Eurocircuits – Webinar following the D&E event in Holland.

What do PCB fabricators do with your data before they make your PCBs?

This year”s D&E event in Holland was followed by a webinar. For Eurocircuits this was the first webinar in our history. It took place on 20 June launched from the premises of XWebinar in Holland.

We announced the webinar to our customer base with the working title, “Front-end data preparation“. This raised a lot interest among our customers and around 140 were online when we started at 11H00. An hour and 20 minutes later over 120 were still with us. We would like to thank all those who took part.

The content of our webinar, “What do PCB fabricators do with your data before they make your PCBs”, can now be found online as a white paper.

The white paper covers all aspects of the presentation we made during the webinar. It has the added advantage that it contains links to the in-depth information on the web site for all the technical issues discussed. This means that it reads more smoothly than the presentation itself. However, if you wish to review the recording, you can do so here…

Since it was our first webinar, we were glad to learn from the valuable feedback we received. Our conclusions so far:

  • The webinar communication technique certainly fits for us and is highly appreciated by our customers
  • We need to improve drastically on the tools used to run the webinar to deliver a better experience
  • We should in future reduce the number of topics so that we can cover them more in-depth
  • We should repeat the same webinar several times on different dates so more people can join
  • We need to think about offering these webinars in more languages
  • You like our investment in visualization techniques
  • There can never be enough technical information available on the website
  • You like the BLOG that we have started this year bringing as much of our knowledge to you as possible
  • We should tell you more often what we do and what technical information is available

– …

As we covered too many topics, not so many focused technical questions came out of the chat we were running. The conclusion here also is that we should continue to publish in-depth technical articles on our web site.

We have learned that visualization and modern communication tools in all their aspects are the right way forward for us. We are planning to go further on that journey and to take you with us should you choose to come.

Any comment is welcome below or at

14th Annual D&E Event – Evoluon Eindhoven, The Netherlands – May 24, 2012

This year’s free Design Automation & Embedded Systems Event had a record number of exhibitors though the number of visitors overall was down on previous years. However the Eurocircuits stand was busy throughout the day as we gave our customers their first view of our new visualizer software tool and demonstrated our bench-top reflow soldering equipment, eC-stencil-mate and eC-reflow-mate.

This year’s theme was product development.  The event focused on new hardware, software and testing technologies which can ensure a smoother and faster development process.

Visitors had a choice of 17 technical presentations given by the exhibitors who also provided a mini exhibition displaying their latest products and services aimed at embedded systems developers.

The event has its own permanent website at  Log in to find all the exhibitors‘ technical presentations.

The website is mostly in Dutch but some presentations, like ours, are in English. Our presentation details the visual feedback which we provide on your PCB design from data entry to finished board.

Following this event Eurocircuits organized a webinar on 20 June 2012 at 11h00 CET. The webinar is posted online for those who missed the live session. The webinar answers the question “what do board fabricators do with your data before they make your PCBs?” As well as answering this question, it provides tips on designing for improved manufacturability and on clear data presentation.

Front-end data preparation – new white paper

“What do PCB fabricators do with my data before they make my PCB?” 

“Why can’t they use my data just as I sent it in?” “Why do I need to know? I’m an electronics engineer and they are the board fabricators?”. Our new white paper, “Front-end data preparation”, answers these questions.

An understanding of the front-end data preparation process is important for two reasons, speed and cost. PCBs for time-critical applications need to be delivered fast and on time. If information is missing from the data set supplied or if it is ambiguous or unclear we lose time while the issues are sorted out. The new white paper explains how we verify that the data is complete and clear, to make sure that we deliver the board that you want. Above all, it contains tips on how to present clear and unambiguous data and avoid some of the common traps which can delay deliveries.

Our pooling services have been developed to deliver prototype and small batch PCBs cost-effectively as well as fast and on time. The specifications of each service are based on a robust level of manufacturability to ensure the quality of the finished product. This is reflected in the cost structure: TECH pool is more expensive than STANDARD pool. The white paper outlines how we check that each design fits the specification of the chosen service. If it doesn’t, we report back the data issues (raise an exception). Are there simple steps which you as a designer or we as fabricators can take to avoid having to use a more expensive option? If so we will propose them. Are there repairs we can make to bring the board back within specification and improve its manufacturability? In many cases we can make these repairs as part of the data preparation process and the white paper has links to more detailed information. Design for manufacturability tips highlight some critical areas. The white paper also links to the free design rule sets which can be uploaded form our website into EAGLE and Altium CAD systems to help ensure that your design meets the specifications of the most cost-effective pooling service.

