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Advanced Circuits - PCB Fab & Assembly Review

Discussion in 'Product & Service Reviews' started by DerStrom8, May 16, 2016.

  1. DerStrom8

    DerStrom8 Super Moderator Most Helpful Member

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    Hi all,

    I don't normally make posts like this, but I felt compelled after the runaround this company has given me over the past month or two.

    Most of the prototype boards I do at work I send to Advanced Circuits (www.4pcb.com) for fabrication, and until recently we did the assembly ourselves. However, I recently designed a board that would eventually be going to customers as part of a full dev kit, so we didn't have the option of assembling them in-house. That is something we leave to professional assembly houses if the boards will be seen by the customer, due to quality concerns.

    In the past, I have had occasional trouble with Advanced Circuits during the bare PCB quoting process. I would send them a list of specifications and they would send me back a quote that leaves out three or four of these specs. I would bounce it back to them and they would add in quoting including these specifications but would then leave out others that they included in the first quote. It wasn't uncommon for me to have to bounce the quote back to them for fixing three to five times before they finally got it right. However, that wasn't a huge problem for me, especially compared to what they've been doing over the past month or so.

    As I mentioned, this latest batch of boards we are having them manufacture are also being assembled at Advanced Circuits since they will eventually be sent to customers. To begin with, instead of the 3-5 attempts at getting a quote, it probably took about 10-15 rounds for them to finally get it right. Furthermore, they apparently decided to delete some of the copper in the Gerber files without telling me, and then during the assembly process they complained because the board was missing copper. They asked me a couple of questions about the assembly, which I answered promptly, and they seemed to ignore my responses. They came right back and started asking the same question all over again. This is not isolated, either. They continuously ignore my emails and specifications, and make changes on their own without asking or even notifying me.

    I do need to say that the people there are very friendly and eager to help, but there does not seem to be much communication between departments and the process seems very unprofessional and uncoordinated.

    I was originally supposed to have these boards by May 6th, but here it is the 16th and they need to start the boards all over again because they deleted important copper without my permission.

    In short, if you're just looking for a very simple prototype board to be manufactured, Advanced Circuits may be ok. However, I certainly DO NOT recommend them for more complex designs, and most definitely don't recommend them for assembly. Instead I would recommend Varitron or PCBFabExpress.

    I just wanted to put this out there. If anyone wants more details, feel free to PM me.

    Best wishes,
    Matt
     
  2. Mosaic

    Mosaic Well-Known Member

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    Thx for the advice,
    I have a set of boards 3.25" x 5.25" to fab, 3 types, same size perhaps 50 each. Mixed SMT/TH parts (80/20). Std 1 oz, 1.6mm PCB double sided. I use Eaglecad so I prefer to deal with a PCBA firm that can derive what they need from that (BOM/GERBER/ etc)

    Can you suggest?
     
  3. DerStrom8

    DerStrom8 Super Moderator Most Helpful Member

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    Is this hobby-level or professional?
     
  4. dave

    Dave New Member

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  5. MaxHeadRoom78

    MaxHeadRoom78 Active Member

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    DirtyPCB or Itead are both good, and cheap.
    Max.
     
  6. Mosaic

    Mosaic Well-Known Member

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    Professional, Itead prices seem better.
     
  7. MaxHeadRoom78

    MaxHeadRoom78 Active Member

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    DirtyPCB were cheaper, don't be put off by the name, a group of guys came up with it, I believe they just broker it all out to a Chinese Co, mine came from Hong Kong.
    Max.
     
  8. DerStrom8

    DerStrom8 Super Moderator Most Helpful Member

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    Personally I would recommend either Sierra Circuits or Screaming Circuits. DirtyPCBs is for hobby-level, and they acknowledge the quality may be sub-par on some boards. I don't have experience with Itead.
     
  9. MaxHeadRoom78

    MaxHeadRoom78 Active Member

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    Is this from experience or conjecture? I have had equal quality from each, although I have only ordered double sided HASL through hole or SMT.
    Max.
     
  10. DerStrom8

    DerStrom8 Super Moderator Most Helpful Member

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    This was written on their website at one point, though I can't seem to find it anymore. They acknowledged that 1) they might send you a few less than or a few more than your order requested (since it's so cheap, this really isn't considered an issue), 2) Some of the boards may be botched (again, at this price, nobody really cares). DirtyPCBs is not intended for professional designs (heck, their website even says that it wasn't even intended for public use!), so if you're trying to get boards professionally done I don't recommend them. Otherwise, go for it.
     
