I recently complete my series on “Creating an SWD Adapter for STM32 Development Boards” which you can find links to below:
While the prototype turned out great, I could have decreased my prototyping costs if I had spent the time to do a little more research on board houses. Below are several PCB shops that I’ve researched and found could be viable alternatives:
PCB Shop #1 – Seeed Studio
I’ve used development boards that were manufactured by Seeed Studio in the past, such as the Renesas AE-CLOUD1 development board, and have found them to be of excellent quality. I was pleasantly surprised when I was researching PCB suppliers to learn that Seeed Studio doesn’t just sell development boards but can manufacture prototype PCB’s as well. What was most interesting is that they seem to be a strong supporter of low-cost PCB’s in small volumes.
Browsing through the Seeed Studio PCB cost calculator, I found that I could have manufactured my PCB’s for $5 USD. I actually spent upwards of $70 for my prototype PCB’s and about $30 to ship them from China. I also discovered that Seeed Studio can assemble the prototypes which is always nice to have in a manufacturer just in case.
PCB Shop #2 – Advanced Circuits
When I was in graduate school, and early in my career when I was designing a lot of PCB’s, I had a lot of experience working with Advanced Circuits. Advanced circuits were always our go-to board shop to get quick turn-a-arounds. The company is also capable of not just manufacturing the bare PCB but also assembling the boards if needed. Again, I think this is a good pairing.
PCB Shop #3 – Pentalogix
I’ve never used Pentalogix so I have no personal experience to draw from for this company. However, while I was examining their website and their cost calculator, I discovered a few gems that I thought were pretty good differentiators. First, their quotes allow for developers to see the cost differences between volume and when the boards would be ready. So, if cost is important, a developer can easily balance when they will get their boards with what they will pay for them. There is even an option to compare quotes with off-shore manufacturing! What I found when I did my comparison was the off-shore board prices were actually higher than having them locally made in the U.S. The local price was quite affordable, 5 boards, 2-day lead-time for approximately $35.
PCB Shop #4 – Breadboard Killer
The Breadboard Killer offers PCB’s at a low cost for hobbyists, which can be a good fit for one off adapters. The company is based out of Australia, which means that even though the boards are priced competitively, the shipping costs can offset any savings for developers working on a tight budget.
PCB Shop #5 –Oshpark
Oshpark is manufacturer that a reader wrote in to me about that provides a 3 PCB order where the pricing model is $5 per square inch for 2-layer boards and $10 per square inch for 4-layer boards. I was told that this place is perfect for these types of adapter projects. The only down side is that the lead times can be long.
Even if you only work with software, it’s always useful to have a good PCB shop that you can rely on to manufacture and even assemble prototype boards and adapters. Little one-off designs can simplify desk clutter, remove the risk of wires coming loose and allow for high quality external tools to be easily integrated into the development process.
We have examined a few PCB shops that I have used and like, what other PCB houses have you used that could be useful to other readers and designers?