Although the white paper follows our internal procedures and includes the names of our front-end data preparation stages, our data preparation process follows industry best-practice. So throughout we relate what we do and our design tips to the wider PCB fabrication world. Our goal is to provide a broad set of technical information which will benefit not just our users but also the wider electronics engineering community across Europe.

Download the Eurocircuits-frontend data preparation white paper in PDF format.

To preserve the environment and to make use of the many embedded links to articles on our web site, we recommended that you read this white paper in its digital form.

front-end data preparation

Soldermask on via-holes in case of chemical Nickel-Gold surface finish

Soldermask on via holes

There are 3 ways our customers prepare their layouts with respect to covering via-holes with soldermask:

  • Vias open (not covered by soldermask) on both sides of the PCB




  •  Vias closed (covered with soldermask) on both sides of the PCB


via covered


  • Vias open from one side and covered from the other side of the PCB
via half open

As necessary background information we need to briefly introduce you into the technology of applying soldermask to the boards.

First we cover the whole surface of the production panel with soldermask ink and then dry the panel (printing the soldermask)

The ink we use is a UV sensitive material. When exposed to UV-light, the ink will harden (exposing  the soldermask)

Ink that is not exposed remains soft and can be washed away using a 1% alkalic solution (developing the soldermask)

The easiest production method is to have all vias open from both sides. The vias will be clean. They will not contain any contamination nor soldermask. The next picture shows vias free of soldermask. We did not expose the soldermask on the via pads so that it remains soft and is washed away during the developing process.

via free picture

Another practical production method is where the vias are covered on both sides of the PCB. We expose the soldermask on both sides of the via-pad and via-hole so it will harden and stay on the via-pad and over the via-hole to close it. There is a risk however that (mostly in case of via-holes with a larger diameter) the via-hole is not completely covered and a small opening remains in the middle.

via partially plugged

There is a danger that chemicals get stuck in these small openings during the processes that follow after the soldermask application. These chemical can contaminate and affect for instance the chemical Ni/Au process. A further danger exists that chemicals of the Ni/Au process remain in these openings and as they are agressive chemicals they might keep on reacting in the via hole years after the board has been produced causing possible failures in usage of the PCB in its application.

discolored pad

The third case (vias covered from one side and open from the other side of the PCB) is the most problematic in production. This design creates a pocket. We expose the soldermask from one side but not from the other side. This soldermask in the middle of the via-hole will only be half polymerised. During the baking process this material can come out of the hole from the open side and contaminate the copper surface and thus disturb the surface finishing process. The pictures below shows a typical failure.

gold contaminated


Vias and Chemical Nickel-Gold (ENIG)

Vias that are not completely covered or not properly filled with soldermask may create “skip pads” in the ENIG process.

discolored pad discolored pad

Till now we didn”t receive any reasonable explanation from our material suppliers nor did we found one elsewhere that reveals the source of this problem. However supplier advise and long term experience guide us to two possible solutions to avoid the issue:

Modify the layout so that all vias are open. Our engineers favour this solution. Sadly this is not always accepted by our customers or the design may not allow it.

Apply the soldermask after the ENIG process. This is a costly solution as all copper surfaces are gold-plated and the soldermask adhesion becomes worse.

For closed via-holes we have developed an alternative solution which avoids chemicals getting trapped in the partially closed via-holes during developing of the soldermask or during application of the Ni/Au. Before the coating the entire panel with soldermask we selectively print soldermask into the via holes using a stencil. During a second print run we then cover the whole panel. This way the via-holes are completely filled with soldermask. An even layer of soldermask now covers the via-holes leaving no pockets to hold residual chemicals. We have used this technique for over 6 months, and it has proved successful in dramatically reducing the number of skip pad problems.

The following movies show this process of via filling and soldermask printing.

Setting up the machine:

Printing the soldermask into the via holes:

Result after filling the via holes:

via filled

Cover the panel with soldermask:

Result after printing the soldermask:

via covered


Drying the soldermask layer:

Visualize your PCB: fast and throughout the whole business process

Visual communication enhances PCB procurement: Eurocircuits goes visual

Go visual – why?

  • Make real-life PCB information available to everyone involved in board design, procurement, manufacture, assembly and testing.
  • Images are:
    • Convenient – ease of use
    • Clear – avoid misunderstandings
    • Open to all collaborators  – not everyone can read PCB layout data

Go visual – what?

