Screaming Circuits and Element14

Screaming Circuits has entered into a partnership with electronics distributor Newark/element14 to offer PCB assembly services through its online engineering community, the knode.

As support staff, schedules and components shrink, design workload stays the same or increases. The Knode on element14 is an intelligent online search and knowledge tool that helps to quickly find the right solutions for all phases of the design cycle. It saves time by centralizing unbiased information, components, advice and services in one common location.

With this agreement, Screaming Circuits’ pcb assembly services are now available via the Knode. This provides a one-stop shopping experience that can deliver machine assembled prototypes in as little as 24 hours, in quantities as few as one.

“The addition of Screaming Circuits extends our commitment to providing engineers access to a full range of design solutions from the best suppliers in the industry,” said David Shen, Group Senior Vice President and Global Head of EDE and Technical Marketing of Premier Farnell, parent company of Newark/element14. “We are pleased to add direct access to instant quotes for these PCB assembly services to the Knode on element14 to augment designers’ choices for doing on-line research and sourcing of best-in-class design solutions.”

Duane Benson

Zzzzzzzap!!! Static be Bad

Engineers these days have so many issues to worry about just in component handling alone:

  • Do my parts need baking to get the moisture out before reflow soldering?
  • Are my parts in stock?
  • Are my parts real or are they counterfeit or secretly remanufacturerd?
  • Are my parts really lead free?
  • Are my passive components small enough to make it out of the holes in my salt shaker so I can put them on the PCB?
  • Are my parts too small form my manufacturer to handle?
  • Are my parts too complex for my manufacturer to assemble?
  • Have my parts been zapped by static electricity either before or after assembly?

Static electricity is really something that no engineer should have to worry about these days. We know how it gets created. We know how to artificially create it and we know how to guard against it. There's really no excuse - especially from those that an engineer entrusts to build his or her designs.

Tesla_colorado_adjusted 500

People can carry around a static charge anywhere from several thousand volts to more than ten thousand volts; just by walking around. Joe Volta would be proud. Touching an electronic component or assembly the wrong way at the wrong time can discharge much of that through the electronics. Yes, most chips are better able to handle static electricity than the old 4000 series CMOS that could get zapped just by being looked at harshly, but pretty much any active component is susceptible to static damage to some degree. What makes it so Anti stat shoesinsidious is that the damage may be done in handling or in assembly but might not show up until the unit fails in the field.

The whole world knows how to keep electronics safe (that's an exaggeration, but at least most people in the Industry know how), and the whole industry understands the risks, so why would anti-static handling or packaging be an extra cost option? If it's you're own stuff, then fine. It's up to you. But someone you're paying? I don't get it.

Take a close look at the picture on the right. If you ever get a tour through Screaming Circuits, you'll see a lot of this. The floor is conductive. The bright green straps on the shoes are not a fashion statement. They're grounding straps. The blue jacket is conductive. Parts and PCBs are protected from static through these means and others all the way in and all the way back out to the customer. It's the right thing to do and the healthy way to do it and it doesn't cost extra. It shouldn't cost extra. Follow good static mitigation procedures yourself and make sure that whomever is assembling your parts does the same. That's my two cents worth.

Duane Benson
Frankenstein was grounded through his neck bolts, so he's okay.

 

40 Years of 4004

I'm assuming eight pages excerpted out of 142 qualifies as fair use. I had forgotten that I had this thing buried in a box in my garage. I have a lot of old junk hidden in boxes out there, but this one piece seems most appropriate today.

  4004 005 4004 006 4004 007 4004 008

4004 009 4004 011 4004 012 4004 013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This user's manual covers the 4004 and the chip set that went along with it. It also has some pretty detailed information about a couple of computers based on the 4004; such as the SIM4-03, MCB4-20 and Intellec 4. I didn't get this new. I found it in a garage sale back in the early 80's. I wish the unit had been there too.

Duane Benson
4 bit data bus, anyone?

Major Major and Standard Standard

We ask for your bill of materials, Gerber and centroid files to assemble your pcbs. All of those pieces of information are necessary to properly program our machines to place your parts. That's pretty standard stuff, but did you know that when the Gerber format reference book was first published, Jimmy Carter was President of the United States, Russia was the "Soviet Union" and Voyager 1 was well inside the Solar System? Use of the format has been going on even longer. Yeah. It's been around a while. For some reason, it has been very difficult to get everyone to agree to and use a standard file format. Gerbers really don't have enough information in them to do the job properly, but it is the standard. Hopefully not for too much longer. How many of you reading this were even born when Gerber was new?

