À La Carte FAQs

High Level Details


Due to the automated nature of ALC, users are not allow to move block locations. ALC will take into account the needs of individual blocks to determine optimal placement on the board.

All orders are non-cancellable and non returnable (NCNR), meaning once you place the order and payment has been made, the ALC product cannot be canceled or returned.

A $949 design fee will be applied to all initial orders of a design.

A downloadable version of the Gerber files and a PDF of the schematic are included in your purchase. If you wish to obtain the Eagle source files (BRD and SCH) to edit the design, they can be purchased separately for $150 by filling out this form.

Any shipping restrictions on a block or technology will limit the entire assembly. For example, if you choose to add a high-precision GPS block to your design, your order will only be allowed to ship to destinations where the high-precision GPS breakout board can ship.

We guarantee the electrical design of a board and will run basic function tests on all the blocks, but we do not guarantee that the board can perform your intended end application. For example, there might not be enough program memory on your selected controller to support your end application. It's up to you to prototype your design before ordering an assembled version.

All boards are red soldermask with white silkscreen, and will have the order number silk screened on the board. We hope to offer additional options in the future.

All boards include a USB-C connection for both power and serial programming.

General


How do I create a board with SparkFun A La Carte (ALC)?

The ALC designer interface will walk you through choosing your processor, components, connectors and power supply. These components are referred to as “blocks” within ALC. If there are not enough pins to support a block, ALC will not let you choose that block. Currently, ALC requires all boards to have at least a controller, one component and a power supply before you are able to place an order.

Do I need to be an electrical engineer?

No! The beauty of ALC is that it does all the hard work for you. All you need to know is what parts you want to use, and our system will design all the traces and place the blocks for you. We’ve put all the hard work into verifying everything you put on your board will be electrically sound and that the proper connections have been made, thus ensuring the electrical design of every board produced using ALC. This makes ALC a great choice for companies that do not have electrical engineers on staff. If you wish to utilize the services of an electrical engineer, please contact our services team at services@sparkfun.com for more information and pricing.

Do I have to have an account to use ALC?

Yes, a SparkFun account is required to save your designs and order boards using ALC. If you are not logged in when you start your project, you will be prompted to log in or create an account after adding blocks to your design.

Why can’t I move the blocks around?

Due to the automated nature of ALC, we do not allow users to place blocks. ALC will take into account the needs of individual blocks to determine where to place them. You will be able to see a board preview throughout the design process in order to see where all parts are placed.

Is there a minimum order quantity?

No, there is no minimum order quantity for ALC orders - you are free to order one board of your design, or 10,000.

What is the design fee?

The $949 design fee applies to your first order of a new board design. This fee covers the costs associated with setting up the machines to manufacture your board. After the initial order, the design fee will be waived if you reorder the same board without making any changes within three years from the original date of purchase. If a part is no longer available when you try to reorder your design, the design fee for the new board will be prorated.

What is included in my purchase?

Included in the purchase of your custom board is the fully assembled board, and a downloadable version of the Gerber files and PDF of the schematic. If you wish to obtain the Eagle source files (BRD and SCH) to edit the design, they can be purchased separately for $150 by filling out the form below.

Where can I see how much each board costs?

Pricing for individual boards can be found in the lower right hand corner of the screen, underneath your board preview. As you add blocks to your board, this price will update. Please be aware that a $949 design fee will be added to the overall cost of your order for all initial orders of a board design. The design fee is reflected in the order subtotal shown.

When will my boards ship?

Due to the custom nature of ALC orders, most boards will ship 3-4 weeks after the order is placed. For large orders, longer lead times may apply. You will receive email updates when your board moves to manufacturing as well as tracking information once your boards ship.

Who owns the design?