  • Visualize customer data online as soon as it is uploaded
  • Visualize the PCB in every step of the Eurocircuits e-business process
  • Keep the PCB as an image in the data base for future use:
    • Look up whenever needed
    • Repeat orders
  • Show an image of the PCB in documents

PCBs – layout to finished board – the workflow

  • Calculate a pooling price online or request an On demand price
  • Pre-analyse – online analysis and full visual display of:
    • EAGLE native format data
    • Extended Gerber data
  • Order and produce:
    • Design Rule Check
    • Data anomalies – visual report back to customer
    • Single Image ready – finished PCB image
    • Make panel and produce
  • Deliver – PCB passport including finished PCB image
  • Archive – make available for future use
    • Repeat orders
    • Look up as needed

Workflow step 1, option 1 – On demand price request

If you upload your data to get an On demand price (Place inquiry with data), we run a full data analysis before we complete our offer. You can find this online as the PCB verification report. This includes a true-colour picture of your PCB, the build as specified in your data and a detailed overview of all technical parameters.

pcb verification summary


stackup files


Workflow step 1, option 2 – start from EAGLE

Customers who use EAGLE 6.x as their PCB layout system, can link directly from within their design to our web site and its calculator. Just push the PCB quote button.

eagle quote

EAGLE input

The link between EAGLE 6.x and the Eurocircuits web site activates a window that displays your EAGLE PCB design values and the corresponding design values of the Eurocircuits pooling services.

TIP: if you use the DRU design rule files for our pooling services you can be confident that your design will perfectly match your chosen service.  Download the DRU files here.

eagle to eurocircuits


EAGLE calculation

All the design values are automatically entered into your calculation page. You only have to enter the delivery term and quantity and push Calculate. If required you can still change the technical parameters that are not included in the desing data, for instance, surface finish, soldermask colour, etc…

order from Eagle


EAGLE PCB analysis

Calculate your price and attach your PCB data.  You can then add the offer to your shopping basket.  This will trigger the automatic analysis of your data. This step is currently in beta test and will be live shortly.

visualizer in basket

As soon as the analysis is complete the word “Visualizer” appears. Click it to link to the PCB Visualizer module. See the movie.

video here 

Workflow step 1, option 3 – input Gerber data

TIP: to make sure that your data is as clear as possible and to minimise the risk of any delay to your order due to data queries (exceptions), always use:

Most customers use Extended Gerber PCB layout data.

Enter the board parameters into the Calculate and order menu.  Calculate the price and attach the data.  Add the offer into your online and the system will run the analysis and open the link to the PCB Visualiser module as described above.  See the whole procedure in our movie.

video here  

Workflow step 2 – data preparation after order – design rule check

  • Design rule check against the chosen service parameters and check for manufacturability problems
    • If anomalies are found make an anomaly report (raise an exception)

Workflow step 3 – data anomalies

If there are data anomalies we raise an exception.  We prepare a clear visual report on the issues with suggestions how to resolve them.  We send you an email to warn you.  You can then find the report in your online account.

design problem design problem2


Workflow step 4 – prepare single image

Next we complete the preparation of the single image (for more information on this step visit our blog).  The PCB is now ready for production so we create the final PCB image.  This shows the finished PCB as it will be delivered, as a single circuit or in a customer panel, depending on what you have ordered.

board simulation


Workflow step 5 – production panel

For our internal production team we provide a visualization of the production pooling panel.

pcb production panel


Workflow step 6 – PCB passport

The board is also visualized on documents we provide for you. Our PCB passport is the PCB identity report containing production and material traceability data.  This is accompanied by visual images of the PCB”s top, bottom and mechanical layers.  That way, even non-technical people can quickly and easily identify the PCB.

pcb passport pcb mechanical drawing pcb production flow


Go visual – repeat orders

We use the same visual identification in the overview of running orders and in the order history.  Click on the visualisation icon to see the PCB image and make sure that you are re-ordering the right PCB.

running orders – visual info


Go visual – advantages

  • eC-workflow is transparent for all stake holders
  • Clearer overview
  • Easier communication
  • Easy lookup
  • Less misunderstandings
  • Provides an extra service for board designers and assemblers to offer to their customers
  • => visual communication is the future

PCB Visualizer – the next steps

The first module of the PCB Visualizer, our new program for PCB visualization, will be rolled out shortly.  As soon as your data is uploaded, PCB Visualizer will present a complete view of all the layers of the PCB in true colours.  It will also show the build as it appears in the data set.  The next step in the roll-outwill be to provide interactive functionality at each stage of the data preparation process, as shown in the diagram below.  This will help to avoid mistakes due to misunderstood communications or errors in the data.  These stages will include tools to edit the order details, for instance by changing the surface finish or soldermask colour, as well as tools to view any data anomalies and accept our suggestions for repairs.  The final stage will show all the layers of the production-ready PCB.

  eC-visualizer concept