Author Topic: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel  (Read 2096 times)

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Offline whalphen

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Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« on: October 12, 2018, 12:24:53 am »
The last time I tried to fabricate panels for a project in my home workshop, it was a difficult job.  The cutouts were various shapes and I wanted them to look nice.  So I carefully made some wood templates, attached them to the aluminum panels, and used a router to cut the holes.  It took far too much effort and, although the results look ok, there are some obvious misalignments and minor flaws.
So, for my most recent project, I decided to get a panel made by a PCB shop.  I thought I would have it made out of FR4, but found that the price for an aluminum panel was the same as FR4 at ALLPCB.  So I ordered panels made from aluminum.
The order was placed during a holiday break, so there was a slight delay in response from ALLPCB.  I had given specific instructions on where they could place the manufacturer number on the board so that it would be covered by a knob in the final assembly.  ALLPCB contacted me to confirm my instructions.  Six days after payment I received the panels via DHL.
The quality is fairly good.  The white solder mask is good and without flaws or gaps.  The black silk screen lettering is flawless.  I noticed that the larger holes are very slightly out of round.  I suspect they were cut with a router rather than a drill.  However, I had specified the holes to be slightly oversized, so it's not an issue for me.  The edge of the rectangular cutout has a very small tab where it seems the router completed the cutout.  This is hardly noticeable (perhaps 0.1 or 0.2 mm) and could be easily corrected with a hand file.  Perhaps the biggest issue is that there are some scuffs and scratches in the surface of the solder mask that likely occurred as the panels were moved around during manufacturing and handling.
These panels are 160mm x 65.5mm, 1mm thick.  They cost $4.41 each, delivered to Michigan, USA.  The quality is not what I would want in a commercial product.  But, I likely wouldn't be getting panels made at a pcb shop if it were for commercial production.  For prototype or hobby use, I am very pleased with the result and cost.
(For those concerned about ALLPCB paying for postings, I am not posting this for payment and will not be submitting it to ALLPCB.  I just want to share my experience in case others are looking for cheap panels for a project.)
« Last Edit: October 12, 2018, 12:30:13 am by whalphen »
 
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Offline mrpackethead

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2018, 06:41:23 am »
I was just looking at that, and was thinking to my self, that you potentially could use an alluminum panel as a capacitive touch button surface.   An some clever use of copper might make for a really interesting contrasted panel.  AS you say, an issue might be with how clean they arrive.


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Offline pelule

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2018, 07:26:12 am »
I my stupi, but I can't find it at www.allpcb.com.
May you give me a short guidance?

/PeLuLe
You will learn something new every single day
 

Offline mrpackethead

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #3 on: October 12, 2018, 07:35:09 am »
When you get to the Quote section, select Aluminum as the substrate.
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Offline NorthGuy

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #4 on: October 12, 2018, 10:18:44 am »
The AllPCB order number in the middle of the panel looks silly.
 

Offline mrpackethead

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #5 on: October 12, 2018, 10:29:13 am »
If you see above in the OP, he said he put it there so it was covered up by the knob.   but yes, it is silly and thats not always going to be an option. You could put a tooling strip on one side perhaps..  On all my panels they have always put their reference number on the tooling strip, which largely is a don't care.

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Online Mr. Scram

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #6 on: October 12, 2018, 11:02:19 am »
You say the quality isn't quite what you'd want commercially. Could you elaborate how and why?
 

Offline mrpackethead

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #7 on: October 12, 2018, 11:14:25 am »
I suspect they were cut with a router rather than a drill.  However, I had specified the holes to be slightly oversized, so it's not an issue for me.  The edge of the rectangular cutout has a very small tab where it seems the router completed the cutout.  This is hardly noticeable (perhaps 0.1 or 0.2 mm) and could be easily corrected with a hand file.  Perhaps the biggest issue is that there are some scuffs and scratches in the surface of the solder mask that likely occurred as the panels were moved around during manufacturing and handling.

Typically the biggest drill size for most pcb manufactuers is 6mm.     So, anything bigger than that will be routed.  The drill machines are set up to drill at very high speeds, ( which you need when you run very small drills ),  so there is a cut off somewhere,..   Routing accuracy is ±0.15mm  however,  i'd i'd not expect to see a step, that is a bit unsual. you might get some kind of offset. you might get that if a tool is on the end of its life..   

Solder mask is just not that tough really.




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Offline whalphen

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #8 on: October 13, 2018, 06:33:11 am »
You say the quality isn't quite what you'd want commercially. Could you elaborate how and why?
If I were doing this for commercial purposes, I would not want the scuffing and slight scratching in the soldermask.  I suspect that if I sprayed a clear paint coating on top, the scuffing and scratches would no longer be visible.  But I haven't tried that.  As I mentioned, the quality is fine for hobby or prototype use.
Another possibility is to go with a matte finish rather than a gloss finish for the soldermask.  The scuffs and scratches would likely not be visible in a matte finish. But the matte options are about twice the price.
 

