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  • PCB/Board designs, Product Reviews
    5 min | 3685

    #Review: Fusion

    PCB/Board designs, Product Reviews | 5 min | 3685

    On August I was contacted by Ben from Seeed Studio to review the Fusion service. I received a coupon, which could be used only to order PCB.

    To define the Fusion service, I take this text from its website:

    Seeed Fusion Service offers one-stop prototyping services for PCB manufacture,PCB assembly and other electronic and mechanical customized services such as CNC Milling, 3D printing and PCB layout services.

    I didn't have at that time a design but I had something in mind that uses communication technology. I was experimenting using LoRa technology and I thought, I could managed to design a board that includes an ESP32, GPS, IMU, air quality sensors and datalogger together. The results is the BikeTracker board. I sent to Seed Fusion the board revision v1.0 (the actual revision is v1.4).

    Note: Revision v1.0 was a quick and easy test. I took the board modules that I had (GPS module, IMU module and etc.) and I put them together on a PCB. It was only a test to see, if that was possible. If you plan to make the BikeTracker, you should download the latest revision. All the sensors are now on a single PCB, but it is difficult to solder ;). I already ordered the new boards on other PCB supplier, and I am in testing phase now. Stay tuned to see the latest design working.

    I use Eagle to design the boards. Eagle is now part of Autodesk, but it has still a free limited software version for hobbyists and makers, which includes 2 schematic sheets, 2 signal layers, and an 80cm2 board area. That is enough for my design.

    Point scheme

    Before I start with the review, I want to define a point scheme to evaluate the service. I am going to divide the review in three parts with following points:

    1. Service and PCB (5)
      • design and rule files (0.5)
      • PCB checking service before paying (0.5)
      • price changes w.r.t. the default options, especially:
        • color (1)
        • surface finish (2)
        • dimensions (1)
    2. Production and shipping time (10)
      • website interface (2)
      • production time (2)
      • flying probe test available and costs (2)
      • shipping costs (2)
      • shipping time (2)
    3. PCB quality and final cost (5)

    Service and PCB

    Before exporting the file and loading to the website, Seeed Fusion offers a design rule file (DRU) and a CAM file for Eagle (link here. The first file allows you to check if everything is OK in your PCB design (sizes, spaces, drilling etc.) and the second one allows you to export the file for the Gerber. I used Eagle 9.2.1 and the CAM file needs to be updated, but it was only 2 clicks and the file worked. (0.5)

    fusion board order process
    Fig. 1: Seeed Fusion Service Offer

    Seeed Fusion offers a service for a starting price of USD$4.90 -without shipping- (see Fig. 1). The USD$4.90 price includes primarily the following:

    • Base Material: FR-4 TG130 with max. thickness of 1.6
    • Max. PCB Dimension: 100 mm x 100 mm
    • Max. PCB Quantity: 10
    • Minimum Solder Mask Dam: 0.4 mm
    • Surface Finish: HASL
    • Copper Weight: 1oz.
    • Minimum Drill Hole Size: 0.3 mm
    • PCB Color: Green Red Yellow Blue White Black

    This price changes fast, if you change something of the default options, e.g. if your board dimensions is 101mm x 100mm, it will cost you USD$30.97 -without shipping. But with board dimensions, it is normal with almost all PCB providers. In this case, a little too expensive (x6.32) (0.5). Ordering 20 PCB boards will cost you USD$43.20 -without shipping. So, you should better make two different orders with 10 PCBs! but be careful with the shipping costs.

    The color option without increasing the price is very nice (1). It is not a normal option on every provider, especially with the black color. The option of using other materials like aluminum or flexible board is very nice but also expensive. But, it is not easy to find on other provides! I am giving a half point here; it is not on the point scheme but it is a good option (extra 0.5). A big disadvantage is the surface finish, I ordered all my boards with HASL Lead Free (I try to use free lead tin-solder too) and selecting this option increases the price to USD$12.90 (0). The PCB can be directly ordered and of course, they are reviewed before the gerber process started, but you cannot order a "check only option", you need to pay to get this check. Some provider offers this option before you pay (0).

