Archives for PCB Design

4 Proven Strategies for Reducing PCB Prototype Spins

To turn prototype into manufacturing, PCB designers have two options. The first one is to design in a vacuum, and then find a manufacuring chain that can build the design. The other choice is to learn about the
manufacturing chain and optimize the design to the fabricator’s strengths with no sacrifice to desired functionality.

Here are 4 strategies that help you reduct the unneccessary cost of time and money in design cycle and plan ahead for success.
1. Verify your layout’s manufacturability with a supplier DFM tool.

A trustworthy PCB fabricator will run your design through a design-for-manufacturability tool to check for errors above and beyond any visual inspection of the design details. A top-tier fabricator will make that
report available to you when submitting your design for quotation. Using the contents of that report, which verifies if your design will fit inside the manufacturing process, is a valuable step to getting a properly
fabricated board, and is the first measure toward developing a board optimized for production.
2. Research and select suppliers earlier in the design cycle.

The design team knows that at prototype design completion, the next logical step in the design process is to get back a working example of the prototype design for testing. Though this represents one logical
step to the design team, this process consists of multiple steps—components must be procured; the PCB has to be fabricated; and the parts need to be correctly attached to the PCB. How this manufacturing flow
ultimately occurs is up to the design team to select and manage.

According to our experience in cooperating with PCB design teams, we find a correlation. Professional teams turning lots of simpler designs with wide tolerances in the process window tend toward using a one-
stop supplier for the overall convenience. Professional teams whose designs require careful tuning and attention to manufacturing details tend toward managing each relationship throughout the build process,
handpicking each supplier for their strengths, abilities, and turn times. For the teams with limited budgets, price is a much more important factor than turn times when choosing PCB manufacturer. For other teams
under the urge of deadlines, fast delivery is the top priority. Of course, in all cases, the PCB must be manufactured to the design.

Requirements varies for different projects. But that doesn’t mean it is necessary to find a different supplier for each project. It is definitely a smart choice to talk with the your PCB manufacturing supplier’s customer
service, tech support, or sales teams. From these conversations, you can find how well they can respond with quality, turn times, pricing, and delivery across the whole range of your anticipated project styles. It will
help you a lot in making good decisions.

PCB fabrication, parts procurement, and assembly should be the three key themes in the conversation :

Fabricating the PCB that serves as the connection medium for all the components and connectors that make up your circuit design. While this may seem like just another “part” on the design team’s bill of materials
(BOM), this is a critical, custom-manufactured part. It requires adherence to your design parameters and can represent the most variable cost in the BOM.

These are the chips, connectors, and other parts that operate to make your circuit perform as intended. The components come from a parts distributor or retailer. The more one-stop services your manufacturing
chain supplies, the more likely they will offer the parts procurement services for you… at a price, of course.

Many design teams prefer to take a very hands-on approach with parts for their prototypes. This is neither the time nor place for parts substitutions to save cost; that step comes later. Direct involvement by the
design team requires careful attention to detail and time, but the team also eliminates a number of potential bugs in the prototype with this approach, saving time and cost in the long run.

The process of attaching components to the printed-circuit board. Depending on the design team, you may or may not have the expertise or equipment to perform this function yourself. As parts and designs get
smaller and denser, the need for an outside service becomes more indispensable.

In the process of communicating with your manufacturing chain, you should evaluate your contacts for their ability to consult on your design concerns. he more suggestions a manufacturing supplier can give you,
or help make your design optimization more efficient, the more value they provide to the design process, and that means free consultation to you.

You should know that costs don’t simply refer to the number of components used in a design. They also tie into PCB real estate and design complexity, flying probe test times, and opportunities for design-related
manufacturing issues.
3. Develop your layout to the fabricator’s “sweet spot.”

Regardless of whom you choose, your fabricator has a sweet spot—that place where designs are well inside the middle of the manufacturing process window. From this spot, minor variations in manufacturing still
keep your design well inside manufacturing capabilities, and thus increase your yields and reliability.
4. Manage prototyping costs and hidden costs.

Prototyping creates more robust designs from the first revision with proper preparation. While it may seem like a lot of useless preparation work, consider the hidden costs of a five-person design team, spending
five person-days to complete the preparations mentioned here. Such a preparatory process might save you at least one prototype spin of—you guessed it—five calendar days. Except five calendar days for a
design team of five is a total of 25 person-days.

Wrap-up

When the PCB design is simple, or far away from the current technological edge, these strategies have less impact on your design cycles. One school of thought is that, as you move to surface mounts to QFN/QFP
packages, or as you move to tight tolerances in circuit timing, then these strategies become more and more important. Of course, the other school of thought is that, as you start out, even though the designs may
be simpler, it’s the designer’s skimpy knowledgebase that needs more support.

