The key to success in the electronics market is being able to supply business and consumer needs with new products that are designed to fulfill those needs. This requires marketing and engineering expertise that targets what’s needed to plan and design the right products at the right time. Another important part of that process is being able to get new electronic product prototypes built quickly and at the highest levels of quality.
Getting a PCB prototyped with speed and precision is an intricate process to manage because the design must also be prepared for eventual long-term production. Balancing the electrical performance and the manufacturability needs of the board requires a lot from both the PCB designer and the manufacturer during the prototype phase. Here are some of the requirements that you should be familiar with so your board can progress successfully through the rapid PCB prototyping phase of its development.
How Can You be Prepared for Your Prototype Project to be Built?
When building a printed circuit board, there are a few things that you should complete before you submit your design for prototyping:
- Proof of concept: A design proof of concept must be fully developed with the circuitry already tested on a breadboard or through simulation. With the circuitry verified on your POC, you’ll spend minimal time testing the prototype, saving on expenses, and possibly additional redesigns.
- Ready for manufacturing: Your PCB layout should be complete and ready for manufacturing, including adherence to the design for manufacturing (DFM) requirements. You’ll probably be making board changes to a prototype design to incorporate minor corrections and enhancements, and the last thing you want is to completely redesign the board for mass-production. This would consume more time and expense, and likely require another prototype to re-verify the testing.
- Good component choices: Many times a prototype design is rushed through production to test the functionality of the circuitry. Such a choice is understandable but can create problems if care wasn’t taken in selecting the components for the board. For circuit boards that will be mass-produced for a long period, they must have PCB components that won’t be discontinued unexpectedly. Finding secondary market replacements for components that have gone end of life (EOL), or redesigning the board to accept new parts can be expensive and time-consuming.
- Complete documentation: Make sure that your PCB design is well-documented for its fabrication and assembly, including a complete bill of materials (BOM). This will mitigate delays or manufacturing mistakes and give the contract manufacturer something to work with if new documentation needs to be generated later.
With these main steps in place, you will be ready to have your circuit board built. The next step is to find a good CM to work with for your rapid PCB prototype.
The Characteristics of a Rapid PCB Prototyping Vendor that You Should Look For
While the basic steps of building a circuit board remain the same, CMs that specialize in rapid prototyping will have seasoned processes for building PCBs. Here are some of those processes that you should look for when selecting a rapid PCB prototyping vendor:
- Reputation for prototyping: You should work with a CM that is known for its prototyping capabilities. Not every PCB CM can build quality prototypes and it’s not worth wasting time or budget on a non-prototype vendor. Make sure to consider what the CM is certified to work on if you are developing prototypes for medical equipment or other industry-specific electronics.
- A network of business partners: One of the keys to getting a prototype built rapidly is the network of business partners that the CM works with. These include the raw board fabricators, materials suppliers, and component manufacturers and distributors. The best PCB prototype CMs will have a vast network of these vendors to choose from so your board is built as quickly as possible.
- Engineering capabilities: Even with a good design, there may be problems uncovered during prototyping requiring a quick change. A good rapid prototype vendor will have an engineering staff ready to intercede with any problems whether they be mechanical, electrical, or component related.
- Able to transition to production: As we have stated earlier, one of the goals in PCB prototyping is to build a mass-production ready board. This will help you to easily transition from prototype to full production when the project is ready. To help with this, the PCB CM should have the capabilities to spot and correct manufacturing and component life cycle problems that could affect long-term production.
Fortunately, you won’t have to look too far, as there are plenty of local PCB CMs that can handle the prototyping you need.
A Local PCB Contract Manufacturer that Has the Capabilities You Need
There are many advantages to using local PCB CMs as opposed to larger offshore production facilities. They can respond much faster to prototype requests, even during difficult times such as the COVID-19 pandemic. While many larger offshore facilities are shutting down or experiencing delays in components or shipping, local manufacturers are still able to produce products.
VSE has remained open and producing diagnostic equipment to help with the fight against the virus. This work was needed very quickly, and our team was ready to get the job done. Our high-mix low-volume production business model not only helps us to respond quickly to unique situations like this but also lends itself especially well to the prototyping work we do for customers like you.