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The sad attempt to use the PCB assembly service of SeeedStudio

Introduction

Some time ago I had already reported about the PCB service of SeeedStudio. At that time it was “only” about the production of the PCB itself.

Now a few days ago I got another request from SeeedStudio, if I wouldn’t like to test their PCBA service. For this they would provide me with a $50 voucher.

Since this time again no obligations or restrictions were associated with it, so I can write completely free in my article, I said yes.

Even though the whole thing didn’t work out after all, I would like to share my experience with you.

Preparations

So a circuit board must be made. Now this should of course not necessarily be a 0815 board, which would be equipped with simple huge SMD components. So something that most could also simply solder by hand.

So my current project of a USB to Commodore 1531 Mouse Adapter was just right.

After the prototype proved itself, I wanted to make the board much smaller anyway. This opportunity presented itself wonderfully.

The delinquent

I left it at a two-layer board and didn’t overdo it with the miniaturization. Then I chose different component types, including a small component in BGA.

Apart from that, I used standard components that can be soldered by hand (the level shifter in BGA format is very easy to solder with hot air).

From this I created the Gerber files, which are also needed in normal cases when only the board is to be produced.

SeeedStudio PCB/PCBA service

The website looks a bit old-fashioned and is at the level of a few years ago, when just the boom of Asian PCB manufacturers started.

And also technically the whole thing is unfortunately very behind. Not even the dimensions for the board are read from the Gerber files. You have to enter them by hand.

The encoder viewer is also completely unusable. It is not fun to use the GUI. Especially since you have to start again from the beginning if you make a wrong click.

Many of the features are available for an additional charge. So you have to be careful what you click on. Many things that are now naturally included in the standard price with other service providers, cost extra here.

That’s why I didn’t choose any other color or feature in the first place.

However, for this board I had to set the hole size for a VIA under the BGA to 0.2mm. SeeedStudio is able to offer such small drill diameter. There is also an extra item where this can be selected.

However, I then had to take a deep breath when the price changed “slightly”.

Just under $55 is a considerable sum for a board that measures just 36 x 19mm and has only two layers.

I have to be honest, for that price I can get multilayer boards with some more features from other vendors.

In terms of price, that would actually be the end for me at this point. But I have nevertheless made times further.

But now comes the really interesting part, which is important and which should actually be tested.

PCB assembly

Once you have uploaded the Gerber and set the parameters accordingly, you only need to scroll down a bit. There you will find the item “PCB Assembly”.

The first section requires additional files, which are simply exported from the layout program. Corresponding instructions for the respective programs can be accessed via the links on the SeeedStudio page.

Additionally, it is advantageous to add photos or 3D images of a prototype. Any information or special features can help.

So you have to invest some work, simply with a few files that are available anyway, it is unfortunately not done.

All the information is packed together in a ZIP file, and uploaded to the site.

Components

Now a parts list is needed. Depending on the software used, you can either export this file or create it manually.

For this purpose, you can download a sample in Excel format.

The list is quite simple in structure. You just need to find out the manufacturer part number, and provide the link to the supplier. In addition, of course, the number and the designatior.

SeeedStudio also offers parts under your “Open Part Libraries” service. But parts from different suppliers can also be selected. The only prerequisite is that these are available quite promptly and are not subject to any legal restrictions (export bans, etc.).

Although not recommended, you can send your own parts to SeeedStudio, but they can be used for the Pick’n’Place machines.

Compilation of the list of components

Since I create all my parts, footprints and 3D models myself, I have the advantage that behind each part there is already a manufacturer number and link. So I only had to export the parts list and delete the columns I didn’t need.

Otherwise, you’ll just have to laboriously wade through the distributors, writing out part numbers and links to the parts.

And above all, always make sure that the parts are available, otherwise the order will be rejected by SeeedStudio.

Then, before I filled out this list, I checked to see if all the components were also available from stock.

So the list was made quickly.

I added some parts of Digikey, Mouser and also the SeeedStudio OPL service.

The prices at SeeedStudio OPL are generally higher than the usual distributors. But the delivery time is also faster, because they are available on site.

Parts that have to be ordered, of course, take longer.

Especially for small parts, the surcharge is only marginal, and especially for single pieces negligible.

The Excel list is simply uploaded again after completion, and the number of assembled boards must still be specified.

Since the work and the associated costs are independent of the quantity of boards, the production of a single board is of course more expensive. Once the machine is set up, you can send 10 or 100 or more boards through it. Except for the more components, however, there is no more work involved. The costs then decrease, or the setup costs are divided among the quantity of assembled boards, which then makes the respective individual board cheaper.

Except for two components, all other components were recognized correctly. Apparently the part numbers are not stored in the SeeedStudio database.

Thus, of course, the price can not be determined in advance, but an employee must do this manually.

List successfully uploaded

After the successful upload, I then checked the positions again.

I found out that not the component prices of Digikey or Mouser have been included in this list, but all components that SeeedStudio also has available have been replaced.

This also explains why the two upper components were not found. These are simply not available in the “OPL”. So there is no online research done.

But since these prices are already included in the shopping cart, I am afraid to have to pay the higher price.

One article in particular caught my eye.

Penny pincher

So I’m really not a penny pincher. I also have nothing against certain surcharges. But if you look at the price of Digikey, for example, you start to feel sick to your stomach.

This component alone is 3 times more expensive than usual on the market (Digikey was not even the cheapest supplier).