Good question. For a variety of legal reasons, SparkFun owns the design, and here’s why: The ALC system is built on automation. Let’s say you drop eight blocks onto a design and then order. If you owned this design, what happens when another customer adds those same eight blocks onto their design? You each likely have a very different target application, with different code, but this other customer needs to use the same eight blocks. For this reason, SparkFun owns the design, but grants you the right to produce and use boards of the design. If you need full ownership, you can purchase the design files to use as you see fit.

Will my boards be RoHS compliant?

SparkFun uses a lead-free process, warehouses lead-free parts and will use RoHS compatible PCBs, but we cannot guarantee the final assembly will be RoHS compliant, nor can we certify your board for you.

Can I suggest additional blocks to add to ALC?

We're continually adding new blocks to ALC. If you have a neat sensor, IC, module, connector or technology you think would make a good block please share your suggestion on the ALC fourm.

How can I verify my design will do what I want?

It's up to you to prototype your design before ordering an assembled version. We recommend building a physical prototype of your design using similar SparkFun boards and utilizing the SparkFun forums prior to ordering a design in ALC.

Board Design


Can I dictate where the blocks fall on the board?

Due to the automated nature of ALC, we do not allow users to place blocks. ALC will take into account the needs of individual blocks to determine where to place them. You will be able to see a board preview throughout the design process in order to see where all parts are placed.

Why can’t I select certain blocks?

ALC is smart by design; it knows the requirements of each block and which blocks don’t work together. As you add blocks to your design, ALC will only allow you to choose additional blocks that work with blocks you have already selected and that are within your remaining pin and power constraints.

What size board can I create?

ALC can create boards in a variety of sizes, from 1-inch-square up to 12-inches-square. By default, all boards are autosized to optimize block placement. Users can lock the X and Y dimensions of their board by clicking the “layout options” arrow in the board preview section. Currently, ALC can only produce rectangular boards.

Can I create a double-sided design?

Currently, ALC only supports single-sided designs.

How do I program my board?

All controllers will have a serial bootloader available,* and a USB-C connection for both power and serial programming. Uploading code is done using standard tools for each platform. For example, the Artemis controller is programmed using the Arduino IDE or the firmware GUI.

*Due to flash constraints, the ATtiny84 controller does not have a bootloader, but it does have an ISP connector. Code must be loaded using an external programmer; we recommend the AVR ISP Pocket Programmer. Similar to the other controller blocks, the ATtiny84 Controller Block includes a USB-C connector for power.

How do ‘connectors’ work?

The connectors section of ALC allows you to break out any signal on the board to a variety of different connector types. The most common connector technology is the bare 0.1-inch, empty PTH holes. Screw terminals, locking terminals, JST and many other types of connectors are also available.

For example, you may want to break out the unused GPIO on a controller to an 8-pin, 0.1-inch empty PTH connector so that you can solder additional switches, sensors or radios to your design. Once a connector type is chosen, you will be asked to choose which net to connect to a particular pin. You can then label that pin with anything you’d like.

Note: You can connect to unused as well as used nets. Connecting to a ‘used’ net can be helpful when debugging with a logic analyzer or oscilloscope.

What is the meaning of the power budget?

The power budget is provided to help keep track of how much power your design will draw, and will alert you when your design exceeds the power capabilities of your chosen power block. In general, each ALC design has a 2 amp at 3.3 V power budget.

When calculating the power budget, we consider the *peak* number of milliamps (mA) each controller and component block will consume. This is then compared to the quantity of milliamps your chosen power block can provide. Once you’ve chosen a power block, the power bar will update to show how much of the overall power budget is in use.

Because the power consumed by each controller and component block is a rough, worst-case scenario, ALC will allow you to complete the purchase of your design even if you exceed the power budget. It is up to you to prototype your design before purchase to verify that everything will work.

Note: Connector blocks are not included in the power budget calculation.

How do the power blocks work?

All ALC boards are designed to be powered from a USB-C type cable. This provides 5 V at 2 A - approximately 10 W of power. Each controller block has a built-in 3.3 V DC-DC buck circuit that will efficiently regulate the 5 V down to 3.3 V for the main ALC bus.

