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The Mini-Monkey is now officially “out the door”.   I just sent the files to Macrofab and can’t wait to see the result.   Before I talk a bit about Macrofab, we will look at what going to get built. A few weeks ago, I introduced a design based upon the LPC55S69 in the 7mm VFBGA98.   The goal was to show that this compact package can be used with low cost PCB/Assembly service without having to use the more expensive build specifications. The Mini-Monkey board will also be used to show off some of the neat capabilities of the PowerQuad DSP engine in future design blogs.    Here is what we ended with for the first version:

Figure 1.  Mini-Monkey Revision A

 

Highlights

  • Lithium-Polymer battery power with micro-USB Charging
  • High-speed USB 2.0 Interface
  • SWD debug via standard ARM .050” and tag-connect interface
  • Digital MEMs microphone with I2S Interface
  • 240x240 1.54” IPS Display with HS-SPI interface
  • Op-amp buffer for one of the 1MSPS ADC channels
  • 3 push buttons.  One can be used to start the USB ROM bootloader
  • External Power Input
  • 16MHz Crystal
  • 11 dedicated IO pins connected to the LPC55S69.   Functions available:
    • GPIO
    • Dedicated Frequency Measurement Block
    • I2C
    • UART
    • State Configurable Timers (Both input and output)
    • Additional ADC Channels
    • CTIMERs
  • The HS-SPI used for the IPS display is also brought to IO pins

 

I am a firm believer in not trying to get anything perfect on the 1st try.    It is incredibly inexpensive to prototype ideas quickly so I decided to try to get 90% of what I wanted in the first version.   As we will see, it is inspesive to iterate on this design to work in improvements.    Without too much trouble,    I was able to get everything I wanted on 2 signal layers with filling in a power reference on the top and bottom sides.  If this was a production design, I would probably elect to spend a bit more to get two solid inner reference planes by using a 4-layer design.     Once a design hits QTY 100 or more, the cost of using a 4-layer stack-up can be negligible. A 4-layer stack-up makes the design much easier to execute and compliant with EMI, RFI requirements.      For most of my “industrial” designs where I know that it won’t be high quantity, I always start at 4-layer unless it is a simple connector board.    

 

For this 1st run, I wasn’t trying to push the envelope with how much I could get done with low cost design rules and a 2-layer stack-up. The VFBGA leaves quite a bit of space for fanning out IO.  Quite a bit can be done on the top layer without vias.      I had a few IO that ended up in more difficult locations, but routing was completely quickly.

 

Figure 2.  Mini-Monkey VFBGA Fanout

 

As you can see, I did not make use of all the IO.       If I had used a 4-layer board I would be simpler to get quite a bit more of the IO fanned out.       Moving to smaller vias, traces and a 4-layer stack-up would probably allow one to get all IO’s connected.   For this design,  I was trying to move quickly as well as use the standard “prototype” class specs from Macrofab.    This means 5 mil traces, 10 mil drills with a 4-mil annular ring.  If you can push to 3.5mil trace/space,  NXP AN12581 has some suggestions.

 

I did want to take a minute to talk about Macrofab.     I normally employ the services of a local contract manufacturer but this time I elected to this online service a try.     After going through the order process, I must say I was thoroughly impressed!       The 1st step is to upload your PCB design files.  I use Altium Designer PCB package and Macrofab recommends uploading in OBD++ format.   Since this format has quite a bit more meta-data baked than standard Gerbers, the online software can infer quite a bit about your design.

 

Figure 3.  Macrofab PCB Upload

 

The Macrofab software gives you a cool preview of your PCB with a paste mask out of the gate.  Note that this design is using red solder mask as that is what is included in the prototype class service.  Once you have all the PCB imported, you can now upload a Bill of Materials (BOM).

Figure 3.  Macrofab BOM Upload

 

Macrofab provides clear guidance on how to get your BOM formatted for maximum success.      Once the BOM is uploaded, the online tool searches distributors and you can select what parts you want to use.   The tool also allow one to  leave items as Do No Place (DNP).       I was impressed that it found almost everything I wanted out of the box.   Pricing and lead time are transparent.

 

Next up is part placement:

 

Figure 4.  Macrofab Part Placement

 

Using the ODB++ data, the Macrofab software was able to figure out my placements.   I was thoroughly impressed with this step as it was completely automatic.      The tool allows you to nudge components if needed.    Once placements are approved, the tool will give you a snapshot of the costs.

 

 

 Figure 5.  Cost Analysis and Ordering

 

What I liked here was how transparent the process was.    Using the prototype class service, a single board was $152.  This is an absolute steal when you consider that all the of the setup costs, parts and PCBs are baked in. If you consider the value of your time, this is an absolute no brainer.    I also like that it gives you a cost curve for low volume production.      In the future, I am going to have a hard time using another service that can’t give me much data with so little work.        

 

I ended up ordering 3 prototype units.  Total cost plus 2-day UPS shipping was $465.67.      Note, I did end up leaving one part off the board for now:  the 1.54” IPS display.     This part requires some extra “monkeying” around as it is hot bar soldered and needs some 2-sided tape.    I decided to solder the 1st three prototypes on my bench to get a better feel for the process of using this display.  However, I am more than happy to push the BGA and SMT assembly off to someone else.

 

It looks like board are going to ship on the 1st of May.  I’ll post a video and update when they come in.  So far, the experience with Macrofab has been quite positive and I am eager to see the results.  Once I get the design up and running, I’ll post documentation to bitbucket.