Screaming Circuits: Parts Form-factors

New Super Small BLE Chip

ATBTLC1000 on coins from Atmel siteI tend to get quite excitable when new, smaller, components come along. The smaller, the better.

While, I haven't yet seen it up close and personal, I've seen the announcement and datasheet for a new SoC (System on Chip), with Buetooth SMART BLE 4.1. The whole chip is 2.2 mm X 2.1 mm in a WLCSP (wafer level chip scale) packaged BGA. (Image from the Atmel web site). The part is the Atmel BTLC1000, with BLE and an ARM Cortex M0, running at 26 MHz.

ATBTLC1000 dimensionsIt's got 32 balls, in a staggered pattern. That gives the chip a diagonal ball pitch of 0.3535 mm. That's really small. The staggered pattern isn't too common, but I expect that we'll be seeing more of it as parts continue to push the size envelope down.

Here at Screaming Circuits, We've built a few 0.3 mm pitch devices, and plenty of 0.4 mm pitch parts. I wouldn't anticipate any problems, but if you do get your mitts on one of the things, you should probably take the mitts off (because you'll loose the part) and call us and ask to talk it through with our manufacturing engineers before sending it in.

Duane Benson
There was a demon in the oven. They said whoever solders him would fry. Their pads would bridge, their pc boards would twist and warp. The demon lived at 0.3 mm pitch on the metric scale, 0.0118121 inches SAE. But not at Screaming Circuits. That demon's afraid of us.

Continuous Strips of Parts

Not long ago (No Need To Waste Parts), I wrote about the use of tiny cut strips here at Screaming Circuits. That's good information, but only part of the story. (When has anything ever been the whole story???).

IC cut stripThere may be some times when you don't want to buy a reel, full or partial, but still want your parts all in one continuous strip. Everyone wants to use up their odds and ends, but once those are gone, it's easier for you if each part is just in one strip. If you want to save a little money here and can use a longer turn-time, you might want to pick our Short-Run production service. If that's the case, you will need to send in continuous strips. Short-Run requires reels or continuous strip of at least 12" in length.

There are two questions you'll probably ask:

1.    How can I make sure my parts add up to at least 12 inches (305 mm)?

There are two ways to do this. First, if you have some of the parts, measure the length and calculate the number of components per inch. Use that to determine the number of parts you need to get 12 inches.. Make sure to calculate the length based on the quantity you need + 10% (+50%) with 0201 passives).

If you don't have any of the parts already on hand, you can download the datasheet for the component. In the pack, you'll usually be able to 

If the length comes out to less than 12 inches, use the parts per inch to figure out the total you need. If it comes out to 12 inches or more, you're set. Passives commonly come in 2 mm pitch tape or 4 mm pitch tape.

2.    How can I make sure that my supplier sends my parts in continuous strips?

It's not uncommon for DigiKey or Mouser to send 50 parts in 5 different strips of tape. I've even received parts in strips of one. Each part was still in the tape, cut from the reel. They were just cut into strips of one. We can use those in our Full-Proto service, but it's a hassle for you and you can't use them with Short-Run.

Neither distributor has a setting for "continuous strip", however, they do have a place to enter special instructions. Simply state in the special instructions that you need uncut, continuous tape for all parts that come in strips of tape.

Duane Benson
What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

No need to waste parts

We love parts on reels. Who doesn't? But reels aren't always practical - and it's not just about cost. Cost is, of course, important, but there may be other factors to consider.

Say, for example, you need 20 2.2K Ohm, 5% 0805 resistors. You could buy a small strip of 25 from Digikey for $0.32. That gives the 20 you need, plus a few spares just in case.

Alternately, you could buy a digi-reel ( a custom quantity reel). On the reel, you'll probably want more parts to keep the strip long enough for the feeder. Let's go with 250 parts for $1.39. Digikey charges $7.00 extra to create a custom reel, so that's a total of $8.39. Still peanuts.

For a third choice, you could just buy a full reel of 5,000 for $10.64. Still peanuts. If you're gong to need the same part for a lot of designs, this might make sense. But, there's more than just cost to consider. You need to store and ship it. Shipping two dozen reels gets pretty expense. Storing and inventorying several dozen reels can become a hassle too.

