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That’s What You Will Get When You Use PCBWay Assembly Service — A Guide to PCBWay’s PCBA Part 2

On 21 Aug I placed a PCB and PCBA service orders on PCBWay website and on 15 Sep a box from PCBWay arrived at my mailbox. 25 days were needed to get my assembled PCB. This was including the quotation, payment, printing the bare PCB, BOM parts supplement, Engineering questions, assembling, testing, and finally shipment.

The PCB after assembly by PCBWay
The PCB After Assembly

In the last article, we tried to place a dummy order on the PCBWay system and we introduced and described a number of steps to order PCBA service.

Now it is time to place a real order and get a real assembled PCB to examine service quality. Although this is sponsored content, it will be showing real review with pros and cons.

Let’s go through the steps of my order:

First: Quotation and Review 

The process of how to place a PCBA order and how to prepare BOM for quotation is described in detail in the previous part

After uploading the Gerber files and BOM, I waited to get a quotation for the BOM. After 3 days (including Sat and Sun) I got the quoted BOM (BOM included 50 unique parts) with estimated dates for delivery to PCBWay warehouse, notes and questions, if any. For example, the design has ESP32WROOM32 and this WiFi module has different flash memory sizes, thus the PCBWay quotation mentioned in the notes that they can only source with 4MB flash size. Also, if any of your parts are out of stock, PCBWay will ask for an alternative, and that is what happened with me where BOM included PAM8302AAYCRDI-ND audio chip and it was out-of-stock and I had to select an alternative. 

PCB order specs from PCBWay
PCB Order Specs

Once everything settles, and you make the payment. The manufacturing will start and you will have a similar status in your dashboard like the following:

Here are the options you need to select when you do payment: 

The BOM quotation and supplement of the components start even before the PCB is finished in order to be ready to start assembly once PCB is finished. This gives you a window to add new parts to your BOM if you missed any, like what I did. I asked to add a part I missed in the BOM and paid the extra via their PayPal account.

PCBWay assigns one of their customer support employees for each order from start to end. You will get emails from him/her with questions or updates. They are very responsive and easy to reach through email, Whatsapp, or Skype. This is an example of one of the questions I’ve got via email:

A request from PCBWay support asking for an alternative for one an out-of-stock part

The PCBA service in my case of assembling one PCB was $30. The BOM costs me $69. So it was in total $99 besides the cost of PCBs.

As my order is only a small quantity, it will be assembled manually without using Pick and Place machine that is why the quotation did not include overages of parts for PnP feeders as described in the previous part.

In summary, a total of 3-4 days was enough to address all engineering and quotation questions including Sat and Sun. The time could be less with like 1-2 days if my design passed the review directly. The prices in BOM were almost matching the prices on Digikey and Mouser.
The outcome of this step is: a quoted BOM and Gerber files ready for manufacturing. Now, you don’t need to do anything other than waiting and checking the status of your order from your dashboard.

PCBWay Dashboard
PCBWay User Dashboard
PCB Order Initial Status
PCB Order Initial Status

Similarly, the very first PCBA status would be:

PCBA Order Initial Status
PCBA Order Initial Status

Second: Once PCB Is Finished, PCBA Starts 

It took 3 days for PCBWay to print the PCB, as the status updates say.

PCB Order Updates After Finish
PCB Order Updates After Finish

At this stage, the PCBA will start very soon, and you may get questions related to the assembly. According to the PCBA updates, the parts arrived at PCBWay warehouse on 2 Sep and assembly started on 4 Sep after inspecting the parts and having answers to their questions. For example, they asked me to send the marking of some discrete components as I forget to add them in the silkscreen layer, So I sent to them an illustration like this:

One of the parts on the board has a heat sink pad, but the footprint doesn’t have it, on purpose. They asked if it is ok to assemble. Another issue was about one of the ordered Capacitors that has a pad wider a little than the footprint one’s, they asked for a confirmation to assemble.


The last one was about a part has different package than the footprint, and the alternative was out-of-stock so I asked them to ship the part with the PCB to be soldered later (a dead-bug style, maybe).

Third: PCBA Is Finished, Review and Testing Start

After 2 days of addressing the PCBA notes and questions, the PCBA was finished.

List of PCBA Order Updates From Start to End
List of PCBA Order Updates From Start to End

I got an email with a picture of the assembled board. They asked to review and inform them If I have any notes on assembly.

