2023-12-28

Ordering PCBs

Ordering PCBs and assembly is fun :-)

Well, not fun, and to be honest, one of the biggest challenges is the parts selection, what they have in stock or something equivalent, but designing the PCB is definitely fun (well, for me).

I export a gerber files that are the instructions to make the PCB tracking images, and also a BOM (bill of materials) and position file, for placing the parts.

I have done this many many times with several PCB manufacturers, and lately with JLCPCB, which seem to be surprisingly quick and sensibly priced (apart from the odd quirk). I'd love to find a UK company as cheap and easy to use, I'd use them.

The PCB printing has a few design constraints, the gaps between tracks, minimum track width, and so on, which relate to the optics of the process for printing and drilling the board itself. But apart from that the PCB is printed exactly as expected.

Well, until now.

This is what I ordered... (this is an image from their order history page)

And this is what arrived...

It took me ages to debug it - tracking down that the CPU was running way too hot (burned my finger) and not quite right. It turned out it was running on 4.5V not 3.3V. The shorts there short input to output on a regulator circuit and I was testing from 5V USB via a diode. If I had tested 12V it would have made smoke, I expect.

The thing is the order process involves a lot of steps, and each step show the PCB you are making.

  • When uploading the gerber files
  • When selecting assembly and it shows the bare PCB
  • When showing PCB with parts
  • When order complete and preview of PCB
  • When order complete and preview of assembly
  • On gerber viewer on the site from their order confirmation

At every stage they show the circuit correctly, but the final PCB was faulty.

I complained, and they advised: "We have reflected this issue to our engineering team and JLCCAM software team and they have found and fixed the issue just now, and there will be no the same issue next time, so don't worry about it."

They even provided an image of the error:

Next step - refund!

My view is simple.

  • They made an error in printing the PCB.
  • Arguably they made an error with the flying lead test of the PCB not spotting the printing error.
  • They then made the PCB with parts that cost money - either of the above errors not made would have avoided that.
  • It was not, in any way, my fault.
  • I did not get what I paid for.

It is simple. I should not only have a full refund, including shipping cost, but ideally I should be compensated for the hours of debug, the delay in getting working boards, and the cost of disposing of the WEEE (defunct PCBs and part).

I'll be happy for just a full refund, and either they pay for courier to return boards, or I dispose of them (at my cost). As I buy loads from them, I'd even allow for it to be a credit on my account rather than an actual refund.

I have a funny feeling they will try and weasel out of this - and then I may have to ask Amex to intervene. It is for two separate batches of boards (from 4 I ordered, 2 of which were fine) totalling over $470.

Watch this space - I'll update with news.

Update: They do seem to be trying to weasel out of out - that PCB manufacturer is separate from supplying parts and assembly - but the parts they supplied are useless to me as supplied, so not reasonable that I pay for them, surely? Indeed, I have offered to send the parts back to them (at their cost). We'll see how that goes.

They suggested I try and isolate the track, but this is cutting through soldered pads, so when I put the components back it will short again!

Update: They are being counter reasonable. I suggested I could maybe find someone to rework - they suggested I try, and get a quote. I may try and get a quote.

They also think just cleaning solder would be enough to avoid shorting with the component leads when cut like this...

Update: I have decided instead to offer a compromise on basis that on one board I can re-use the SCD41 sensors they have supplied. Pushing their offer $50 more on each set of boards. We'll see.

Update: We have credits now.

2023-12-17

Rule 170

The Highway code Rule 170 was updated a while ago. Last time I posted about it was before the update, and was surprisingly controversial for some reason. This time I hope less so.

The changes

The changes were actually quite subtle, in my view.

1. It used to say that pedestrians crossing a side road had priority over vehicles entering the side road. It now says that drivers should give way to pedestrians waiting as well as crossing. I say this is subtle, as, before, a driver had to allow for the fact that a pedestrian waiting could become a pedestrian crossing in an instant by putting their foot on the road.

2. Pedestrians used to only have priority half way, i.e. over vehicles entering the side road. Now the rule covers cars leaving as well, which was a silly omission before.

The main rule

The key rule here is "give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way", but it is worth noting the first part "watch out for cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians including powered wheelchairs/mobility scooter users as they are not always easy to see. Be aware that they may not have seen or heard you if you are approaching from behind"

Going well

I think the change is working!

I suspect the publicity over the change has had most impact rather than the change itself, as drivers used to ignore the old rules, in my experience.

I used to see a lot of cases where a car turning right in to a side road would wait for traffic and then turn, even though I was crossing said side road. They then slam on their brakes and get cross with me. It seems they thought I should see them signalling and wait. Obviously I could see them, but as (a) they are stationary, and (b) I had priority, then of course it should be safe for me to cross.

I am seeing this less, and I am even seeing cars coming to a main road stop with a gap to allow me to cross in front of them. Obviously if they stop on the line I just cross in front of them walking on the dotted line. This brings the other concern I have over the number of drivers that will pull away without looking to see if someone is right on their bumper in front of them!

Clarification

I like clear wording if possible, and I feel the new wording has a couple of possible issues where it could be improved.

I would hope these are silly niggles and any driver would be clear on what they should do, but given the lack of understanding so many drivers have, and the controversial comments on my last post which revolved around very specific wording, I can't help feeling the wording could be improved.

Crossing or waiting?

The rule covers pedestrian crossing or waiting to cross, but seems to be to have a glaring omission. A pedestrian assertively walking towards the edge of the road with the clear intention of crossing, i.e. no indication of stopping. In that case they are neither crossing, nor waiting to cross.

