials.

 

8.7. Finished panel

Including eC-compatible tooling holes

 

MOVIE: use panel editor to create your own custom panel

 

This film gives an overview of how to make a custom panel using our new panel editor module, part of our PCB Visualizer software.

You can always view this video in full screen mode by clicking the right symbol  on the navigation bar and upgrade the resolution by clicking the setting symbol .

9. Specify panels with several different circuits ("Multipanels")

PCB Visualizer has been developed as a Gerber file analyser to run Design Rule (DRC) and increasingly Design for Manufacturability (DFM) checks on single circuits.  There is at present no functionality to allow you to import and place interactively separate circuits into one delivery panel.

If you want to put several different circuits on one delivery panel, you have three options:

  1. Prepare a single Gerber file for each layer including the circuits you require in the positions where you want them in the panel.  Make sure that you provide a suitable border and distance between circuits. More …

    TIPS
    • You can use PCB Visualizer to analyse the panel as though it is a single circuit. If you need to add a border or border features, load the job as a 1 x 1 Customer panel by Eurocircuits.
    • To ensure optimum manufacturability we have rules for the maximum size and copper balance for panels with multiple different circuits.

  2. Use the Launch inquiry route.  Upload a single .zip file including separate .zip files for each circuits and an exact drawing how you want them panelised.  Our engineers will check the data files and build the panel for you.  We will send you a quotation and you will be able to see the finished panel in PCB Visualizer.
  3. Place your order and upload a single .zip file including separate .zip files for each circuits and an exact drawing how you want them panelised.  Skip PCB Visualizer.  If you want to check the panel before it goes into production click the box “Request pre-production approval” in the Running menu.

10. Pre-production approval

Not sure about the panel you have created and need reassurance before your panel goes into production? Use our pre-production approval check. More info in our BLOG.


Posted under PCB Visualizer
Posted by   Dirk stans  on 06 Aug 2014  | Posted under   PCB Visualizer Hits: 2174

PCB PIXture – a new function for PCB Visualizer.

PCB PIXture is a new tool for PCB designers who want to increase the visual impact of their boards.  Typical applications include front panels, keyboards, PCB assemblies sold as independent units, consumer electronics … - anywhere where the distinctive appearance of your PCB will make an important selling point.  PCB PIXture allows you to take a photograph, logo or other graphical image and have it printed onto your PCB using standard PCB fabrication technology.  The image can appear either in black and white as a solder mask image (maskPIXture) or in black and gold (goldPIXture and goldlogo).

PCB PIXture is a “smart menu” in PCB Visualizer.  As such, it joins the four new design tools we have introduced over the last few months.  These have been developed to help you fine-tune your production data files and make sure that your boards are delivered exactly as you need them:

PCB PIXture

We announced the PCB PIXture concept in a BLOG on our website in October 2013.  The response was enthusiastic: the blog is by far the most viewed of all our blogs, and users voted 2:1 that PCB PIXture was a cool tool.  We have now completed the development, and PCB PIXture is a standard option in our PCB pooling services.

There are three options:

  • maskPIXture
  • goldPIXture
  • goldlogo

maskPIXture

We print the pixellated image in black and white solder mask.  As this is a complete solder mask layer it has no effect on the functionality of the PCB.

 
maskPIXture

goldPIXture

We produce the board with a gold overall surface finish and then define the image using black solder mask.  We then screen a transparent soldermask over the top to seal the surface.

 
goldPIXture

goldlogo

Define your logo as a graphical image or in vector text.  We will produce the PCB with overall gold surface finish and define the logo as a solid image using black solder mask.  We will then screen a transparent soldermask over the top to seal the surface.

 
goldlogo

How to use PCB PIXture

PCB PIXture is a poolable option in our STANDARD pool service.

  1. PCB PIXture uses a PCB Visualizer wizard.  Either upload your job in the normal way and click on PCB Visualizer in the basket, or use the “Analyse your data” function.  To get a budget price, select “PCB PIXture” in the soldermask boxes, and for goldPIXture and goldlogo select “Surface finish Che Ni/Au overall”.
  2. Click on the PCB PIXture wizard button in PCB definition.
  3. If you have not already specified on which side(s) you want a PCB PIXture select now,


     
    PCB PIXture side


    and select soldermask Black or None for the opposite side.


     
    soldermask for the opposite side
  4. PCB Visualizer will now display the full PCB PIXture wizard.


     
    PCB PIXture wizard
  5. Select your PCB PIXture function.


