Screaming Circuits: Announcements

Circuit Design ECOsystem

Years and years ago, I was a product manager at In Focus, the projector manufacturer. It was a great time to be in the display industry. New technology was being invented left and right (and center and back, and some over in that far corner too). Competition was still reasonably light and we were ahead of most of it.

It was always interesting to take one of the early overhead projector-style displays through airport security. Laptops were rare at the time, let alone a big clear display that looked like a see-through touch-pad computer, but without the computer. But that's not the point.

Back in our engineering department, we had the electronics engineers, a few folks to work on firmware, a layout specialist, documentation specialists to deal with all the documentation (duh), purchasing people to buy the parts and PCBs, technicians build up the prototypes, manufacturing people to get the pre-production and production going. And here,s the contrast today. Quite a few engineers I talk to these days have to do all of those jobs except final production. That wouldn't be too much of a problem except that while all of those jobs were being assigned to the engineer, everything got more difficult. Parts got smaller, timelines shrank, competition got more fierce, clock speed increased and a lot of formerly company functions, got out-sourced. It's a lot of work and a lot of ground for that engineer to navigate.

A couple of companies; Digi-Key, NXP, National Instruments, Sunstone Circuits and Screaming Circuits (my company), have gotten together to form the Circuit Design ECOsystem; a cross-company organization designed to help that design engineer get a design from inside the brain to the market.

NXP makes components and is creating library components for the CAD software made by National Instruments and Sunstone. Sunstone allows quoting and ordering of Screaming Circuits assembly service on their website and Screaming Circuits does the same with Sunstone PCB fab. Digi-Key is working to improve the data-flow to Sunstone's PCB123 CAD and streamline the parts procurement process to Screaming Circuits.

It's still early in the process, but the idea is to take the, now fragmented, design to manufacture process and make it easier for the electrical engineer to get through - to remove roadblocks, add in new services and improve communications to make it easier to produce a quality product.

Holiday Shutdown, April 2nd

Screaming Circuits will be shut-down on Friday, April 2nd for the Good Friday holiday. That day will not be counted toward turn times and we will not be shipping on that day.

This means, for example, that if you place a 24 hour turn assembly order and we receive your files and parts by Thursday morning, the 1st, your job will ship out on Monday, the 5th.

Screaming Circuits is going to ESC

ESC sm logo Screaming Circuits will be exhibiting at the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose this April. The ESC exhibition runs April 27, 28 and 29 and Screaming Circuits will be in booth 827.

As usual, the show will be held at the McEnery Convention Center in downtown San Jose, California. More information can be found at the show website.

Last year, the mood was pretty subdued due to the economic uncertainties. I'm hoping for more optimism and excitement rolling through the show this year. And maybe even some strudel. Myself, I'll be keeping an eye out for new developments with the Beagleboard and mBed.

Duane Benson
Embedded in my head.

A New Place To Find Screaming Circuits PCB Assembly

Screaming Circuits and Sunstone Circuits have partnered for board fab and assembly for many years and now, we've made things easier for our common customers. You can order Screaming Circuits Assembly at Sunstone while your order your board fab.

Just order your boards from Sunstone like you always have, but on the quote page (for PCBexpress or Full Featured PCBs), check the box labeled: "NEW! Quote & Order Assembly" as shown in the screen capture below.

NEW quote

Check the box pointed at by the big red arrow I added in to the screen capture above. Then, you'll get a Assembly options_cbox to pop up with two choices: "Drop Ship Assembly" and "Bundle Assembly". If you select to drop ship with the button "Select Assembly", after your boards are fabbed, they will be sent directly to Screaming Circuits. With this option, you'll have to go ahead and come to our website and place your order separately before the boards get here. We've had that option for quite a while.

If you choose the new option, to bundle, by clicking "Quote Assembly" you will see a quote form and you'll be able to quote and order your assembly rightAssembly quote_c then and there. The order will be placed with us, the boards will be shipped to us and you'll get fully assembled boards from us. You will still have to send us the parts and make sure we have all the files we need though. We'll get your order ready in our system and give you a call to make sure that we have everything that you need.

