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Printed circuit board factory visit

March 11, 2012

On Wednesday afternoon a bus came to fetch us and we drove about 1.5 hrs north to a printed circuit board (PCB) factory.  Visiting the factory wasn’t really all that critical to our operation since we just send our PCB files (Gerber files) out to a fab house and the shiny new boards come back a while later.  In fact, there is a fab house in Colorado that can make prototype quantities almost as cheap as China so there not much need for us to offshore the circuit boards.  Nonetheless it was fun to see the operation.

The general sequence is to clean the copper-cad fiberglass board (first photo), drill the holes, do a photo process to lay down the circuit lines, etch off the unwanted copper in a gigantic robot-operated acid bath (second photo), mill the individual boards from the big panels (third photo), and silk screen the image (final photo).  I’m leaving out a bunch of steps, but you get the general idea.

A few general observations.  First, I’ve NEVER seen an industrial operation anywhere in the world that allows visitors to snap cameras away at will.  Second, while I expect this PCB fab house was better than a typical Chinese industrial shop it was still pretty rough: no eye protection, no noise protection, and the fumes from the etching operation was pretty strong with little or no ventilation.

There was a bit of drama on the way back.  Ned, Blair, and I had a dinner meeting with a Beijing attorney at 6:30 and at 5:30 we were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic with no hope of getting there remotely on time.  No worries — we’re in China.  The bus driver opened the bus door in the middle of a six-lane highway, we dodged traffic to get to the side, jumped a fence, and got on the subway.  Ten minutes late to dinner!  Image a bus driver doing that at home…


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