And it was not because the component was not available from Digikey. I tried this with several other parts, and they always charged the more expensive SeeedStudio price.

Also, there doesn’t seem to be any volume discounts. At least not for 10 parts or more, as is standard with most distributors.

It seems that SeeedStudio is the most expensive components supplier. At least I could not find a more expensive one in the short time.

The shock

The time has come to put the cards on the table.

Even I had to swallow at first. $265.52 were called there.

Even if I now take out the component costs of $39.40, that still leaves $226.12.

What is striking is that the price of the board has also increased enormously. From $54.90 to $84.90. So almost $30 more.

I was surprised to see that ENIG was automatically selected when I activated the PCBA service. It is also not possible to go back to the much cheaper HASL refinement.

In the FAQ I also find the hint that with PCBA basically only ENIG is possible.

These would be the smallest and most expensive ENG boards I have ever had made. I have honestly paid less for multilayer boards with even tighter tolerances in ENIG less at a competitor.

Overview of the costs for the placement service

Let’s take a look at the costs in detail.

  • Setup Cost
  • Consumptive Material Cost
  • Assembly Cost
  • Component Cost
  • Operation Fee

Setup Cost

Let’s leave out the costs for the components, which you would also have if you assembled the boards by hand.

First, there are the setup fees. At $50, I think they are perfectly fine. The rolls with the components have to be inserted, the stencil has to be clamped and a lot more has to be done. I even consider these costs to be reasonable.

Consumptive Material Cost

The next point is the material consumption costs. I had to take a closer look at that. The costs include, among other things, the costs for the stencil, as well as packaging materials, etc.

However, you don’t get the stencil included. This is because a separate stencil is not produced for your own board. Instead, a stencil is produced for the entire panel, which is shared with other customers.

Assembly Cost

The assembly cost turns out to be very high at $41.22 in my opinion. We are talking about a circuit board in the size of not even 4x2cm. If I extrapolate that to the panel, assembling a panel would cost several thousand dollars.

It’s cheaper to have the boards assembled by hand. Especially when I look at where the boards are manufactured and what the hourly labor costs there, I can’t understand this high price.

Operation Fee

“These includes handling fees and sales margin, etc.”

So now there are processing fees on top of the processing fees?

And a modest markup for profit. In total, this would be $35.

I’m just going to leave that there.

All things considered

All in all, this adds up to $265.22. For one assembled and nine unassembled boards.

If I had all ten assembled, it would be $611.74. So not only the component costs increase, but also the “additional costs”.

By the way, I am still with the USB mouse adapter. This adapter costs me just under $20 to make individually. Sure, then of course I have the work with it. Whereby I by the vapor phase process, which I use, ultimately also only with a stencil the solder paste on. And then I have to place the components by hand.

So a quite manageable process.

And my little adapter is nothing special. Ready there are similar from other suppliers already around the $30 to buy. So if I absolutely wanted to have a finished one, then I would probably rather order this one.

Nevertheless off into the shopping cart with it

Nevertheless, I placed the order in the shopping cart. Since apparently SeeedStudio is not working on weekends, I received a feedback only after a few days.

And that was unfortunately not exactly positive. Because now two components are not available and I should take care of it.

“Funnily enough, among other things, the ATMega is not available. So the component, which is so extremely expensive. I should now get a supplier, so that they sell me then expensive this component.

That’s what I call service! To impose all the work on the customer, in order to be able to mark up an extremely large margin later.

Consultation with SeeedStudio

A back and forth with SeeedStudio via eMail followed. On the one hand the point was that the components were replaced by the own (very expensive) components, and on the other hand that I will of course not pay such a sum for a test.

But I also said that I would of course pay the component costs, but that I of course expect that otherwise such a test is largely cost-neutral for me.

By the way, there was no kind of concession on the part of SeeedStudio.

I am not an influencer, but the whole thing is a hobby. Of course I am happy when I am allowed to test something. And up to a certain point, I am in principle also ready to participate in the costs.

But we are talking about a sum that goes far beyond what I would pay for such an action. Especially since I had already built this USB joystick adapter myself, even if in a slightly different form.

I would have made this test only for the reason, because the topic simply interested me. And in return this would have been advertising for SeeedStudio.

And because of the long back and forth also some components were no longer available, I then ended the whole thing.

Therefore, I can unfortunately only share my experience in terms of the ordering process, but not what you get later as a final product.

Conclusion

As I said, I then refrained from sending the order off. Personally, I will also certainly never use this service at SeeedStudio.

I took the trouble to look at the PCBA service at another large service provider. And it is also much cheaper.

As reported at the beginning, I had already performed a test for the unpopulated boards at SeeedStudio. I could not report anything negative about the quality. But I could not claim that these boards are particularly good, compared to other service providers.

They are OK. But if I then compare the prices for the PCBA service with others (where I know the quality for years) and their boards, the prices at SeeedStudio are just exaggerated.

And when I think about the long delivery time last time, this is not exactly another positive point I could mention. Since the website otherwise hasn’t changed since then, I’m guessing that the status is still not possible either. So to see how just the status of the order is.

At least for hobbyists the PCBA service of SeeedStudio is completely unsuitable. Just creating the additional files will present most of them with unsolvable difficulties.

But I was also disappointed by the service, which I was only able to experience during this test. Not because I got everything for free, but because the answers were partly always the same and looked like macros. Much of what I wrote was not even addressed.

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