Offline whalphen

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #9 on: October 13, 2018, 06:35:17 am »
I my stupi, but I can't find it at www.allpcb.com.
May you give me a short guidance?

/PeLuLe

You have to select the 1 layer option and then the Aluminum Board PCB type will appear as an option.
 

Offline mrpackethead

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #10 on: October 13, 2018, 06:38:33 am »
I my stupi, but I can't find it at www.allpcb.com.
May you give me a short guidance?

/PeLuLe

You have to select the 1 layer option and then the Aluminum Board PCB type will appear as an option.

In some circumstances,  using FR4 is also an option.  Particularly if you want something that is an insulator.    I have done this, and then sprayed the pcb with a coat of clear-coat which works well.
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Offline whalphen

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #11 on: October 13, 2018, 06:46:29 am »
Yes.  And FR4 has some other advantages:
  • It can be flipped so that the order number appears on the back.
  • It may be possible to make it reversible so that it can show different lettering for a separate project when flipped over.
  • Surface mount components and circuitry can be added to the back.

Of course this can all be done on a double sided aluminum pcb.  But ALLPCB only offers single sided aluminum substrate.
« Last Edit: October 13, 2018, 06:56:54 am by whalphen »
 

Offline mrpackethead

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #12 on: October 13, 2018, 08:30:18 am »
Allpcb offers double sided alumium boards..  You move into a much higher per unit cost though.

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Offline Bassman59

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #13 on: October 17, 2018, 07:44:37 am »
So what's the process for this? I guess: The "front panel" is the copper side, and since there are no traces, it gets etched away. Do you include a copper layer in the Gerber set? Or is the aluminum backside the panel's front, so you have to work in a mirror-image mode?
 

Offline mrpackethead

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #14 on: October 17, 2018, 07:48:02 am »
Yes, top side would be the front side.     You dont' have to remove all teh copper.  You might be better to just leave it all on.   Something i've done before is use the copper to pattern it.  You can get some great effects with things like circles ( 1mm ) spread out in a hexagon type pattern, or hash lines etc etc.    Particually if you use a colour othr than white for the mask.


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Offline Bassman59

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #15 on: October 17, 2018, 07:55:44 am »
Yes, top side would be the front side.     You dont' have to remove all teh copper.  You might be better to just leave it all on.   Something i've done before is use the copper to pattern it.  You can get some great effects with things like circles ( 1mm ) spread out in a hexagon type pattern, or hash lines etc etc.    Particually if you use a colour othr than white for the mask.

I'll try it. I did a rough order-of-magnitude cost estimate on Seeed's website and it was like $62 (plus shipping) for ten panels that fit a Hammond extrusion. I can't get one from Front Panel Express for anywhere near that.
 

Offline mrpackethead

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #16 on: October 17, 2018, 08:22:04 am »
what size panel is that?
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Offline voltsandjolts

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Offline lutkeveld

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #18 on: October 25, 2018, 09:51:27 pm »
I got my panels made by ALLPCB (54 dollar for 15pcs)

Quality is okay, but as said; not great enough for commercial purposes. For a hobby project I would be more than satisfied.
I choose the matte finish, don't know if the 'normal' black finish would be more scratch and finger print resistant though...
Otherwise I will have to move on to anodizing
 

Offline M4trix

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #19 on: October 25, 2018, 11:50:13 pm »
For my fellows in USA... it's aluminium not aluminum for Pete's sake ! Peasants !  |O

 ;)
 

Offline 2N3055

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #20 on: October 26, 2018, 12:17:13 am »
For my fellows in USA... it's aluminium not aluminum for Pete's sake ! Peasants !  |O

 ;)

was that necessary? In USA they spell it aluminum. It is a  /təˈmeɪtəʊ/ - /təˈmɑːtəʊ/ and /pəˈteɪtəʊ/ - /pəˈtɑːtəʊ/ kind of thing... Yes they are funny that way, together with imperial system.  So what?

Regards,
 
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Offline M4trix

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #21 on: October 26, 2018, 12:32:41 am »
Nobody from USA has complained about my comment but you, my fellow countrymen !  :P

 :) 
 

Offline 2N3055

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #22 on: October 26, 2018, 12:41:19 am »
Nobody from USA has complained about my comment but you, my fellow countrymen !  :P

 :)

Well they are small, poor unprotected country and somebody has to :-)  :-DD
 :-+
 

Offline MiDi

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #23 on: October 26, 2018, 03:51:13 pm »
An alternative for a PCB FP is a custom made CNC FP with more options,
e.g. front panel designer from Schaeffer AG Europe USA/Canada

I am not affiliated with them, but you get really good quality for decent price.
 
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Offline voltsandjolts

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Re: Aluminum PCB for Front Panel
« Reply #24 on: October 28, 2018, 04:25:56 am »
Another option:
https://uk.beta-layout.com/frontpanel/
(I've never used them and no affiliation)
 


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