I feel a simple change from waiting to "intending to cross" would cover this loophole.

Turning

Another oddity is the use of turning. If you have a cross roads, two side roads on a main road opposite each other. Cars may be leaving or entering a side road from the other side road with no turning involved. Using words entering or leaving would clarify that stupid loophole.

Driveways

I don't think it is controversial to say that cars entering or leaving a driveway should give way to pedestrians, and I suspect it is covered elsewhere by the fact the car is crossing the footpath itself. So probably does not need clarifying in rule 170 itself.

Private Roads

I would hope rule 170 applies to private roads, e.g. entrance/exit of supermarket car parks, etc. These do not always have the usual dotted road markings. It would be nice if rule 170 actually made this clear. I have seen plenty of drivers seem confused that I am crossing in front of them whilst they are waiting to leave a car park.

However, apparently any private road to which the public have access is a "road" under law, so it would apply.

Roundabouts

This is one I have no clue on - does rule 170 apply to the exits of a roundabout.

As a pedestrian this would be very useful. As worded, surely leaving or entering a roundabout is turning in to a or from a road. So rule 170 should apply. Or is a roundabout not a junction, so rule 170 does not apply at all?

So does it? It would help if rule 170 was clear on this either way.

Turning in to a road

Another odd one is when are your entering or leaving a road. E.g. in the middle of Abergavenny there is a sharp turn between Cross Street and Monk Street. So vehicles are clearing turning in to a new road. But both are the A40, so are they? And is it a junction? The particular turning is marked as a box junction so surely it is a junction, so the only question is whether going from Cross St to Monk St is turning in to a road? It would be great if pedestrians did have priority there, and if they do, it may be possible to get the road authority to put of a sign of some sort - they refuse to put in a zebra crossing for some reason.

More law

This blog is excellent! https://pedestrianliberation.org/the-law-2/

BACS and Direct Debit

10 years ago I posted about us having to re-do our payments system with only 2 months notice. That time was because of HMRC making changes that caused Lloyds to very suddenly close their BACS bureau. Scary times.

Last month we got two months notice that the BACS submission system we use (Experian) was end of life. Do these people have no clue how slow banking stuff moves?

So, the good news, my management team (Alex/Andrew) investigated a number of solutions. Most would stand no chance of being up and running in the time frame. But of a couple of options could be: one was by the company doing the Experian s/w (they took them over!) which could magically "support" the Experian system after "end of life" if we are onboarding (horrid word) their new system.

However we picked someone else - InterBACS, who are clearly technically clued up and have allowed us to get working very quickly.

What are BACS submissions?

There are two main reasons you want to send files to BACS, one if Direct Debits (getting money from people), and one is Direct Credits (paying people). Direct Debits actually have special messages for setting up and cancelling Direct Debits as well as the actual payment connection messages. These type of direct credits are usually for payroll and is the older system, not to be confused with Fast Payments. Either way the process takes two banking days, and then the money moves. A reliable system. There are also a load of BACS reports we have to get, which include reports on the submission, and on changes to Direct Debits by banks, people moving to new banks and accounts, errors, bounced Direct Debit collections, and clawed back Direct Debit payments. These can actually be downloaded from the BACS web site.

Three ways to make BACS submissions.

It looks like there are three ways to do BACS submissions (and get reports). I thought there were only the first two, but we discovered InterBACS do a third way.

1. Bureau

One of the simplest ways is dealing with a BACS bureau - they accept a file from you, and authenticate you by whatever means they agree, and they send the file to BACS for you.

In most cases they don't actually take a "file", but "manage" Direct Debits for you, so you tell them a new customer, and how much they are paying every month - they then send the notice to the customer, and do the payments, and so on. This is ideal for a gym or the like, and can mean a simple web interface to manage regular customer payments.

2. Direct submission

For direct submission you have software to send files to BACS directly. This is what we had with the Experian system. It means we have a BACS user and smart card from the bank. This is used to sign the submission file, and to log in to BACS (to send the file and get reports). The signing code only works on windows, which is a tad annoying - the only windows machine we have. This is usually cheaper than a bureau.

3. Web based direct submission

This was new to us, and what InterBACS do. They have a web based system, allowing us to upload a submission file to them. Then, via the web page, log in to BACS - they log in, but they have the web browser (or a separate app depending on the browser) do the signing for the login using the card signing and card on our windows machine. So it is logged in, remotely. Similar they do signing the submission file remotely using the card on our windows machine. They get BACS reports and allow us to download them. It means we don't have to install BACS software, just the card signing stuff from the bank, and use a browser.

The also have a bureau service, and also have a whole management package for people just wanting to set up monthly payments, etc.

HSM

There is another option, but very expensive. The bank could provide a hardware security module certificate, which we either have an (expensive) HSM, or have the certificate loaded on InterBACS's HSM. This allows the whole logging in to BACS and signing the submission without a manual use of a card and PIN. I.e. it can be fully automated. Sadly it is way too expensive to be remotely viable.

Experience with InterBACS

We picked them as they seemed clued up and very responsive. They were very quick to sort things out and the whole thing just works. So quite impressed.

Also, they were responsive when we needed minor changes - a bulk save of all reports rather than selecting each one, etc.

We are now up and running with them in only a few weeks. Indeed, in hindsight, it could have been under a week, had the deadline been even closer, but we were a little cautious with lots of testing first.

NOTSCO (Not TOTSCO) One Touch Switching test platform (now launched)

I posted about how inept TOTSCO seem to be, and the call today with them was no improvement. It seems they have test stages... A "simul...