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 ESP32–WROOM–32 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.
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:
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.
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.
Similarly, the very first PCBA status would be:
Second: Once PCB Is Finished, PCBA Starts
It took 3 days for PCBWay to print the PCB, as the status updates say.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.