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Tips on Product Design and Manufacturing for Hardware Startups

It’s no secret that the hardware revolution is upon us. More developers and companies than ever before are interested in rolling up their sleeves and producing real, tangible things – and that’s good news for everyone. The past years see significant increase in the numbers of hardware startups. Some excellent resources have popped up in the last year or two. Portfolio executives at electronics hardware startups would be remiss not to consider evaluating a contract product design or contract manufacturing partner during the early stages of developing their company product.

Startup and early stage companies outsource many services to conserve the rate at which they burn cash while on the path to reaching break even or becoming cash positive. Startup product portfolio companies are often encouraged by venture capital investors to increase scope and depth of expertise but not to put much of the required investment to do so ahead of earning revenues.

Typically, by the time Series B funding occurs, many portfolio company executives (focused on the objective of bringing a manufacturing product to market) have finished most of their product prototype work and are beginning to think about product manufacturing and related production issues.
Below is a tech product startup company rolling operations plan. While not comprehensive, the plan does include many startup company product manufacturing activities and components for executives to consider when bringing a hardware-based product to market.
Startup executives can refer to this plan to help them review internal depth and scope capabilities against anticipated company capability requirements so they may then determine at what point it may make sense to consider evaluating and engaging a contract product design partner or contract manufacturing partner.

Startup company inception to first three months (critical period)

-Determine cohesiveness of startup’s product development teams
-Gain clear understanding of startup executive team and what near and long-term goals are
-Weekly status-to-plan review (followed by setting up monthly budget-to-plan review)
-Coordinate product assurance group strategy to ensure field requirements are met
-Ensure printed circuit board assemblies (PCBA) are laid-out efficiently for integrated circuit test (ICT) with clearly-defined test points (can the test software do troubleshooting?)
-Ensure startup is well-positioned to sell its operational capability to startup customer base

Manufacturing infrastructure needs (mid-term):

-Establish product manufacturing and operations strategy
-Review current outsource contract manufacturing contracts / relation structure for alpha, beta, and new product introduction (NPI) requirements
-Identify product quality control strategy
-Establish component tracking system, including determining what components need to be tracked and how they are tracked; create and learn to manage an approved vendor list (AVL)
-Identify startup support needs; align startup strategies accordingly to ensure timely implementation of manufacturing and quality control strategy
-Define and help install document control system and engineering change order (ECO) system
-Budget planning process to help establish the correct basis budget for startup operations
-Identify additional team members required against startup company needs
-Guide testing strategy for product printed circuit board and module and systems level (where applicable)
-Develop product quality focus group
-Review existing suppliers and target alternate suppliers – to establish supplier fit
-Identify list of strategic suppliers for the product (meet with each, where appropriate, to evangelize the product to establish ‘mind-share’ with strategic vendors)
-Review current contract design or contract manufacturing partners low-volume contract service agreements
-Define twelve to eighteen month timetable more clearly
Long-term manufacturing needs: (all long-term needs in parallel)

-Begin relations with contract design house or contract manufacturing providers
-Begin request for proposal and request for quote (RFP and RFQ) process; developing quote kits for contract design and contract manufacturing providers to be considered
-Begin on-going development of scope and depth for program management activity (for efficient management of eventual program migration)
-Startup to within six months
-On-going evaluation and development of company scope and depth for product program management activity
-Contract manufacturing and contract design company site visits (determine proper fit of management teams and service offerings with startup Company business model)
-Send current revision (generation) product packages to contract design and contract manufacturing companies for quoting and to better illustrate the product’s design for manufacturing needs; while simultaneously communicating the Company’s business model to contract design and contract manufacturers deemed appropriate

Mid-term manufacturing needs:

-Implementation of final and mature product manufacturing plan close to completion (review of final documentation for preparation for volume manufacturing)
-Determine the structure of bull of materials (BOM) and product cost model in conjunction with finance
-Product-test plan in place (including working with vendors to build test fixtures
-Discuss developing cost-reductions program with current contract manufacturing partners
-Depending on production build requirements, oversee transition to alternative mid-term and long-term contract manufacturing partners to enhance Company’s ability to execute internally and in anticipation of increased product demand in the marketplace
-Establish plan to enable scalable and reliable manufacturing volume ramps
-Increase production levels to limited volume production approaching general customer availability
-Complete product reliability packaging
-Establish supply chain management requirements and inventory levels and logistics strategies
-Work with product marketing on product launch and packaging needs while being aware of NPI TTM challenges

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