Cut strips on plateThe beauty of Digikey, Mouser, and other places that sell cut strips is that they essentially become your parts warehouse. You pay the $0.32 cents and never have to worry about whether the part is in your inventory, how many are in your inventory, digging it out of wherever you stuffed the reel when you last needed it...

If you do buy and store the whole reel, you don't need to ship the entire reel to us. Just cut a strip with the number you need, plus about 10% for that "just in case" (50% extra for tiny 0201 parts).

Of course, if you need a few thousand of the parts, go ahead and send us the reel. It would make sense then.

Duane Benson
Reel, reel your part
Solder it, solder it, solder it, solder it
Cost is but a factor

Packing Parts for Personal Manufacturing

Manufacturing, especially small volume one-time-only builds (like a prototype) is hard. It's not wise for most people to actively seek out chaos, but that's what we do, and we do it wisely. That's what we've been doing since 2003. 

We do it because it's hard and because it's necessary.

A big part of quality manufacturing involves risk reduction. Prototyping and quick-turns inherently add in a lot of risk. While we've designed our processes and systems around turning that risk into a quality product, there are a few things that you, the customer, can do to help reduce risk even further.

One of the best things you can do to reduce risk is to prepare a well organized kit, as shown in this video.


You can send us your parts in short, cut strips, like you get from Digikey or Mouser, long continuous strips, full or partial reels, tubes or trays. We machine place from all of those types of packages. What's important is clear labeling and organization.

Individual, or mixed/loose components are not good, though. Pins get bent, leads get contaminated, values get mixed... Leave them in the strip, even if it's short. If you've got multiple short strips of the same part, we can still machine place. Don't tape them together. We can deal with them as is.

Duane Benson
Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickeled Manufacturing

VTP - Very Tiny Parts

FreescaleKL03A while back, I wrote about a new ARM Cortex M0+ chip from Freescale. It's not the first M0+, but I do believe that it's the smallest. I've been checking stock off and on and finally found the smallest package to be in stock and available to ship.

I actually bought a couple of different types. First, there's the WLCSP 20. It's got 32K FLASH, 2K SRAM and an 8K bootloader. The real kicker is that the package is only 1.6mm X 2.0 mm. I also got a few in the QFM 16 package, which is a bit more workable at 3mm X 3mm.

Finally, I bought a Freedom development board with th 4mm X 4mm QFN 24 package. The dev board is hardware compatible with Arduino shields, so that will make for some interesting possibilities.

Anyway, here at Screaming Circuits, I'm most interested in that 1.6mm X 2.0mm package to see how easy (or difficult) it is to use - see if there are any particular layout challenges. The other stuff is just for after hours play time.

Duane Benson
I'm not a number. I'm a free development board!
(Free, as in named "Free...", not free as in "don't cost nothin")

BGAs and Package on Package

POP with dimeTake a look at the closeup of one of our Beagleboards here on the right. That's what package on package (POP) looks like up close. The bottom chip is a Texas Instruments OMAP processor, in BGA form with 0.4mm pitch solder balls. It has a land pattern on its top for the top layer, which is a Micron memory chip in 0.5mm pitch BGA form.

A few years back, we built a small handful of Beagleboards ourselves, just to showcase our POP capabilities. It's hard to believe that we did that back in 2009. The Beagleboard has undergone a few iterations and spawned the Beaglebone since then, but 0.4 mm pitch is still pretty small.

Small, but not really all that uncommon anymore. "Smaller" is on the way. In fact, though it's a special process, we've even built a few 0.3mm pitch BGAs.

If you're joining the fun and starting to use on of the Ti 0.4mm pitch BGAs, you might want to take a look at what we learned from the Beagleboard folks about the land pattern.

Duane Benson
The sandwich needs pickles.

Component Packages - Let's Get Small

I've been on a bit of a package binge lately. First talking about metric vs. US passive sizes, and then a very tiny ARM Cortex M0 from Freescale.

The Freescale BGA part checks in at 1.6mm x 2mm. That's cool and I'm almost always in favor of making things as small as possible, but, as I wrote in my prior blog on the subject, it's not always possible. The 0.4mm pitch BGA is problematic unless you can spend a lot of money on the raw PC boards, or will have super high volume.

