Semiconductors and Components

Simple steps to improve PCB prototyping

01 February 2021
Source: Adobe/golubovy

In the manufacturing business—especially regarding printed circuit boards (PCBs) or electronics—prototyping is a crucial part of the puzzle. Getting this step as close to perfect as possible will cause less headache, and reduce time and money in the long run.

Here is a look at how to improve PCB prototyping.

How to produce PCBs

First off, let’s sort the two ways to make PCB prototypes: hand-built assembly and surface-mount technology (SMT)

SMT prototype manufacturing

This prototyping technique is best for smaller components. Components are placed on both sides of the PCB, which helps limit vibration. SMT prototyping can also be done quickly and efficiently—especially when compared to hand-building the boards

Hand-building PCBs

Hand-built PCB boards are useful when there is a time crunch or limited resources available, so they’re also typically less complex than others. The printed circuit boards created with this technique are known to be less robust and often cause problems downstream in the production process

Decreasing prototype PCB turnaround time

Keeping up with a shorter product lifecycle and maintaining a competitive edge requires that you decrease the turnaround time associated with traditional PCB manufacturing processes

Implementing design for manufacturing

One of the worst things that could happen in the manufacturing process is the rejection of a manufacturer who deems your prototype unreplicable or unusable. In most cases, this will leave your manufacturer no choice but to come up with their own redesign.

Sending a manufacturer a completed design with help alleviate any hiccups and decrease your turnaround time.

Provide a full documentation package

A PCB manufacturer will require a full documentation package for your product. Usually, this includes Gerber files, raw CAD files, a complete bill of materials, assembly instructions, and drawings.

Make sure to talk to your manufacturer and inquire about anything they might need to produce your board. Knowing their capabilities and limitations before partnering with them during the design phase can minimize the risk of a redesign.

If you don’t include thorough documentation and information to help your manufacturer accurately produce your product, they’ll have to get in touch with you for clarification—further delaying your manufacturing process

Simplify PCB designs

Simplifying your PCB design will not only make manufacturing easier, but it will also cut costs.

One way to simplify your printed circuit board design is by implementing a two-layer design—about as simple as you can get in the PCB world. This type of board requires a small number of steps and generally has a quick turnaround time

Test prototypes

Testing prototypes is another vital step on the road to a smooth PCB manufacturing pipeline.

Conducting testing in the prototyping phase will lower the chances for much bigger problems down the road. Imagine pushing a board through to production, only to realize thousands of boards have a defect. You’ll miss deadlines, run over budget, and potentially tarnish business relationships with a delayed shipment.

Not to worry, though—seasoned electronic contract manufacturers usually offer PCB testing for their clients.

Consider all possible circumstances

Partnering with the right manufacturer, limiting any problems before they arise, decreasing downtime, and testing your printed circuit boards earlier rather than later are all integral steps to improve your PCB prototyping.

About the author

Chris Dickey, as VP of sales and marketing, is responsible for providing sales leadership to increase the level of new profitable sales, strengthen and expand customer relationships and increase the alignment between business growth and the SVTronics production team.

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