The First Picture of The Board After Assembly

From the attached images I found a few parts that need rework and I asked support about the suspected parts, and they addressed the issues.

At this point, the board is basically ready to be shipped, but if you need a quick and simple test, then PCBWay can do it for free. If you need complex testing it charges US$10/hour, according to support.

In my case, I asked to connect to USB and check if it will be recognized on the PC, also I asked to measure one point voltage. They did the instruction and sent me a video for each test.

After these tests, the order was packed and sent via DHL Express. The PCBWay dashboard will give you access to the tracking number to follow your shipment.

Fourth: Receiving the Shipment 

After 3 days of sending the order from PCBWay, I received the package, and here is the unboxing video:

Then I checked the quality of soldering and placement using a 25x magnifier lens, and here is quick overview of the received board: 

Here are some sample photos of few parts to check assembly quality. The shown images include SMD components like:

24 pin / 0.5 mm pitch / connector, ESP32 Module, VQFN-56, QFN-40, UDFN-4 and TSSOP8.

Fifth: Defects 

Now, it is time to list the defects I’ve found. The very first one is the flux contaminants left by soldering rework. It is hard to catch using the Camera, but the board was sticky because of it. It is not shiny and clean 100%.
The second defect which I think it is related to the first one is the leftover solder balls. I found few, which could cause short circuits between pins, especially for SMD packages.

Some of Solder balls found on the PCB
Some of Solder balls found on The PCB

However, I’m sure that if I made a special request to do final wash with cleaning chemicals before shipment, they would do it. So maybe next time I will request so.

Other than that, everything seems perfect, and the circuit was recognized by PC from the first run as the board has an FTDI converter chip. I checked the voltages too and they were as expected.

This is a high resolution picture of the assembled PCB to take a closer look. 

Summery

  • It took only 25 days from the day I placed the order until I got the package from PCBWay. The period can be even less by 3-5 days without engineering questions and tests.
  • The Support was excellent. It is easy to reach, very responsive, and care about details.
  • Assembly review was precious. They asked about 2 issues that showed their attention.
  • The soldering quality is quite good, I didn’t find defects related to soldering itself, but the border needed a final wash with cleaning Chemicals before shipping. 
  • It costs $30 for the assembly service in my case. The shipment was DHL Express and free because of “Winter Sale for PCB assembly Free shipping ($30 off)” offer.
  • Would I request this service again? Definitely, yes. 

Yahya Tawil

Embedded Hardware Engineer interested in open hardware and was born in the same year as Linux. Yahya is the editor-in-chief of Atadiat and believes in the importance of sharing free, practical, spam-free and high quality written content with others. His experience with Embedded Systems includes developing firmware with bare-metal C and Arduino, designing PCB&schematic and content creation.

3 Comments

  1. Hi Yahya!
    Thanks for the article, I would definitely use their assembly service according to your review.
    I also like that you changed the ordered opaque white solder mask to the green one. It is always better to use some see-through solder mask, especially for in prototyping stage as seeing the tracks helps debugging a lot.
    Also the I2C “consumer unit” using 0R bridges on the back is really nice and inspiring. Overall, according to the jumper liks allowing for isolating the boards subsystems, you know how to ease your life whie debugging 🙂
    My only concern would be the PCB antenna located between two large-ish metal objects, one being the mounting pillar + screw (use a nylon one if possible) and the other even a cable onnector. Loose cable / wires acros the antenna could pretty much spoil both the wifi effective radiated power and sensitivity, resulting in poor link, especially considering a portable device.
    Any chance for an article about the device? Seems like some nifty portable terminal or even a game console. I am pretty curious now!
    Best regards,
    Tom

    1. Thanks Tom for your nice comment! 🙂

      Actually I had to change the solder mask color in order to not have a solder mask bridges, only green one can stand in my design clearance between pads.
      And yeah I wanted every thing to be separated as sub-systems, especially for the first version!

      I will definitely take your note about the Antenna into consideration, Thanks!.

      As a sneak peek, it is a multi-sensor boards with FT4232H to drive all sensors using a Desktop application. It has an optional ESP32 for on-battery operation. I should start working on it soon and will publish about it once I finish.

      1. Hi Yahya!
        Thanks for mentioning the solder mask bridging problem. I was not even aware of its existence. I thought that all the solder masks are basically the same as for clearances etc. Definitely worth remembering to me.
        Looking forward to your new sensor board. Wish you best luck!
        Tom

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