Small boardAll is not lost, though. You still can use a tiny ARM Cortex M0 part. Just not quite as tiny. That same part also comes in a 3mm x 3mm QFN package. You lose four pins (16 vs. 20) going from the BGA to the QFN, but if you can handle that, it's a very viable option that doesn't require any exotic PC board technologies.

A few years ago, QFN's were scary, but not so much any more. I've designed a few of them in using Eagle CAD. Just be sure to pay attention to the footprint. A 6 mil trace is more than small enough for a 0.5mm pitch QFN.

Duane Benson
Strive at all times to bend, fold, spindle and mutilate

0.4mm Pitch BGA is Awesome

I recently had a conversation with a friend about 0.4mm pitch BGAs. The specific part is the Freescale FreescaleKL03KL03 ARM Coretex-M0+ microcontroller in a 1.6mm x 2mm, pitch package. That's a 20 ball wafer scale BGA form factor.

I don't have an actual part to photograph next to a grain of sand, but trust me (or don't), it's really small.

Ti 0.44 pitch dimensionsThe challenge, and the reason I suggested a QFN form factor instead, is the costs
involved. If you have the extra budget money for more expensive PC boards, then go ahead and use this form factor. You probably won't be able to use this package in cost constrained situations.

The simple reason is that you can't escape route the inner six pins without using super small vias between pads, or in pads and filled and plated over. The page on the left is from a Ti doc, but any variations in geometry will be minor.

You can see that you can't put a trace between the pads. Maybe a 2 mil trace, but maybe not. There just isn't much room. The recommended method is to put micro vias in the pads and have them filled and plated over at the board fab house. Never put a via in a micro BGA pad unless it's filled, plated over, and flat.

Duane Benson
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
But open vias in pads aren't one of them

When is an 0201 Not an 0201?

Metric vs US resistor packageI'm working on a special project here that involves some 0402 LEDs and 0201 resistors. When doing such a thing, you should always check the footprint you're using against the data sheet. When using extra small parts, like this, I recommend making a custom footprint unless the one you picked is exact, and I mean exact. There just isn't an margin for error at these geometries.

Take a look at the table on the right. The dimensions are in mm. Spot anything a bit off? Counter to most data sheets, the sizes listed in the "Type" column are metric sizes. At DigiKey, the package was listed as "0201 (0603 Metric)." I see that all the time, but for some reason, most data sheets Metric vs US resistor package Conversionshow the package name in US size while listing the dimensions in metric.

The first table was at the front of this data sheet (page 5). The second table was on page 35 - the opposite end of the data sheet.

We do occasionally get boards with metric size pads for a US size part, or vice verse. Sometimes we can make it fit, but not always. Bottom line, is to check and double check. I caught this one because the dimension .54 mm is about 21 mils, which is too small for an 0402. That, and the fact that the table doesn't list an 0201 size.

Duane Benson
Is it Bigfoot or Sasquatch?


Surface Mount, But Not Really

Sometimes parts labeled as surface mount aren't quite ready for prime time. I've written about this subject before (read here), and I'm going to write about it again - whether you like it or not. This time, however, I'm not talking about components that aren't up to thermal par. Today, it's about components that can take the heat, but aren't set up to be machine assembled.

Surface mount machines need a flat surface to pick on. They use small vacuum nozzles that need to seat on that flat spot. Chips, of course, are flat on top, as are most other components. Connectors, however, are often not flat on top. That doesn't leave any place for the "pick and place" machine to pick.

Single row header with pick and place padGenerally, manufacturers will place a small tab of KaptonĀ® tape or a small snap-in plastic pad on top of the connector, giving the machine a surface to work with. You can see that in the photo on the left. Once the board has been fully assembled, the tape or plastic pad is simply removed.

Every now and then, we'll see connectors come in without that flat pick and place surface (like on the right). That means the machine can't place it, so it will have to be placed by hand. 1.25mm-Wafer-SMT-Connector

When buying your surface mount connectors, if you have a choice between a part with the tape and one without, you're better off picking the one with the tape. No offence intended to all of you humans, but machine assembly is generally preferred over human assembly.

Duane Benson
Only three more days until Mitten Tree Day!