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Barebone PCB: What Is It and How to Use? (2020 Update)

Barebone PCB is a cost-effective and miniaturized alternative to Arduino PCBs. You can make these boards within one hour since they are ideal for DIY and plug and play projects. Their primary benefit is that they are cheaper and smaller in size than Arduino PCBs.  

With the continuous technological invention and the preference for more portable electronic devices, PCB manufacturers plan to design even smaller PCBs. The good thing with Barebone PCBs is that you can easily shift USB ports to another board.

The Arduino compiler software and IDE facilitate this process. You can process the PCBs using a USB-BUB board or any other programmed USB platform, like the FTDI.   

This article defines Barebone PCBs in detail, how to use and solder on them, their benefits, and some of the Barebone PCB design restrictions.

1. What is a Barebone PCB?

Manufacturers design Barebone boards so that PCB hobbyists, like you, can configure and populate them within a short time. Besides, Barebone PCBs offer hobbyists the flexibility of fitting them with parts that meet their demands. Therefore, manufacturers should test the efficiency of these boards before releasing them to the market.    

Barebone boards are the ideal examples of what precisely PCBs are. PCBs direct current on surfaces via copper pathways, meaning they influence electric paths in circuits. It is important to note that you can design circuit boards using various software, like KiCad, Altium, Eagle, and others. Such software will help you to output PCB design in different ways. The primary design methods you will probably encounter are Gerber and ODB++.    

You can customize a PCB to meet your specific needs. However, the main issue you will encounter in your PCB designing process is the turnaround time of making prototype boards. The whole manufacturing exercise and the shipping process will probably affect your turnaround time negatively. There are high chances that it will take you weeks to a few months between the time you make an order to the moment the manufacturer delivers your order. The long waiting makes the activity of recapitulating on the circuit board design sluggish and frustrating.   

The best way of fast-tracking your circuit board prototyping process is by using the Barebone PCB technique. This is one of the quickest methods of creating quality and cost-effective boards.

Barebone PCB

2. How do I Use Barebone Board?

First, arrange every component you need to run your PCB to get your desired functionality. Choose and arrange the substitute, which you will modify, and they should be non-standard components.

Secondly, take a print of your schematic sketches and circuit board assembly drawings and examine them well. Ensure that you have not placed even a single component or solder wrongly. Otherwise, you may need to re-work on your PCB, leading to a waste of time and resources.

Thirdly, place, and solder all your capacitors and resistors on your PCB. Remember to exercise extreme care when handling the polarity of your polar capacitors and Diodes. You should solder your radial capacitors and through-hole parts from the lower side upwards.

Fourthly, mount and solder your microcontroller IC socket above the corresponding footprint.

Then, position and solder your programming headers and power source connector jacks.

After that, verify your soldered parts in line with the schematic and board assembly drawings. Also, remember to clean your board.

Lastly, program your microcontroller using a USB cable according to your instruction manual.

It is also important to realize that you can program a Barebone PCB using either Arduino or Freeduino language. Basically, a compiler comprises a microcontroller internal support and external peripherals, such as UARTs. Your Barebone PCB should have 100mils spacing headers.

Barebone PCB

3. How to Solder Barebone Board

The Barebone board service from WellPCB is a good alternative for getting your circuit boards designed and delivered fast. This will enable you to continue testing and rehearsing on your DIY project, avoiding delays between prototypes. You can probably carry out more than two prototype design iterations for the time you would need to source one prototype PCB from other PCB makers. The better thing about Barebone PCBs is that the speed does not increase the cost!     

It is good to note that most circuit boards use solder masks to shield traces and negative spaces on the surfaces. These masks prevent the formation of solder bridges between tightly-spaced pads. You can make solder masks using substances that do not stick with solder. The surface tension from the heated solder during the reflow process pulls the solder into the PCB pads. But since Barebone PCBs do not contain solder mask, the solder tends to create bridges between the PCB pads.  

This becomes a significant problem since these bridges can create short circuits, making your PCB malfunction or even damage the entire device. Thus, when soldering a Barebone PCB, ensure you carefully distribute solder paste evenly to avoid too much application, creating solder bridges. Alternatively, you can hand-solder your board, assuming it works well with your design.

When working with Barebone boards, you should always spare some time to test your board before powering it.

