Thru-Hole Parts

Screaming Circuits uses machines to place surface mount parts; even if it's just one board. Thru-hole are a different story though. Way back in the cobweby section of the building, we do have a thru-hole part sequencing and insertion machine. Our volume manufacturing division still uses it on occasion, but it's just not efficient for small quantities, which is why thru-hole parts get hand inserted at Screaming Circuits. We have three options for soldering the parts into your prototype. We can hand solder all of the parts, we can send the board through our selective solder machine or we can send it through the wave solder machine. We'll pick whichever route makes the most sense based on quantity and configuration.

It's good that we can solder the thru-hole parts, but how, you might wonder, do we know where to put the thru-hole parts? The SMT has the centroid file to tell our machines where to put them. Thru-hole Thru-hole locationsbeing more of a manual process, we rely on visual data. If your silk screen markings are readable, we can used that as a reference. If the parts will only fit one way into one footprint on the board, then  it's not much of a challenge. Regardless, make sure that the polarity is clear for any polarized components.

Sometimes, though, there isn't enough room on the PCB for clear silk screen and parts will fit in a number of different places. That's where the assembly drawing comes in. This illustrates an example of a suitable assembly drawing. It's got your web order number in the image and all of the parts are clearly pictured and their locations clearly identified. If any of the parts are polarized, make sure you include that information as well. Send the assembly drawing as a .JPG or PDF file format in your ZIP file with the BOM, Gerbers and Centroid.

Duane Benson
It just goes to the back side of the board. It's not a wormhole going to another galaxy.
Or is it?

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.

Day two. Custom parts

Moving on from where I left off a few days ago... I was planning on using the PIC18F2320, but in poking around, I found that the PIC18F2321 is about $3.00 less expensive in small quantities. I'm not entirely sure why. Their virtually identical. The 2320 does have two 8-bit timers instead of one in the 2321, but I haven't spotted any other differences that would matter to me in this case. The 2321 has lower sleep and idle currents but I don't think that matters in this application either.

PCB123 PIC partial sch PCB123 doesn't have the 2321 in its library. I could just use the 2320 part, but to get full use out of the pricing and availability features, I'll have to customize the part so that the BOM tool can find it at DigiKey.

I had the "place component" box up already, so I just clicked on "manage Parts" and started filling in the information in the middle column of the dialog. The I clicked the "Select Simple" button, searched on "2320" and selected the symbol for the PIC18F2320-I/SO. So far, so good.

PCB123 manage parts dialog Now, the question is: do I select "Apply Changes" or "Create a New Part"? This would be easier if I actually looked at the documentation or something, but am I doing that? Of course not. I'm going with "Create a New Part." Oops. Needed to select or generate the footprint first. Do that and search on "SOIC" and pick out an SOIC28, "Create New Part" and save it in a Library. I picked "Microchip."

Done. Now when I go back to the Insert / Add Part function, I search on PIC18F2321, and there it is. Apparently, I did it right, because the BOM tab will find it and show price and availability at DigiKey.

Duane Benson
And, today, it's not just a rain cloud, but a full one

 

Rain, Rain, Go Away

It's almost June her in the Pacific Northwest. At least, that's what the calendar says. I'm not sure I beleive it at the moment. The weather is acting more like October. It's a bit warmer than January, but every bit as wet. That pretty much equals October. We'll just call in Junetober.

And what does Junetober have to do with electronic assembly?

MSD logo Moisture. That's what it has to do with electronics assembly. Most of the parts running around int he world today have some level of moisture sensitivity. Despite my lament of the rain here, you have to consider component moisture no matter what your climate may be.

Looking at IPC-M-109, you can see the there are sensitivy levels MSL-1 though MSL-6. There are acutally eight levels: 2A and 5A make up the extra two. If you've got an MSL-1 part, you really don't have to worry about. I wouldn't store it in your fish bowl, but the standard says you don't have to bake it. Up at MSL-6, you have to bake the parts before use no matter what.

When you buy your moisture sensitive components, the should come in a moisture barrier antistatic bag with an indicator card and a little baggy of moisture absorbing dessicant. The best approach with these compontnts is to leave them in the original un-opened bag. We'll use what we need and properly seal up the rest just the way IPC-M-109 wants us to.

If you do need to open the bag and ship parts to us without the moisture protection, we may need to bake them for a while to make sure they are properly dried out before putting them in the reflow oven.

Duane Benson
Gore-Tex is a registered trademark of W. L. Gore & Associates.

Done and Done.

LED scroller 005 trimmed And... Drum roll, please... It works. I put in a couple of batteries, programmed the MCU and turned it on. It works. I'm always surprised when something I design works on the first try. This being such a simple design, I probably shouldn't be surprised though. I should at least give myself a little more credit.