     
    PCB PIXture tools
  6. Select an image from the list of stored images or browse to add a new one.  Images can be in JPEG, PNG, TIFF, GIF, or BMP format.
  7. Place the image following the instructions on the screen.  For maskPIXture and goldPIXture, PCB Visualizer will automatically pixellate the image.  For goldPIXture and goldlogo the surface finish will be changed automatically to Che Ni/Au overall.  If you resize the image, the wizard will preserve the width to height ratio.


     
    goldlogo
  8. Click “Apply” to close the wizard.  If all other parameters are correct to your requirements, click “Save changes” to put the updated job back into your basket.  You can then “Proceed to checkout” as normal.
  9. If you want to check the finished image before we commence production, use our Pre-production approval overview function.

MOVIE: a peak on PCB PIXture's functionality

This film gives an overview of how to introduce pictures and logos on your board using the PCB PIXture interface, part of our PCB Visualizer software.

 

You can always view this video in full screen mode by clicking the right symbol  on the navigation bar and upgrade the resolution by clicking the setting symbol .

If you have any questions, click the Chat box on the right of the screen and chat with one of our experts.

 


Posted under PCB Visualizer
Posted by   Dirk stans  on 10 Mar 2014  | Posted under   Meet Eurocircuits Hits: 3173

Update 17-09-2014: Onze beide inzending zijn genomineerd !

Dank zij de enorme steun en stemmen van onze klanten en relaties zijn onze beide inzendingen voor de WoTS TechAwards, eC-test-mate en PCB PIXture genomineerd. Dit betekent dat beide noviteiten op de beurs terug te vinden zullen zijn in de noviteitengallerij.

Om de TechAward met 1 van onze nominaties in de wacht te kunnen slepen, hebben we tijdens de beurs opnieuw uw stem nodig. Het zijn de uitgebrachte stemmen via de stemcomputer aan de noviteitengallerij die de uiteindelijke winnaar zullen aanwijzen.

Bezoek ons in Utrecht op onze stand B057 hal 9, geniet van een "Belgisch Pintje" en breng aansluitend uw stem uit in de noviteitengallerij.

Update 04-09-2014: TechAwards - de finale beslissende fase is aangebroken - stem nu !

Bijna is het zo ver. Van 30 september tot en met 3 oktober treffen de Nederlandstalige technologiebedrijven zich weer in Jaarbeurs te Utrecht voor de World of Technology & Science. De opvolger van de beurs Het Instrument nu mede ondersteund door de FEDA. Zie onze BLOG.

Exposanten hebben de mogelijkheid deel te nemen aan een TechAward competitie. Eurocircuits heeft deze editie twee ontwikkelingnen ingezonden. Om ons te nomineren voor de finale competitie tijdens de beurs hebben wij nu uw steun nodig. Bekijk de nominaties en hopelijk krijgen wij uw stem.

- eC-test-mate - Met de eC-test-mate, test u een bestukte PCB zonder extra tooling. Lees meer over de eC-test-mate en stem op ons project hier.

ec-test-mate

- PCB PIXture - Eurocircuits is erin geslaagd om een grafisch design, een foto, af te beelden op een traditionele printplaat. Lees meer over PCB PIXture en stem op ons project hier.

goldpixture



Een voorbeeld van PCB PIXture kan u tijdens de beurs ook terug vinden op het beursgadget: "de virtuele memo". Het aantal gadgets is beperkt maar nog niet uitgeput. Als Eurocircuits relatie kan u nu al registreren via deze link en verzekert u zich van uw gadget en een gratis toegangsbewijs.

Uw mening is van groot belang voor ons. Breng daarom uw stem uit en maak aldus kenbaar of u deze nieuwe ontwikkelingen kan smaken.

Wij hopen velen onder jullie in Utrecht te mogen verwelkomen op onze stand B057 in hal 9.

Update 22-05-2014: 1 ste werkende proto van de Virtuele MEMO - een leuk beursgadget - registreer nu reeds !

 

"De virtuele memo", het beursgadget voor de branche Industriële Elektronica, is een praktisch dagelijks gebruiksvoorwerp met een plezante functie:"geheugensteun".

De virtuele memo stuurt draadloos, via de lage energievariant van Bluetooth, een unieke code uit gelinkt aan een geheugensteuntje wat u er voordien heeft in geplaatst. Deze code ontvangt u via uw smart phone waar de "memo APP" u het geheugensteuntje weer laat zien. Vermits meerdere personen deze info kunnen ontvangen kan men zo boodschapjes aan mekaar doorgeven: "Schat, vanavond komt mijn moeder op bezoek." Het aantal mogelijkheden is daardoor zeer uitgebreid.