You can, of course, still order your boards and your assembly separately. That's not a problem at all, but if you are getting your PCBs fabbed by Sunstone Circuits, we hope this added feature will make your job just a little bit easier.

ECOsystem at ESC

Traditionally, speakers and vendors spend time at the Embedded Systems Conference educating design engineers on new chips, new techniques and difficult design challenges. Left out all too often, though, is the end-game - bringing it all home - packaging it all up - building it and shipping it. You can't underestimate the value of this conference, but the end game is still missing.

On Tuesday, just across the street from the convention center, at the Hilton, five companies deeply involved in the hardware design industry met to solve just that problem. Digi-Key, NXP, National Instruments, Sunstone Circuits and Screaming Circuits came together to discuss an ECOsystem designed to make the engineers job easier. The companies collectively cover components, CAD, PCBs and assembly and have formed an industry work group to improve the systems and processes needed to take a schematics to a finished product. The first ECOsystem meeting took place at the APEX show late last year and since that time, the partners have developed a statement of work and specific plans for company-to-company collaboration.

Today, CAD systems, components, pcbs and assembly, while in theory, are interrelated, in practice are disparate tasks for an engineer. Components may be well documented and easily available, but new ones can't easily be used in a CAD system because of the lack of up-to-date libraries. It's not too difficult to build a Bill of Materials (BOM), but because of parts availability issues and substitutions, it's out of date almost as soon as its made. PCBs are available, but the process is fraught with chances for error due to limited standards and the outdated Gerber file format. Assembly - especially in prototype quantities - is a mystery for engineers that until recently had purchasers doing the work for them.

Digi-Key, NXP, National Instruments, Sunstone Circuits and Screaming Circuits plan to streamline this phase of the development process with new on and off line tools, collaborative projects and joint offerings. Keep and eye on the ECOsystem partners to see what new developments are in store to make the job of producing electronic designs easier for the engineer.

Three Years And Posting!

Hey - I just realized that today is the three-year anniversary of the Screaming Circuits blog. Cool.

This is post number 311, so that's just over 100 yer year. Three years really isn't that long in the grand scheme of things, but I suppose in Internet years, it's pretty okay.

My first post, was, as is the case with many blogs, mostly useless. On the other hand is

int main()
printf("hello, world");
return 0;

mostly useless? Those few lines of code have started countless developers on to writing trillions or maybe hundreds of lines of code. Okay, so I'll call it lame, but not useless. How's that? But, speaking of useless, here's some useless blog trivia. According to Wikipedia (which we all know is 110b% accurate), Justin Hall, back in 1994, was one of the first bloggers as was Jerry Pournelle. Hmmm. I'm not really sure how to come up with the exact first blogger. It may not even be possible to identify the first one.

Back in the day, I used Compuserve to host my website which had some characteristics of a blog. (I discussed the value of a website for businesses) but it wasn't really the same thing. I remember reading Jerry Pournelle in Byte Magazine way, way back. But that was in print so we can't call it a "blog" in the sense of "web-log". On the other, hand, why is the specific technology all that important? He was journaling to a broad audience. He just couldn't do so on his own time-scale and comments had to come back through postal mail. Certainly, I enjoyed his musings and his plog (print log???) was one of the reasons I read the publication. That's got to count. Anyway, I have no idea when the first blog was written.

Back in 2006 when I started this thing, I didn't really know what I would do with it, but I hope it has been of value to some of you folks. It just seemed like a good way to pass on hints and tips and help other folks make better pcbs. And here, 311 posts, about 90,000 words, half a million key presses later, it's September 14, 2009.

Enough of this. I have a tradeshow to prepare for.

Duane Benson

Beagleboard and Package on Package Assembly

So, what's the big deal about the Beagleboard and us building it? If you aren't familiar with it, check out for all the details.

In short, it's an open source hardware design development board / embedded system utilizing the Ti OMAP processor and a Micron memory chip in a POP (package on package) form factor. The POP is the significant point here. Well, that plus some 0.4mm pitch BGAs.

Beagleboard we built cropped  
We assembled this one. The image below left is AbiWord running on the board pictured here.

