First Boards from Seeedstudio Fusion
An alternate title: My Canon T3 programmable remote control is here!
Nice, eh? Costs $10 for 2x2" (5x5 cm) boards (ten count), $20 for 4x4" (10x10 cm) boards (five count). Add five dollars shipping, and a month between ordering and receiving them. Not bad on a budget. Link to the service.
I will discuss my experience with Seeed in this article. I am going to talk about ordering, price, service, and quality.
As far as ordering goes, everything was fairly straightforward. I will write up a different article about step-by-step instructions to generate gerbers from KiCAD and order from Seeed, but in short: their instructions are not entirely clear, don't entirely work with KiCAD, but they seem to understand how to deal with the files that are slightly different than what they specify.
Seeed's price is either $10 + shipping for ten 5x5 cm boards (2x2 inches), or $20 + shipping for five 10x10 cm boards (4x4 inches). They have other sizes, but these are the most popular, and therefore the best deals. Shipping for me was another $5. They charge extra for different colors. They of course charge more for multiple layers. They also do not charge you extra if you panelize your design; however, they will not help you: they won't let you drill holes, or score V-tabs, or make break-away tabs; you need to panelize with just silkscreen, and cut the boards yourself.
Please note a few things if you want to cut the board yourself. First, and most importantly, circuit boards are made on a material similar to fiberglass: Don't breathe the stuff! Seriously. Wear a mask, cut in a dust-tight environment, whatever.
Of lesser importance is the question of what tools you need. This material dulls most cutting tools very, very quickly. You want to use tungsten carbide drill bits / endmills and saws. You can use things like a table saw, or a normal bandsaw, or normal drill bits and endmills, but you're going to be getting rid of them very quickly. Do yourself a favor and get the right tools. Also, I recommend a shop vac positioned to suck away all the dust.
Next, the service at Seeed is: acceptable. To rephrase, I found it acceptable. My experience consisted of uploading a zip file with payment, hearing absolutely nothing back, and then getting my boards a month later. Their process tracker shows that assembly takes about a week, and then it gets shipped - at which point it takes another two weeks to get shipping information, which doesn't work until it has already arrived at the USPS. From then, it only takes 2-3 days. So it's a bit of blind faith that you'll get your boards eventually. From what I hear, everyone gets their boards in about a month. IT seems common to get an extra board sometimes - I suspect it's because Seeed doesn't want to waste the space, and it's a nice gesture. As a final note, they do have forums that are active, and their staff respond to issues quickly.
As a comparison point, Osh Park's service is far superior: uploading gerbers results in immediate feedback; you're updated every time something happens, and the service is in the form of tickets that are quickly answered.
Finally: quality! Quality is acceptable. I have included a few pictures under the final paragraph. You can see that the soldermask is even, the silkscreen good, vias are tented, drills are centered, the plated slots for the USB connector are good, the pads are tinned. I am confident in using this for low-speed prototype work. I am perhaps less confident in using this service for production, and definitely not for anything high-speed or RF where precision is necessary. Of course, their DRC rules are restricted enough that most production boards wouldn't be accepted. With all of those caveats, I am happy with the quality.
To summarize: fairly simple (but slightly confusing) process, very little feedback until board delivery, about a month turn-around time, a low of $15 for ten boards, and acceptable quality. I'll rate Seeed a solid acceptable for prototype work.
Here is a small gallery of pictures to end this article. Happy hacking! (Links to Google Plus.)
October 12, 2013