XKCD 15th standard
(Drawing courtesy of XKCD) <- worth spending time on

There are a number of formats around that are better than gerber and Screaming Circuits will accept many of them. First, your CAD software probably will export an "ASCII CAD file". This is a good format. Some export ODB++, which is one of the newer formats, again a good choice. One of the newest standards is the IPC-2581. It's been around a few years and is now getting a lot of attention. If you happen to use Eagle CAD, you can also send us the Eagle ".brd" file.

IPC-2581 includes the best of ODB++ and GenCAM. It has all of the fab data, assembly data, netlist and BOM. Everything needed in one convenient file. My understanding of the format is that you can exclude portions of the data set that you consider proprietary. You can learn more about the format here. There's more background information on the subject over at Circuits Assembly magazine too.

Duane Benson
Where's Henry? I need an inductor.

Speaking of Small Packages...

T'was a a dark and stormy night when the news came through. Joe Layout had been both dreading and preparing for years. But it had always been little more than rhumors from a far off land. It was a looming threat, always dancing in the distance, but never quite real.

Until now. 1.27mm, 1.0mm, 0.8mm, 0.5mm, 0.4mm... and now... drum roll please 0.3mm pitch. I just got Shrinking BGA pitchan email announcing an Amkor 8 x 8mm 368 ball BGA at 0.3mm pitch. Yikes.

There's still some controversy over the best way to make a 0.4mm pitch BGA land pattern. Some say says you need to use solder mask defined pads. Some say you still need to use the non-solder mask defined pads. Now we throw something 25% smaller into the mix.

The image isn't to exact actual scale - because I don't know how big your monitor is - but the parts are in relative scale from 1.27 pitch to 0.3 pitch.

Duane Benson
If you can't see it, you shouldn't eat it

Open Source. What is it Good For?

I've written about open source hardware (OSHW) a few times before. Like this and this. I've understood open source software for quite some time and over the last few years have been starting to get what open source hardware is all about. It is different than open source software.

With software, your tangible product is essentially intangible. Your acquisition and distribution of an open source project can be virtually free. Not so with hardware. Someone has to physically build something, which costs time and money in parts and labor. Really though, all that means is the proliferation of an open source hardware product just takes a little longer. If you look at it as the design being open source more than the actual product, then it gets to be more and more similar to software.

While open source software has moved into real business, hardware is still more closely associated with the hobbyist community. That is changing though. Ti's Beagleboard is serious stuff from a serious company. Some of the hobbyist catering OSHW companies are growing to or have grown to the point of being serious businesses (Adafruit, Sparkfun).

This all begs the question: "What is open source hardware good for?" Let's divide and conquer. Or, at least, divide and explain.

  • What does it do for innovation?

History is rife with stories of great inventions that were not commercially successful because the inventor was a good inventor but was a lousy business person, didn't have access to funding or just didn't have the drive to build, promote and sell the product.

With OSHW, companies that do have the drive, funding and know-how can pick up an open source project from a developer that doesn't.  There are none of the IP concerns that sometimes keep big companies from taking on product from independent inventors. Great products that otherwise would stay hidden can make it out in the world.

Some OSHW companies, like Adafruit compensate the designers who's product they sell. No marketing or selling expense for the designer and yet money comes in to them. Much reduced design expense for the seller, yet they can build a business.

  • What does it do for small companies?

It's another way to jump-start design or production of products that will fund the small business. It can reduce the barriers to entry. People who are good at designing but not so good at selling can still earn money. People who are not so good at designing but good at selling can earn a living. People who are good at both designing and selling - they have the best of both worlds and can earn a living. Products that would otherwise stay in obscurity can more easily make it to the world.

  • What can it do for big companies?

The answer to this question has been the longest in coming, but there are more and more answers showing up. Take the Beagleboard from Texas Instruments. It got a new processor (the OMAP) out into the hands of their customers quickly. It was a great promotional tool. The software side of an organization could get started with the processor without having to wait for the hardware folks to design, layout and build the hardware. The hardware folks could see how the part and its accessories work in real life.

OMAP users could get a jump-start on complex tasks like escape routing. The manufacturing folks could get some insight and practice into assembling the package on package processor / memory combination. design cycles are short enough as it is. Companies that want to use the Ti processor get professionally designed short-cuts. Ti gets to sell more processors quicker. Everyone wins.

Duane Benson
It doesn't mean destruction

And The Race Goes On

AUP package The race for the smallest part is still going strong. That and the fact that basic logic gates are still with us is affirmed quite well with a new set of chips from NXP. The 74AUP2G00 is a dual two-input NAND gate in a no lead XSON8 package at just 1 mm x 1.35 mm. That's not the scary part. The scary part is the lead pads under the part are 0.15 mm wide and just 0.35 mm pitch center to center. That's 5.9 mils and 13.8 mils respectively. The gap between the pads is 0.2 mm (7.8 mils).