3.1 How to Minimize the PCB Prototyping Time

The PCB prototype production can consume much time, mainly the designing and shipping processes. As mentioned earlier, when you make an order and the time you receive, it can take several weeks to months. You can use the Barebone PCB technique to accelerate this time frame.

Barebone boards have a turnaround time of 24 hours. If you include about four days of shipping your products, it implies you can make a prototype circuit board in less than one week of ordering.    

Our Barebone PCB technology can create circuit boards within hours by eliminating various standard production steps employed in the standard circuit board manufacturing process. Barebone PCBs do not have solder mask and silkscreen. Additionally, the Barebone technique does not permit internal cut-outs.

By eliminating some production steps, you will be able to produce Barebone boards quickly. Consequently, this will enable you to iterate your project faster. Nevertheless, it will be difficult for you to solder on the PCB since it lacks a solder mask.  

4. The Benefits of Barebone PCB

As highlighted in the introduction, nowadays, manufacturers are continually miniaturizing electronics. As inventors develop new technologies, engineers are searching for innovative ways to make their offerings smaller and more efficient. However, many hobbyists ask themselves whether making electronic products smaller has any other benefit apart from saving space. Miniaturizing parts and using smaller boards comes with numerous benefits that can significantly benefit you. Below are the main benefits of Barebone PCB technology.

4.1 Barebone PCB– Lower costs

By miniaturizing parts and embracing smaller PCBs, the Barebone technique minimizes the materials you need to make PCBs. Because of this, leveraging miniaturized PCBs can decrease your overall production expenses.

While you may spend more researching and developing a custom miniaturized technology, you will enjoy more long-term cost-saving advantages of using fewer production materials. In the long run, you will definitely save on transport expenses. Still, if you have fewer shipping materials, you can ferry more at the same or less price.

4.2 Barebone PCB– Saves Space

If you want to make PCBs for smaller gadgets, shorter boards are ideal for you, like smartphones and tablets. For example, in smartphones, you need to mount the PCB and fix numerous other parts. Hence, the more room you create by applying small boards, the more space you will have remaining to accommodate other components.    

4.3 Barebone PCB– More Eco-friendly

Since the Barebone PCB technique eliminates some manufacturing steps, it means you will require fewer materials. When you apply fewer materials, you will eventually emit less waste products to the environment. While you can recycle most PCB components, miniaturized boards need even minimal materials; therefore, you will require less recycling.

5. Barebone Board Design Limits

The first restriction point you should consider is that a design should not integrate internal cut-outs. This implies that apart from holes, you should not request for a design with parts routed outside the PCB.

Secondly, your design should be bigger than one inch in every measurement. If your design is below one inch in any measurement, the Barebone board design will automatically enlarge your PCB outline to a dimension of at least one inch.   

6. Making Gerber Files for Barebone PCB

When you have a complete design that aligns with the Barebone guidelines, the other step you should make is generating Gerber templates from the circuit board design. It is important to note that Gerber files are the typical method engineers use to represent circuit board design for production purposes.

Barebone PCB

Most Barebone circuit boards apply only a few layers: upper copper, lower copper, drills, and board outline. But in Autodesk Eagle software, the CAM processor you will employ to create Gerber files makes all the files automatically. With this in mind, Autodesk Eagle is the best software for generating Gerber files, especially for beginners.   

Conclusion

The Barebone board service from WellPCB is a good alternative for getting your circuit boards designed and delivered fast. This will enable you to continue testing and rehearsing on your DIY project, avoiding delays between prototypes. You can probably carry out more than two prototype design iterations for the time you would need to source one prototype PCB from other PCB makers. The better thing about Barebone PCBs is that the speed does not increase the cost!     

Generally, Barebone PCBs are cost-effective and miniaturized alternatives to Arduino PCBs. With the continuous technological inventions and the preference for more portable electronic devices, PCB manufacturers are shifting to smaller Barebone PCBs. WellPCB has a wealth of experience in PCB designing. If you need printed circuit board services, kindly contact us for a quick turnaround. We are at your service!

Hommer
Hi, I am Hommer, the founder of WellPCB. So far we have more than 4,000 customers worldwide. Any questions you can feel free to contact me. Thanks in advance.

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