The Ti processor is a 0.4mm pitch BGA and the Micron chip that goes on top of it is a 0.5mm pitch BGA. The power management / audio chip on the Beagleboard is also a 0.4mm pitch BGA. That's some pretty tough stuff and not a lot of folks can build it. Not only can we build it, but we can build it in small prototype quantities - as few as one at a time. We're proud of our capabilities and dedication to both quality and on-time delivery. (So, yes, there is a bit of self-horn blowing here.)

BB we built screen shot sm If you're primarily a software person and just want a working beagleboard, the least expensive route is to go to Digi-Key or Special Computing and buy one preassembled. But, if you want a derivative design, or just any old design using a POP part, you'll need someone that can build it properly. We've been assembling small volume prototypes of difficultAmkor POP sm designs for over six years now and we love doing the tough stuff. From 0201 passives, flex boards, rigid-flex and now POP. We also do easy stuff.

The beauty of the open source design is that Ti, through the Beagleboard organization, has made the Gerber files, the schematics and the CAD files available open source. That can give you a significant head-start in getting your custom design up and running. And, then, once you're done and need someone to put all of those parts on the boards and chips, connect up with us. We can assemble it for you. This is considered a special process, so you'll need to get confirmation from us on what turn-times we can support for your specific board before placing the order.

Duane Benson
Quaffing root beer with Bill Mauldin

August Special

SunStone_logo_saturated 120  Let us make your job easier. You need PCBs anyway, so have us get them for you from our partner For any orders placed during the month of August, 2009, all you have to do is ask and we will get the boards from Sunstone for you and we'll just pass the normal Sunstone price along - there won't be any markup or service charge for providing this service.

This offer only applies to boards from Sunstone. PCBs from other board houses and parts will still have our normal turn-key service charges applied. Your order must be place via the website prior to midnight on August 31, 2009 or via phone prior to 5:00pm PST on August 31 and the boards must be purchased for an assembly order with us.

Q&A for this special:

Q: What if I normally use another board house?
A: Give Sunstone a try. They do great work and have great service.

Q: What if I just want to submit a kitted order but still want this special?
A: Just tell us that you want us to get your boards from Sunstone too. Put it in the special instructions on the web order or tell us if you're placing a phone order.

Q: What if I still want to use a different PCB supplier?
A: That's still okay with us. You just won't get the special.

Q: What if I already bought my boards from Sunstone?
A: I'm sorry that we can't give you any discounts on that order. You'll still get great service from both companies. Just stay tuned for our next special or maybe you'll need more during August.

Q: What if I'm looking for some kind of board for my house and not for electronics?
A: Home Depot carries a wide variety of boards of the non-printed-circuit variety. You might try there.

Q: I just placed an order today and I know you guys haven't started work on it. Can I get this special on that order?
A: As long as we haven't started work on it and you can accept that we'll probably have to add in some time to get the boards, then yes. Just give us a call and make sure we haven't started, tell us you want the special and accept the extra time. Cool!

Duane Benson

Holiday Schedule

Fireworks We'll be shut down for the Independence Day holiday this Friday, the 3rd, Saturday, the 4th and Sunday, the 5th. These days won't be counted toward turn-times.

Enjoy the holiday!

June Special

Hi all;

It's time for our June special. Save up to $200.00 off your turn-key parts order. Send us a turn-key or partial turn-key order and we'll pay for the first $200.00 of your parts and or pcbs, up to a maximum of $200.00.

Try our turn-key service out and see how convenient it is for us to take care of that service too! And, yes, you can use this special on more than one order. You can use it on all of your turn-key and partial turn-key orders, as long as the order is placed before the end of this June.

How to get the special: If you place a turn-key order online, simply write "June Special" in the special instructions box. When we quote parts and boards, we'll apply the discount. If you call the order in, tell the sales rep that you want the June special.

Offer Expires the last day of June, 2009. Order must be placed with us by 11:59 pm, June 30, 2009. Good for up to $200 off of parts (includes parts and pcbs we order) on turn-key and partial turn-key orders.