Voor de elektronicaliefhebber zullen we uiteraard weer alle ins en outs beschrijven en kenbaar maken.

 

1ste prototype werkende

Salland Electronics en D&D Mechatronica melden vandaag, 22-05-2014, dat het eerste prototype van de virtuele MEMO is samengesteld en werkende is.

WOTS gadget - virtuele memo


Reserveer de MEMO nu!

Het gadget kan u alleen bekomen, als u zich als bezoeker voor de beurs aanmeldt en tijdens de registratie aangeeft dat u het gadget wil ophalen.

Registreer nu als Eurocircuits klant als eerste via deze link en verzeker u van uw gadget en een gratis toegangsbewijs. Vanaf eind maart zal iedereen kunnen registreren en is het aantal gadgets mogelijk snel uitgeput.

 

Meer info over de World of Electronics vindt u hier.


Posted under Meet Eurocircuits
Posted by   Dirk stans  on 26 Aug 2014  | Posted under   Eurocircuits strategy and history Hits: 1265

Pooling: what is it and what is its history?

Order pooling is now a well-established technique used to cut costs for prototypes and small batch PCBs.  But what is it and what is its history?

What is order pooling?

Order pooling

Order pooling means combining several different customers’ orders on the same standard manufacturing panel.  “Order pooling” or “pooling” is probably the most common name but the process is also called “order combination”, “panel sharing”, “multi-panels” …

Pooling orders on standard panels cuts costs in 3 ways:

  1. 1 set of tooling and machine/process set-ups is shared between all the pooled orders
  2. Material utilisation is greatly improved
  3. Standardised panels make production much more efficient.

Together these can cut production costs by as much as 90%.

Order pooling is not the same as “panel filling” where a customer buys a whole panel of the same PCBs, and gets as many circuits as will fit on the panel.  This offers good material utilisation, but only if you need that many circuits; if you only need 1 or 2 small boards it can work out quite expensive.  In practice it reflects how conventional fabricators will actually produce the PCBs on standard panels.  At Eurocircuits we use it only for the occasional unusual combination of production parameters for which we don’t get enough orders to pool.

Of course, to make pooling work successfully the fabricator needs enough orders with the same technology to achieve a good “fill” on the standard panels.  Too few orders mean that material utilisation will be reduced, driving up costs.  Or not all board types can be pooled every day, extending deliveries.  Cutting corners by combining boards with different technologies on the same panel (for example, by combining 2- and 4-layer boards) risks serious reductions in quality.  At Eurocircuits we handle more than 70,000 orders a year  This allows us to offer the widest range of pooling options without impacting price, delivery or quality.

 
Production

Online pricing and ordering

Today, order pooling for prototype and small batch PCBs is usually combined with online price calculation and ordering.  This exploits an added advantage of order pooling: ease of costing.  As the fabricator knows the set-up and production costs of the standard panels for each technology, pricing depends broadly on the area of panel each circuit uses.  There is no need to count holes or drill changes or measure the length of the profile.  Or to charge separately for tooling, or to impose a minimum charge.  All this makes online pricing and ordering much faster and more convenient for the customers, who no longer have to wait hours or days for a sales office to “get back” to them.  It also cuts the price of their boards: online pricing and ordering needs fewer administration staff.

If you follow internet discussions of online pricing and ordering, for example in LinkedIn PCB groups, two objections are raised:

  1. It only works for simple technologies
  2. If you use a sales office they will usually (or at least they should) check your data.

Eurocircuits have developed solutions for both of these issues.

  1. We handle a large number of orders each day so we can pool a wide range of different options.  This has allowed us to develop sophisticated “smart” menus which allow customers to price and order complex boards swiftly and securely online.
  2. We offer onscreen visual checking tools to ensure that your boards meet the technology requirements of each class.  Where possible, the online tools propose minor changes that will fit your design into a lower-priced class.

MOVIE: What is order pooling

This film explains briefly the principle of order pooling, how Eurocircuits applies it and what it can do for you.

The history of order-pooling.

The pooling concept no doubt dates back to the dawn of human history when the first cave-man popped into the next-door caves to say that he was trekking to the nearest outcrop and did anyone want any flint nodules to make their tools.  Pooling became the basis of wholesaling and all forms of grouped transport.  Today it is used every day by consumers, for example for buying plane tickets or hotel rooms through third-party websites, or in collective buying schemes.  The more people who make their purchases through the same online channel, the better price the channel will get and the less the purchasers will pay.