The 12 V Car Power, USB Power and Wall Power blocks do not add any items to your design or cart for purchase. These blocks are used to set the power budget of your design only.

The Solar Power and Battery Power Blocks will add a LiPo battery connector to your design.

The Banana Jack Power Block will add banana jacks and big solder pads to your design.

The following show the various power budgets provided by each power block:

  • 12 V Car Power: 2000 mA
  • Banana Jack Power: 10,000 mA
  • Battery Power: 2000 mA
  • Solar power: 500 mA (ALC assumes you will be using our 10 W USB solar panel. If your design requires more than the 500 mA budgeted, ignore the power budget and use a larger solar panel instead.)
  • USB Power: 2000 mA
  • Wall Power: 2000 mA

Note: Be sure to read power block descriptions carefully to ensure you have all the necessary accessories to complete your design.

Why isn’t the adapter/cable/add-on device included with my ALC design?

We don’t want to send you parts you don’t need or want. While the design you create may call for the addition of USB-C cables or wall adapters, you may already have those supplies on hand. If you require them, you will be able to add them to your cart before checkout. Please read block descriptions carefully to see what add-ons we recommend for each block.

I want to use a block that is export-controlled. How does this work?

Any shipping restrictions on a block or technology will limit the entire assembly. For example, if you choose to add a high-precision GPS block to your design, your order will only be allowed to ship to destinations where the high-precision GPS breakout board can ship.

Projects


Can I save my design?

Yes. Users that are logged in to a SparkFun account will have their designs automatically saved. If you are not logged in, you will receive a prompt to either create an account or log in after adding blocks to your board.

To make your designs easier to find later, we recommend giving them unique names. By default, all designs are titled “My Project.” If you wish to change the name of your design or add a description, you can do so by clicking on the name or description in the board preview section and typing in a new name.

Can I share my design with others?

Currently, users must be logged in to see their saved designs and designs cannot be shared across accounts.

Can I modify a prior project?

If you wish to make changes to a previously ordered or saved design, simply navigate to the “my projects” tab in the upper left and choose the project you wish to alter. From there, select the “resume” button to modify a project that has not been ordered or the “clone project” button to reopen your design within the ALC Designer. Please note, by choosing to clone your design, it is considered a new design and will be subject to the design fee upon ordering.

Ordering


Can I modify my design once I’ve placed my order?

The beauty of ALC is in its automation. We've written a sophisticated toolchain to make custom boards possible. Once you hit the purchase button, your board immediately goes into the fabrication process and you can no longer make changes to your order. All ALC orders are non cancellable and non-returnable (NCNR) once the order has been placed.

If you wish to make changes to a previously ordered or saved design, simply navigate to the “my projects” tab in the upper left and choose the project you wish to alter. From there, select the “resume” button to modify a project that has not been ordered, or the “clone project” button to reopen your design within the ALC Designer. Please note, by choosing to clone your design, it is considered a new design and will be subject to the design fee upon ordering.

Can I reorder my design?

You can absolutely reorder designs you've previously purchased - simply fill out the form below. When reordering a design without making any changes, the design fee will be waived for 36 months after the initial order was placed. If a part is no longer available when you reorder your design, the design fee for the new board will be prorated. Please email cservice@sparkfun.com for more information.

Can you put a unique identifier on each board?

The SparkFun order number will be placed on the bottom of the PCB in silkscreen. Users cannot add their own custom text or artwork at this time.

Can you load my custom firmware onto my boards?

At this time, we are unable to offer this service. All ALC boards will ship without firmware.

Can I pay with a purchase order (PO)?

Yes - if you are not already set up with terms, choose “offline payment” at checkout. Once you have completed checkout, please email support@sparkfun.com , order number and a completed Net30 Request Form.

Please be aware it can take up to three business days for POs to be processed. This time will be added to the standard three to four week delivery timeframe for your ALC boards.