The unpopulated lands on the board in the photo are supposed to be unpopulated. I left a few things out because they aren't needed for what I'm doing with this piece now and leaving them off keeps the cost down.

So, what did I learn from the process?

  • If you have a lot of different parts laying around, it's pretty easy to grab the wrong one
  • I ran into some variability in the "zero rotaion" position in the CAD library land patterns
  • The whole process is pretty easy, but start to finish, there are quiet a few steps
  • It's a nerve wracking wait after sending a box of parts off
  • Good communications between designer and assembler are very important
  • Clear documentation from the designer is very important
  • This was a WHOLE LOT easier than hand soldering all the SMT parts (I've done that before)

That's a good set of educational results. Next time, I think it will be easier.

Note the large diode polarity indicators on either side of the long row of LEDs and by LED D25. D1, the Schottky on the upper right has the same polarity indicator, but it's in between the pads, under the part. In case you're interested, I have a 3 volt supply. The LEDs drop 1.8 volts and I've got a 150 ohm resistor for each. That gives me a theoretical 8 mA per port for a total maximum of 176 mA with all 22 lit up. That's within spec in the -40C to 85C temperature range but too much when above 85C. I'm not sticking this in an engine compartment or anything, so no worries there.

Duane Benson
0x45 0x53 0x43 0x20 0x62 0x6F 0x6F 0x74
0x68 0x20 0x38 0x32 0x33 0x20 0x20 0x20

My Mistake - Naturally

I received my PCBs for this project from Sunstone yesterday at about 10:10. I quickly dropped them into my box of parts and delivered it to the receiving pile-of-boxes in our shipping.receiving department. At  11:40am yesterday, I received an email from our auditing department informing me of a BOM mismatch.

BOM mismatch Yes. I had made a mistake in my bill of materials. The board has a bunch of yellow LEDs and one red LED. I had mistakenly only packed up yellows. Our audit department caught my mistake and sent me a quick email. If I hadn't have responded yesterday, I would have received another email at midnight. I could have just told the Downsized_0421110938a manufacturing folks to put a yellow LED in that spot, but the yellows are for a display and the red is a power-on indicator so I got my red LEDs and delivered them to receiving.

This morning I got my assembled boards all nicely wrapped in anti-static bags along with all of my leftover parts in their original packaging. Next step, get some batteries and power them up.

Duane Benson
Thor, Dog of Thunder, is not allowed

Short Cuts Don't Always Make Long Delays

The saga continues. I have my parts kit. The PCBs should be here from Sunstone tomorrow. When I placed the order on our website, I estimated that I'd have the parts and PCBs today, but I wasn't really sure. I knew there would be a chance that it would be tomorrow, but I thought it would be good to see how our communications goes when something is late. Obviously, an assembler can't start building until the parts have arrived, so the Industry standard is to start the turn-time once everything is in the shop.

If a box is late and the sender doesn't know it, unintended delays can be added into the process. Knowing this, we recently did a lot of work to improve our communications, on such issues as late parts, to help reduce delays. Sure enough, I dropped on over to the website and right on the top of the home page is a note that I have an issue (late parts) with my job. Tonight at midnight, I should receive an email telling me the same thing too.

On the subject of the PCBs, I sent Gerbers to Sunstone. That works just fine, but I'm always a bit nervous about the accuracy of my layer mapping. They double check, so I've never had problems, but I still get nervous.

If I'd waited a few days, like until today, I could have taken a short cut by just sending in my CAD board file - they just started accepting native CAD files. You can still use Gerbers, but if you use Altium, Eagle, OrCAD, National Instruments Circuit Design Suite, Ivex Winboard or PCB123, you can just send in the board file and save some time and hassle.

When I get the boards tomorrow, I'll pack everything up and deliver it to the receiving folks. Then I'll see how the rest of the build process goes from the other side of the fence, and I'll see how we deal with extra parts. I did that on purpose also. With a couple of parts, I'm delivering several hundred more than I need. With a few other, just the requisite 5% over. It will be interesting to see just how I get the extras back.

Yes. I know. I work here, so I shouldn't have any doubt about how all of this stuff works. I do know how it goes, but it's always a good thing to, every now and then, check and see how well practice matches up with theory.

Duane Benson
Grip, Fang, Wolf! Guard the mushrooms!

Centroid / XYRLS / Pick and Place

Call it what you may, but surface mount assembly robots need this magic file to determine where to place your components and how to orient them. We call it a Centroid. Others may call it something else, but it's all basically the same. In our case, the basic format is comma delimited, in mils:

Ref designator,     Layer,     LocationX,     LocationY,     Rotation
    C1 ,                       Top ,           0.5750  ,       2.1000  ,           90

That's not too difficult. Most CAD programs will automatically create this file for you. Eagle doesn't natively, but we have a ULP to do it for you in Eagle (Downloaded here). Again, no problems here. Mostly...

