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.