A Student designed ESP8266 Dev Board

This is a student-designed ESP8266 Dev board. This project came along after I challenged some final-year students at our local high school to try to design their own PCBs. They had recently assisted me in a collaboration with the Mushroom House Controller project, and while we were talking about electronics, the idea of a challenge came up, to stimulate some interaction.

One of them was extremely confident that he could do it, providing that I gave him a schematic. I complied, and he spent the next week hacking away on the EDA software. When i saw him again, he very proudly handed me a USB flash drive, containing the EDA design, but no schematic! Oh well, let us take a chance and see what happens… I mean, how bad could it be…

I took a good look at the design, making sure that it was at least electrically sound, with all the connections made to the right components, in the right way.

That part all passed, but, as we can clearly see, the layout could be very much improved. I decided to NOT change anything on the PCB, to keep the work original.

Manufacturing the PCB

The PCB, together with a stencil, arrived from PCBWay on about the 15th of this month.

I choose PCBWay for my PCB manufacturing. Why? What makes them different from the rest?

PCBWay‘s business goal is to be the most professional PCB manufacturer for prototyping and low-volume production work in the world. With more than a decade in the business, they are committed to meeting the needs of their customers from different industries in terms of quality, delivery, cost-effectiveness and any other demanding requests. As one of the most experienced PCB manufacturers and SMT Assemblers in China, they pride themselves to be our (the Makers) best business partners, as well as good friends in every aspect of our PCB manufacturing needs. They strive to make our R&D work easy and hassle-free.

How do they do that?

PCBWay is NOT a broker. That means that they do all manufacturing and assembly themselves, cutting out all the middlemen, and saving us money.

PCBWay’s online quoting system gives a very detailed and accurate picture of all costs upfront, including components and assembly costs. This saves a lot of time and hassle.

PCBWay gives you one-on-one customer support, that answers you in 5 minutes ( from the Website chat ), or by email within a few hours ( from your personal account manager). Issues are really resolved very quickly, not that there are many anyway, but, as we are all human, it is nice to know that when a gremlin rears its head, you have someone to talk to who will do his/her best to resolve your issue as soon as possible.

Find out more here


The PCB was assembled with help of a stencil.

Technically, this PCB does not actually need it, as the components are large enough to manually place solder paste. This being a student project, I did however choose to get the stencil to try and assure the best possible chance of success..

Placing components only took a few minutes, after which the PCB was reflowed with hot air – no need for a hotplate here!

Through-hole components took only another few minutes to solder into place, and then testing could commence.

My thoughts – a very “gentle” critique

The board could be smaller, but due to the fact that this is a “very first PCB ever” and also a first SMD PCB at that, I can understand that it may still be quite difficult to understand how small the components really are, as well as lay them out properly.

Components are mostly all over the board, without a clear “group by function” kind of mindset. This once again comes back to experience.

GPIO pins are not notated. This will really make the board difficult to use.
The power supply input is in the center of the PCB. This is definitely not ideal.

In general, track sizes could have been bigger, especially on the Power and Ground lines. No ground plane was poured on either layer.

So does it work?
Yes, surprisingly it does. We shall see more of it in the near future, when I task the creator with using it to perform some task. That way, he can experience first hand the difficulties of the design, and also learn practically why certain things need to be improved.

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