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By Duane Benson


Manufacturing is all about taking data from you and delivering some good working circuit boards. Well, it can be just data - as in full turn-key, or data plus some parts and or PC boards, as in a partial turn-key or a kitted job. Regardless of whether you're sending parts and boards, or having us buy everything, we need good data, and a lot of it.

That data is the difference between the working boards you want and need and a random jumble of expensive paper weights.

We need a bill of materials (BOM), the job specifications (which you give us by ordering and describing any special instructions on our web site), and the CAD design files. Fab and Assembly drawings are always a good idea too. A little extra time spent on the files you send us leads to reduced risk, and that's a very good thing.

The CAD design files include Gerbers, a Centroid (AKA pick and place or XYRLS file), and intelligent CAD files, such as ODB++ or IPC-2581. In some cases, such as Eagle CAD, we can use the native CAD board file.

The ODB++ and IPC-2581 file formats are the future of electronics manufacturing. They come with more data, and more accurate data than do Gerbers. If you can send either of these two, please do so. Even if you have those, you should still send us the Gerber files. Gerbers are the lowest common denominator, and provide a base that we and PCB fab houses can work from. 

The Gerbers are a set of files used to create the various layers of the PC board. Each layer requires an individual file, so a six layer board (six copper layers), will typically require at least 13 distinct files: one for each copper layer, top solder mask, bottom solder mask, top silkscreen, bottom silkscreen, the drills holes, and solder paste for the top, and bottom if the board has SMT parts on both sides.

The drill file is combined with the gerbers to line up the via and thru-hole component holes with the appropriate spots in the PC board. Then the pick and place file will tell the assembly house where to put each component, what angle to place it at, and which side of the board it goes in.

Fab drawings hold a human readable, often in PDF format, description of the board and any special instructions needed by the fab house. The assembly drawing would be the same, but for the assembly house.

Sometimes the parts are too densely packed for the reference designators and polarity marks to show up on the actual board, or for aesthetic reasons, the designer doesn’t want them on the board. In such cases, all of that information would be put into a set of assembly drawings - PDF files showing all of the necessary reference information.

The ODB++ and IPC-2581 file formats, as of this writing, still aren’t universally accepted, but are getting more so all the time. Use and promotion of these new intelligent CAD output file formats helps to reduce the number of manual steps and human interpretation, and will eventually lead to better quality and faster manufacturing times.


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  • "So far everything we have ordered thru you guys has come out exactly like designed and have not had any problems. One of the main reasons I have chosen Sunstone Circuits is the fact that I can order the PCBs without silk screen and without soldermask from your web site, most other places I would have to call the vendor to get this done, plus your prices are good."
    Robin Santini, Zyvex
  • "Customer service agent assisted throughout entire order process. Outstanding support!"
    B. Kilday, - Warrenton, Virginia
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    P. Geantil, - Carlsbad, California
  • "Just got the first boards...perfect!! Thanks for the help! What an easy process! Zero to finished boards in 2 weeks, including learning curve. I was dreading ordering a PADs or OrCad package for $5K and then spending weeks learning it. Your approach really is a good option for the R&D engineer."
    Bruce Sargeant, Device Labs
  • "Sunstone's CAD software, PCB123, really does all the things I wanted -- and much more!!! It reduced the number of traces by about a third - and it looks very pretty! The new libraries are GREAT too! You really blow the competition out of the water!! And your support is FIRST RATE! Thanks for all the help! Will submit the board tomorrow!"
  • "Great service. Low price. Good quality. What else is there to say?"
    Todd Perrodin, Microchip Technology
  • "I liked that I didn't have to re enter all the board information since I'd ordered the same boards in the past. It was a really easy process to re order."
    M. Childers, - Tigard, Oregon
  • "Sunstone Circuits is one of the most professional companies I have done business with. As I have said before, we have not done this before and working with you and your company has certainly made this an easier journey. Thank you for all of your efforts."
    Sy Sajjad, XBiometrics
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    Jim Donnett, Bio-Signal Group
  • "Easy re-order! You've always been a great resource for me on the many prototype and low qty pcb builds I do."
    D. Burton, - McMinnville, Oregon
  • "Many of my students and colleagues don't have ready access to PCB fabricators that we can trust. Over the years we've relied on Sunstone to consistently deliver design advice, technical support and solid PCB products for all our research and projects. Sunstone has never let us down, that's why they are our partner of choice for research projects and product development efforts."
    Jeevan Persad, Electronics Product Designer
  • "AWESOME Technical and Customer service!! AWESOME, THANKS GUYS. Will be looking into assembly in near future."
    B. Moretz, - Lubbock, Texas
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    P. O'Hanlon, - Kirkland, Washington
  • "I used your excellent products to design a series of circuit boards that went into an oceanography instrument this spring. We have just completed a busy summer of cruises and the instrument preformed perfectly, without a hitch. Were it not for your company I would not have had the design freedom and capability to produce the boards within our meager budget. I look forward to this next design. Thanks a million."
    Glenn H. May, Scientific Applications
  • "Using Sunstone Circuits has been fast and easy, ordering online for the first time user like myself was very user friendly, and the tech support was top notch. I have used other companies in the past and their quality of product was quite disappointing. I just received your boards and they look excellent, I haven't found a reason to use any other company but Sunstone for my next project."
    Ryan S. Nichols, Indiana University Cyclotron Facility
  • "It is difficult to find in one company a high level of all these 4 ingredients: 1) Quality (In over a dozen jobs, not once a bad board (out of 100's of boards)). This is the most important ingredient, since a bad prototype or production board represents an enormous loss of time. I have changed PCB houses as a result of this factor alone. You are doing a superb job so far. I plan to remain a loyal customer for as long as you keep turning out such quality in the boards we receive. 2) Price (Prices are generally lower compared to others, even comparing with very low cost houses) 3) Service (Willing to do special requests with a smile and efficiency-Rob in Pre-Engineering and Al in Sales are examples) 4) Easy to use (Immediate quote and easy ordering system) both, for prototype and production runs."
    Marcelo Jakubzick, MC Miller Co.
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    Mike Fleming, Electrical Engineer
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    J. Branch, - Camas, Washington
  • "Your product is amazing and I will definitely use it again and recommend it to friends/companies. The concept of a truly integrated schematic, layout, followed by pcb delivery, is fully realized in your CAD software product. This method of design and manufacture of pcb has increased my ability to deliver, by reducing cycle time to develop the boards, while also reducing risk by using your integrated product. I also wanted to say a big thank you to the team there and especially Joe Phelps for the incredible and efficient support. Thanks again!"
    David Savage,