  11. Mosaic

    Mosaic Well-Known Member

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    Botched boards is not a headache I want. However, my DRM is pretty well spaced since I fab toner-transfer-DIY at 12mil minimum, 1 oz.
     
  12. MaxHeadRoom78

    MaxHeadRoom78 Active Member

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    What is a measure of proof over 'professional' they supplied all of them according to my Gerber files, so I have nothing to compare?
    I could find no difference between Itead and DirtyPCB, (They may have even been made at the same place for all I know.)
    I guess I will have to wait until they screw up!
    Max.
     
  13. spec

    spec Well-Known Member Most Helpful Member

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    Hi Matt,

    What you describe is so frustrating, unnecessary, and unbelievable. How on earth can such a shambles occur with a company whose whole business is providing a PCB service, both manufacture and assembly. I have had similar experiences in the UK. It seems that many companies take their eye of the ball and forget why they exist.

    A neighbor started a greeting card business- he did the photography and his wife did the marketing and some of the artwork. After a couple of years it took off in a fairly big way and they had to step up production so they went to a large well-known printing house. That was when their troubles started, just like you experienced. The company changed the artwork without asking, they didn't meet the specification and, worst of all, the color registration was off and there was ink smears on the cards. And just like your experience, there were many iterations and also like your experience the company would correct one thing and introduce a couple of new errors.

    Our neighbors ended up with boxes of useless cards and the problems put their business in jeopardy. After trying a further two companies, who were not so bad, but bad enough, they found a small company who could still handle the volume- not only was their work superb and delivery on time, but they actually helped improve the product. And, the icing on the cake, the smaller company charged less.

    Incompetence is endemic in all fields- I won't describe my experiences- and costs society an absolute fortune; I put the blame on management, and us for tolerating it.:arghh:

    spec
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2016
    • Agree Agree x 1
  14. KeepItSimpleStupid

    KeepItSimpleStupid Well-Known Member Most Helpful Member

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    I think I had bi-focals made at an angle about 5x in the past couple of years. Sometimes the optician caught it. I made an appt with the VP of customer service and told her about lots of issues and she told me they changed labs. In a week, I told her again, the lab messed up two lenses. Professionals?
     
  15. KeepItSimpleStupid

    KeepItSimpleStupid Well-Known Member Most Helpful Member

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    Aren't managers promoted to the level of their incompetence?

    See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle
     
    • Funny Funny x 1
  16. spec

    spec Well-Known Member Most Helpful Member

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    :)

    There is another related scenario, of a consistent level of problems. For example, research and development projects normally go drastically over time and budget, especially if they are run by the government. In fact, in the UK, many government projects have simply been cancelled with no end product after spending a fortune, much of it on studies, meetings, procedures, and paperwork. http://www.softwareadvisoryservice.com/blog/biggest-uk-government-project-failures/

    One of the most important and difficult jobs in any organization is program manager- you are pulled three ways, by your own company management, by the customers, and by your staff. And many of the program managers, where I worked, ended up being sacked, in effect.

    Every so often though, you get a program manager, call him Toby, who, by some personal magic, does complete projects on time and within budget- it normally involves careful staff selection, running very lean, and direct with no BS. But the management will sabotage Toby's projects by starving his project of resources and even allocating his resources, particularly staff, to other projects that are in trouble. Even Toby's project funds will be, effectively, transferred to other projects. And soon Toby's project will start having problems.

    But when pay rises are awarded, the logic goes that, Toby does not merit a pay rise because he has an easy project, as witnessed by the lack of problems and, anyway, Toby does not play the management game. He is also a trouble-maker by pointing out where company facilities need to be improved. So in the end, Toby moves on to greener pastures, and the outcome is that the company maintains a constant rate of problems, when another, probably 'whizz-kid', manager is recruited at great expense. I have seen this happen a few times.:eek:

    spec
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2016
  17. spec

    spec Well-Known Member Most Helpful Member

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    Its funny that you should mention glasses Keep. I had a particularly nice, and expensive pair of glasses, and when I needed a routine eye test I went to the best optician in our area. He said that I needed a new prescription so I gave him the job of fitting the revised lenses.

    When I collected the glasses, ten days later, I could not believe the state of my treasured glasses: the frames were bent and scratched, there were gaps between the lens and the frame and the threads in the hinges has been stripped, and a nut and bolt had been fitted on both sides.:eek:

    spec
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2016
  18. spec

    spec Well-Known Member Most Helpful Member

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    Some of the most incompetent and expensive professionals are solicitors. In the UK they charge a minimum of £250 an hour and much more for any specialist area. This means that it is all but impossible for the average person to use the services of a solicitor, apart from house purchase, where there is a controlled scale of charges.