    Final section points: 2.5/5

    Production and shipping time

    The website interface works very nice (see Fig. 2). The gerber viewer does not work on the last version of Chrome (>70). SeeedFusion uses and the website has an issue with the https certificate. The Symantec certificate is not valid on Chrome (more here). In order to get that working, you need to copy the URL, open a tab, paste it and accept the invalid https certificate. If you do that, then, you can see the PCB view. It is not a problem of Seeed Fusion but they should talk to Easyeda or use another Gerber viewer. (2) Moreover, the checkout is also reporting a non-secure website!, the certificateis not valid on Chrome! I will update it to (2) if those problems are solved. I would not be ordering anything, if the checkout certificate is not valid and the website is not secure!

    Seeed fusion studio ordering
    Fig. 2: Seeed Fusion Studio ordering process

    My order was received on 2018-10-01 21:45 and it was confirmed on 2018-10-01 23:05. The shipping process has been started on 2018-10-13 09:14. That was almost 11.5 days. Considering that between those days the 'Golden Week' took place, that means an effective production time of 4.5 days. They reported a production time of 3-4 working days, which was almost accomplished. The 'Golden Week' pause should be announced in the order description. Between those days, I didn't know what was going on. The website has a warning GIF, but I thought that the production speed was reduced but not stopped. Nevertheless, it is not the fastest service to order a PCB, but the production time was OK. (1) and they do not offer any flying probe test (0). If it is provided, it is not reported.

    The shipping costs are the following:

    DHL1-3 working days$22.05
    Fedex4-8 working days$26.83
    EU POST10-18 working days$9.75
    Singapore Post15-30 working days$9.61

    They are almost the same, with respect to other services (2). I selected the EU POST, otherwise the total cost was over the coupon that I had. I received the package on 2018-11-01. That means a shipping period of 18 days, which was between the described days. (2). The boards were shipped inside a bubble bag (see Fig. 3) and they were protected inside the envelop (see Fig. 4).

    Shipping Bag
    Fig. 3: Shipping bag
    Board bagBoard bag
    Fig. 4a: Board bag - Side AFig. 4b: Board bag - Side B

    Final section points: 8/10 (SeeedFusion has to solve the problems with the SSL!)

    PCB quality and final cost

    The final order cost was USD$14.65 (on Elecrow it would costs USD$12.89 but with a 30 days' order). I got 10 PCBs in black color finished with HASL Lead Free. The complete process from ordering up to receiving the PCBs took almost 31 days (-7 days 'Golden Week' = about 24 days).

    10 PCB boards
    Fig. 5: Front and back of the ordered PCB

    The tracking number didn't work until I received the boards. That means, during the 18-shipping days, I didn't have any info about the package. The quality of the boards is Ok. The black color is nice but it has some parts lighter as expected (see Fig. 6). The contours are not finished precisely (see Fig. 7), but it doesn't affect the board.

    board black color marks
    Fig. 6: The black color is not well distributed and there are lighter parts
    board contour
    Fig. 7: The board contour is not precisely finished

    Final section points: 3.5/5


    Seeed Fusion Studio is a good service for ordering PCB with a final service point of 14/20 (70%). The web interface is simple, and it works as expected (it has to solve the two problems with the SSL). The quality of the PCB is OK for hobbyist and makers, but some PCB details are not perfect. Selecting the PCB color without increasing the starting price is also a nice option. HASL Lead Free option should be a default option.

    If you select DHL as shipping service (+ USD$22.05), you can get your PCB in about 10 days (avoid holiday and festival days!). It is not the faster way to get a PCB in Europe. Other companies (e.g. jlcpcb) offer faster solutions. But the option to choose the material base of the boards is great, especially if you are planning to make flexible boards.

    Thanks Ben for contacting me and let me review Seeed Fusion Studio.