To put that in a little bit of perspective, an 0201 passive component is 24 mils x 12 mils. An 01005 is 16 mils x 8 mils.

Above right is a land pattern for the part with an 0201 bypass cap next to it. The trace going from the pin to ground (Pin 4) is an 8 mil trace. The trace going to VCC (pin 8) is six mils. The via is a pretty standard 24 mil via. As you can see, an eight mil trace and space isn't going to do for a board with this size of part on it. Six mil is really even a bit too big.

Duane Benson
La de da de de, la de da de da

CAD This or CAD That

I use Eagle CAD a lot. I can get away with the "Light" version, because the designs I create are small and non-commercial. I do use them sometimes to illustrate points here on my blog, but I think that still meets the qualifications of their free version. It's a good program and the multiple license levels from the free version up to the full professional version add a lot of flexibility to have the software grow with you.

Our partner, Sunstone, builds most of our PCBs here, which is a nice segue into an alternative CAD package. There are a lot of reasons to pick one CAD package over another. I won't go into that here because those reasons tend to be specific to the application. Most CAD packages are sold as a lump-sum purchase up front. A lot of them also have yearly license renewal fees. That works sometimes, but there are other times where up front costs are more important. The model that Sunstone uses for PCB123 is to provide the software at no charge and just add a little tiny bit of the software cost onto the PCB board purchase.

PCB123 isn't the only package that follows this business model and is tied into a specific PCB vendor. But, as far as I can tell, PCB123 is the only package of its sort that has enough capability to be a viable replacement for more traditional pay-first CAD packages.

I recently downloaded V4.1.11 and have started to run it through my own personal "can I use this for my stuff" test. I know it's a good package because we, here at Screaming Circuits get boards of all sorts designed with PCB123 to assemble from all manner of company. But, something can be a good package and still not fit an individuals specific requirements. Hence my personal tests.

I do find it odd, but not really an issue, that it starts you off in the layout editor instead of the schematic editor for a new design. Oh well. One click and I'm in the schematic where I can search for my parts. I use PIC chips and it's pretty rare that I find the exact chip. I always seem to have to find something close and then modify it, which just adds more opportunities for error. I know there's a jillion 28-SOIC,M28B_sml varieties, but once in a while it would be nice to just find the actual part.

Fortunately, today I'm looking for PIC18F2320 in an SOIC package. Fortunately, because it's actually there! I hit the "Insert" menu and choose "Add Part". Then I put "PIC18F23" in the search box, and there it is, but not on the computer. It was in their online labraries. (In the cloud?) It took all of about 15 seconds to automatically download the library footprint though, so first test = passed.

And the really cool thing is that once I have that part in there (for the parts found pre-made in the library), I just select the "Bill of Materials" tab down on the bottom and I can see if DigiKey has the part in stock and how much it costs.

Duane Benson
If it's in Oregon, the "cloud" is probably a rain cloud

Loooooooow Power

ESC Microchip clock 001 (Large) It's not quite grape power, but over in the Microchip booth, the EverReady folks were handing out little digital clock demos. Nothing sounds the least bit interesting about that, except what they're really showcasing is a little Microchip step-up DC-DC converter, the MCP1640. They're using that little chip and an Energizer 1.5V AAAA cell to power the chip at 3.3 volts. ESC Microchip clock 003 (Large)

Looking a little closer, it's a PIC16LF1933. On the other side of the battery, there's a set of six unpopulated pads labeled J1. I'm guessing that's the ICSP port. I do have MPLAB on my laptop here and I have my hand, dandy PicKit 3 with me as well. What I don't have with me is a soldering iron and a spare header... Actually, now that I think about it, I do have some six-pin headers down here with me. I might be able to put in into the PicKit and then just hold it tight to the solder pads. I'll probably sleep tonight though instead of staying up and writing something fun for this to do. I'd probably spend most of the night just trying to get the fuse bits figured out. A project for another day.

Duane Benson
It's a little big to strap on my wrist

Texas Instruments plus National Semiconductor

Everyone else seems to be weighing in on the Ti + NS acquisition so I thought I'd better do the same.

Depending on whom you speak with, the ramifications could be quite large or not terribly noticeable. 7400 TH Myself, I'm going for pretty much not noticeable. First, we've never met a National Semiconductor part that we didn't like. Second, we've never met a Texas Instruments part that we didn't like. I'm guessing that we'll never meet a Texas National Semiconductor Instruments part that we don't like either.

I feel better about the fact that it's one old-guard company buying up another old-guard then if it were a new upstart doing so. That makes this look to be more of a "Boeing buying McDonnell Douglas" than an "AOL buying Time Warner."

Duane Benson
I have met a blog post that I didn't like