I say mostly because, at this point, you are at the mercy of the person who created the CAD library part. Provided they center the origin and follow the IPC for orientation, everything should come out just fine. Unfortunately, we do find parts that don't follow those rules. We'll do our best to catch and correct such things here, but for maiximum reliability, check you library components to make sure. We find the problem crops up most commonly with passives.

IPC says that zero orientation for two pin passives is horizontal, with pin one on the left. For polarized capacitors, pin one is (+). For diodes, pin one is the cathode. They note that pin one is always the polarity mark pin or cathode. Pin one is also on the left for resistors, inductors and non-polarized capacitors, but left vs right doesn't matter so much with non-polarized things. The most common orientation error we se is to have the "zero rotaion" 270 degrees off from the IPC standard.

Every now and then we'll find that someone assumes that since usually the anode on a diode tends to be on the positive side, that the anode should be pin one. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Duane Benson
Is it pulling electrons or pushing holes?

Cat Chow

I recently wrote a bit about eating my own dog food relative to a small design I've put together. Today, I'm moving along with that process and kitting it all up, so I thought I'd pass on some hints on making a good parts kit. I'm looking at this from the perspective of Screaming Circuits, but my guess is that it would fit for just about anyone assembling your prototypes. Even George's PCB Assembly and Dry Goods Emporium down past the railroad tracks.

If you're sending all of the parts, you can leave them in the original package. Just be sure to clearly mark the packages with your reference designators. If you've got to cut your strips down, you may need to Downsized_0418110808 re-package the parts, as I am. I got these little handy dandy anti static bags from Digi-Key (part number 16-1032-ND) for less than ten cents each in a pack of 100. You can use the little pink anti-static bags too.

I've labeled each bag with the reference designator, the component manufacturer and the manufacturer's part number. The more ambiguity that you can remove without adding excess clutter, the better. Making the labels was easy. I used Avery #5366 labels and mail merged from my BOM spreadsheet.

You can also put the component value on the label as well, if you can do it without clutter. Maybe line 1, reference designator; line 2, manufacturer and manufacturer part number; line 3, component value. Once you've got the bags labeled, go ahead and fill them up with the parts needed for your assembly. Add in 5% extra just in case (50% extra for 0201 passives).

If any of your parts are moisture sensitive either leave them in the original moisture barrier packaging or let us know that they need to be baked prior to assembly. That will prevent popcorn in the reflow oven.

Duane Benson
You'll like it better or my name isn't Orville Partenbacher

 

Dog Chow

I don't know how common the phrase "eating your own dog food" is. I know I've heard it before in some of those obnoxious business seminars. Not all business seminars are obnoxious. Some are quite helpful and actually, now that I think about it, I'm not really sure if I've heard the phrase in the obnoxious seminars or the useful ones. Maybe the so-so ones. Hmm.

Anyway, in case you haven't heard the phrase (it may be a regional thing), it means to use your own product, or in our case, service. I'm not an engineer, but I play one on the Internet. Still, I design and build little things. Since generally what I build is hobby related, I tend to solder them up myself leaving our capacity here at Screaming Circuits for the paying customers. But right now, I'm doing something a little different.

SC Promo 042011 top layer I've got a little design that I'm going to use to help some folks better understand how things work around here. At first, I'll just give it to some writers and editors (writers and editors, feel free to shoot me an email about it), but at some point, I hope to be able to have enough to send out to design engineers that want to get a feel for our process. It's quite a simple board; a PIC microcontroller (18F25K20 SSOP), some switches, resistors, a bunch of 0603 LEDs and some bypass caps. One schottky diode too. I'm putting together a sample kit just like the sort of kit we like to receive. The files will be on a Screaming Circuits USB drive. The PCB, fabbed over at Sunstone.com, will be in there. All the parts, purchased from Digi-Key will be in individual bags; one per BOM line item.

The idea is for someone to take the kit as though it were theirs, create an account on our website, quote the job, place the order (no payment will be needed), upload the files and send the kits in. Along the way, that person will see what we like to see in a parts kit and how the whole register, quote and order process goes. Once they receive the working board back, all they have to do is decode the secret message it displays.

Back to the dog food. From my side of the Interpipes, it's easy to say that things are easy. I sit back, drinking lattes and eating oatmeal while everyone else does the real work. But during this process, I'll get a refresher course on what it's really like to get a prototype built up.

The other day, I sent the GERBER files off to Sunstone to get the PCBs fabbed and the parts order off to Digi-Key. Tomorrow, I've got to kit everything up. Stay tuned. Details as events warrant.

Duane Benson
Is this the kind that makes gravy when you pour water on it?