A number of companies in Europe tried order pooling in the 70s, but the process was difficult to implement in the days of hand-taped artworks, paper-tape driven drills and fixture-based testers.  Preparing tooling for a panel of different PCBs, even for a customer who insisted that he would always re-order the same boards in the same quantities, was expensive and inflexible.  If demand changed or boards were scrapped during fabrication or assembly and had to be replaced, either expensive new tooling had to be made or a lot of surplus PCBs produced.

The situation changed during the 1980s as CAD systems and laser-photoplotters cut the cost and ease of tooling.  Indeed, it was the laser photoplotting bureaus that first used the pooling concept.  Plotters were very expensive and by today’s standards quite slow.  At first, most PCB manufacturers could not afford to invest in the new technology and so used plotting bureaus. Olivier Cadic, former owner of Info-Elec in Paris, once one of the largest bureaus in Europe and founder of www.pcb007.com, explains how he used pooling to bring down the costs of the finished films.

In the mid ‘80s at Info-Elec we introduced pooling for laser photo plotting.  Customers could upload their Gerber files via modem onto a PC where they landed in a queue. Software developed by Info-Elec and the plotter manufacturer DISC then organized the queue in such a way that the film formats were efficiently filled with customer data.  This optimised the use of expensive film and machine time, resulting in lower plotting costs per dm² and better prices to our customers”.

PCB manufacturers were also quick to exploit the new opportunities.  Thus Ton Klaver of Bellmann in Holland actively promoted the idea of PCB pooling to his customers.

“In the late ‘70s (1979) we started to present a clearly defined technology for single- and double-sided boards to our customers.  We offered attractive prices based on the cost savings achieved by pooling orders on one production panel.  This convinced them to restrict their designs to the technological parameters we offered.  The customers could calculate the prices for themselves using a simple program that, in those pre-internet days, we distributed on floppy disks.”

These trends accelerated in the ‘90s.  PC-based CAD systems finally replaced hand-taped artworks; laser-photoplotters became faster and cheaper; CAM systems became more capable; production and test equipment could be driven digitally.  The cost of tooling was slashed, so it now became feasible to make a set of tooling for a pooled panel, and then throw it away.

At the same time during the ‘90s and the early years of the new millennium the dynamics of the European and American PCB industry were changing.  Volume manufacture began to move to low-cost areas in the Far East, especially China, putting pressure on prices.  Cyclical demand for PCBs aggravated price pressure.  As prices fell, profits fell too, exactly at the time that designs were getting more complex and investment was needed in new manufacturing and test technology.  The result was a dramatic decline in the number of board shops in the West.  Some became little more than brokers for Chinese suppliers.  For others survival meant specialization.  The Chinese plants were not interested in small batch PCBs and not fast enough for prototypes, while their quality was regarded as suspect for high-technology boards, especially for sensitive applications like avionics and defense.  Many board manufacturers moved into these high-technology niche markets.  Others specialised in prototypes and small batch PCBs supplied on a fast lead-time.  Order pooling was a natural technology to adopt to meet price pressure, and pooling companies appeared in USA and Europe.  Eurocircuits was set up as the online order-pooling arm of the Europrint PCB fabrication group in 2000.  By 2011 it generated over 90% of the group turnover, and we re-structured the whole organisation under the name by which most of our customers knew us, Eurocircuits.

The internet boom of the late 1990s (despite the “bust” in 2000) got more people used to the idea of buying online.  The second pillar of the modern order-pooling company was in place, and companies like Eurocircuits began to grow.  The growth of online buying led the development of a new delivery infrastructure to match.  The new pooling companies were able to expand their operations across wider geographical areas.  Thus today Eurocircuits delivers all across Europe as well as globally, including the Americas, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand.

Conclusion

Today’s electronics designers, in whatever country they live, have a good choice of quality suppliers of standard and high-technology prototype and small batch PCBs.  They can source PCBs for their new designs quickly and efficiently from their desks, as well as getting committed service and technical support from their vendor, where possible from fluent speakers of their own languages (at Eurocircuits we offer online chat support in at least 6 languages).

Just as our ancient caveman used his knowledge of flint to find the best nodules for his neighbours, so we want to share our fabrication knowledge with the wider European design community and to learn from them what they need for their leading-edge designs.  We are committed to maintain and expand our low-cost order pooling services and to develop new support tools to help PCB designers bring their projects to market on time and on budget.  In this way we will make a positive contribution to the success of the electronics industry in the Western world.

References

Olivier Cadic, Info-Elec, founder of www.pcb007.com

Ton Klaver, Bellmann, www.bellmann.nl