Technology

My First Printed Circuit Board

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’m working on an internet-of-things project, having fun and learning a lot. The latest milestone was getting my first PCB (Printed Circuit Board), which was very exciting.

I previously built a circuit on a breadboard for controlling a 12V solenoid over the internet with a Raspberry Pi. You can read all about that here: https://dikuw.wordpress.com/2019/10/20/controlling-a-12v-solenoid-with-a-raspberry-pi/

Then I wanted to convert that breadboard circuit to a PCB so I could design a case to go around it to make an integral internet-of-things device. I have never designed a PCB before, and although I’m sure I could have figured it out, I opted to have the design performed by a real electrical engineer, who I found on Freelancer.com. The freelancer I found is based in the US and did the design for less than $150. I can highly recommend this guy, so if you’re looking for similar help, email me and I’ll connect you: michael@dikuw.com.

The standard PCB design comes in a Gerber file. I selected JLC for manufacturing the PCBs because the offer some SMT assembly, which I really wanted because I suck at soldering. More on that in a bit.

Ordering the PCBs is pretty simple: upload the Gerber files, select some options (number of layers, etc.) – I had the freelance engineer help with this and/or choose the default, identify your SMT components and submit the order. It was only $35 for 5 PCBs with 3 SMT components each, including shipping to Vietnam (where I now reside).

Selecting the SMT components was a bit of a challenge. The freelancer engineer had identified part numbers for the resistor, diode, and transistor that I wanted surface-mounted, but JLC has their own database of parts that didn’t line up exactly. I searched the best I could, and then had the freelance engineer verify via the associated cutsheet that the components would work.

Once the order was placed, it was about a week and a half for them to be delivered. Getting shipments in Vietnam is a bit of a challenge, because I live in an AirBnB and don’t speak Vietnamese, but the building manager was able to help me out. The PCBs were shipped from China, and I did get an email from DHL asking for customs information, which was a bit worrisome, but the PCBs came the next day so there didn’t seem to be any customs issues.

Neat Packing from JLC
Included some free tape 🙂 Nice touch
5 PCBs with integrated SMT components. D1 is the diode, R1 the resistor, and T1 the transistor.
Close-up. Don’t miss the design notice 🙂
Converter – only non-SMT component.

So JLC will only SMT to one side of the board, which meant I was forced to attach the converter to the other side myself, definitely the scariest part for me. But I took it slow, and on the first test: success!

It works!

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