    When buying a house a couple of years ago, I changed to the 'best solicitor in town', after a number of issues with our usual solicitor. I was expecting big things but was in for a disappointment.

    Just take one example. I received an inventory list (items included and excluded from the house sale) from the solicitor that that was so badly copied that it was illegible. So I wrote back requesting a better copy. A week later it arrived and was simply a copy from a previous house sale and thus had gross errors. I wrote back requesting an up-to-date inventory list. A week later a revised list arrived that was illegible. I wrote another letter requesting a legible inventory. A week later a slightly more readable inventory arrived, but once more in error. I wrote back .... And so the merry-go-round continued and I never did get a correct and legible inventory.

    And that was just one relatively minor area- other more serious areas were worse.:eek:

    Many other people have also had problems with solicitors. In one case a friends new wife had to spend a considerable sum to put the paper-work in order so that she could sell her house, after the solicitor handling the original purchase had dropped off.

    By the way, i am not saying that there are not good solicitors, it is just that they are so hard to find.

    spec
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2016
  19. KeepItSimpleStupid

    KeepItSimpleStupid Well-Known Member Most Helpful Member

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    Been there. Done that. It's the basic reason I changed. I probably should have went to the same optician person,but that would mean a longer drive and finding out her schedule.
    I ordered some screws, since they keep falling out when you use old frames. No threadlocker. Eyeglass screws can actually be pretty cool, The ones I bought had a long tapered tip, that you break off, BUT they are sold by OD, Pitch and the (length of the threads + the head) which is totally weird. I'm waiting for the right size to arrive. I got pack of nose pieces, nosepiece screws, and lens screws with integral threadlocker.
     
  20. spec

    spec Well-Known Member Most Helpful Member

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    One of the most amazing and beneficial outcomes of incompetence was a friend's experience with Reader's Digest many years ago. He was a music conosur and had a HiFi system that he had configured from many different units, some home made. So we had a common interest, both in music and HiFi.

    Bob was an old boy, and being a Reader's Digest person, he used to take advantage of their album collection offers (vinyl in those days).

    He was particularly fond of one composer, say Beethoven- I can't remember. Anyway, there was an offer for the complete works, but the cost was far to high for him, being a pensioner. But there was a much cheaper sub-set which he ordered and, sure enough, 10 days later, the postman delivered a parcel... containing not a Beethoven collection, but an Elgar collection. So Bob phoned RD and they said that they would send the correct item. They seemed very vague about returning the Elgar collection.

    Ten days later, another parcel arrived, this time containing a Rachmaninoff collection. Once again Bob phoned RD who once again said that they would send the correct item.

    Ten days later the postman delivered a huge parcel and bingo! it contained a collection of Beethoven albums... but not the abridged set that Bob had ordered but the complete set. At this stage Bob, who was dead honest, was getting quite concerned because every time he phone RD he got yet another album set, and there seemed to be no way that he could return any of the incorrect deliveries.

    But he did phone back and explained the situation. Ten days later he got a very apologetic letter from the director of RD customer services offering a full refund.

    I told him to just accept the refund and call it a day, which he did, but Bob had a guilty conscience for years after that.:)

    spec
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2016
  21. DerStrom8

    DerStrom8 Super Moderator Most Helpful Member

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    Update:

    I'm now working at a different company that uses Advanced Circuits as their quick-turn supplier. When I was first hired and told they do some of the boards, I cringed. One of the company directors saw me wince and asked why, and I explained the issues I'd had with Advanced while working for the other company. While the team listened to my description of all the faults of Advanced Circuits, they didn't seem to worry much because they had never had problems in the past.

    That is until the past few builds.

    I encouraged the company I work at now to request first-articles from all board houses so that we can do an inspection before the remaining boards are built up. This saves us money and hassle if there is a problem in the etch. We scrap the bare boards rather than the fully assembled ones. Anyway, we were just sent two of a particular board, assembled (two fit on a panel). Over the past two days we have been inspecting it and troubleshooting it trying to track down some problems we were having. It turns out they installed at least two diodes backwards, solder on at least one of the ICs didn't flow properly and wasn't making connection, there was flux residue when we specifically stated in our requirements that this was unacceptable, even if it's residue from no-clean flux, and there were nicks and scratches all over the boards. The list is continuing to grow....
     

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