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The joys of PCB & Assembly panelization

2011/05/24

I’m working on the latest round of prototyping for the product I’m working on.  This time there are a number of factors that are forcing me to change from my previous development methodology.  First and foremost, there’s a lot more pressure to get it done fast rather than cheap, so a major factor is the reduction of unknowns like low assembly yield that were making the process rather slow.  Second, I’ve shuffled things around in the design in ways that both call for tighter design rules than the DorkbotPDX group order provides, and make assembly even trickier to do by hand.

The project itself consists of a whole series of different PCBs.  The main group of 3 boards stack on top of each other, while the controller has a site to stack on the top board from the first stack, then itself live on a larger board that I haven’t finalized yet.  Because of the small quantities of boards and the diversity of the design, panelizing them turns out to save quite a bit of money.  I’m currently running 2 of the main stack plus the first board of the controller.  If I ordered PCBs separately, it’d run about $1500.  Panelized, they came in under $600.  Assembly for each of the jobs separately would run around $3300 based on mostly-accurate numbers, but the panel drops that to around $2200.  Overall I’m saving around $2000 by panelizing.

The downside is that it’s a rather complicated process.  I’ve worked for the last week trying to get everything in order so EpecTec and Screaming Circuits don’t end up with major problems because of what I send them…  However, once it’s figured out the first time, I can do subsequent panelized runs with a lot less effort.  And thanks to the wonders of Open Source, I’m hoping others out there will be able to do the same because of the scripts I’m writing.

I’m going to see if I can make enough time in the next few days to note down most of the issues I’ve run into, and hopefully save others some trouble in doing so.  First up will be setting up the PCBs and panelizing them.

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