Art and Technology are Friends

A Gatcha with PCB Panel

Recently I started panelizing my own PCB designs to speed up SMT production.

I used to ask PCB fab house to panelize my designs, but Altium Designer has a board array feature that makes panelization very simple. Also PCBWay, my go-to PCB fab accepts panelized gerbers the same way single board designs. So I have become comfortable panelizing my own designs.

This PCB was for JT Filament – the through hole design has been available as kits, but I started offering pre-assembled version as well, so I wanted to produce SMT version for that.

The panels and the stencil were produced in two days and delivered via DHL Total turnaround was only 5 days. This is crazy fast. (No rush fees paid. Note that it’s not always so quick, but sometimes you get lucky.)

Panels and stencil delivered. Oh and the holiday gift.

Panels and stencil delivered. Oh and the holiday gift.

I ran the first batch of 4 panels as a test. Stenciling, pick & place, and reflow went without a hitch. I was very happy.

Stencil and the PCB Panels

Stencil and the PCB Panels


Using low temperature paste for reflow - to protect the filament LEDs.

Using low temperature paste for reflow – to protect the filament LEDs.

Assembled and reflowed panels

Assembled and reflowed panels

After testing each circuit on the panels, I went on to break them apart… That’s when it hit me – those V-scores are not snapping like I expected. After trying out some forceful ways to break the panels and only getting two boards successfully separated, I started to panic.

I talked to the support person at PCBWay and realized that my panelization had two problems;

  1. The boards were too close together (the support between the V-score lines needed wider).
  2. The inner cutouts left only thin strips next to the V-score line. This part can break or twisted during the depaneling.

#2 seemed to be the major issue, and since I can’t change the board design itself, I had to change the panelization. I decided to use tab-route instead of V-scoring. Which means I will have to file away the mouse bite residue after depanelization. Oh well…

I am now waiting for the delivery of the new panels (while keeping my fingers crossed). Will post the result soon.


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