Bringing a new electronic device to market involves an in-depth assessment of manufacturing suitability. Engineers and development teams must collaborate closely to achieve expectations balanced against the realities of manufacturing constraints. As a leader in PCB manufacturing in the Bay Area for several decades, VSE can simplify the manufacturing process for newcomers and work alongside the more seasoned to accelerate product development while emphasizing quality and reliability.
Before manufacturing begins, our engineers perform a comprehensive design review to ascertain design for manufacturing (DFM) readiness. While the focus is on the artwork, board files, and other design documents, evaluation of the cost and availability of the bill of materials (BOM)) items keep costs competitive and prevent later surprises as production ramps up. Earlier revisions or models require some design elasticity as manufacturers ensure that all elements of the board adhere to industry standards and performance expectations.
PCB Pre-Production Steps
|1||Review of BOM and schematic for NPIs. In the case of reverse-engineered boards or renewal of production with VSE as OEM, we can expand our review process to design files or the board itself.|
|2||Vetting of BOM for cost, availability, and packaging concerns.|
|3||Material selection meets impedance guidelines with input from field solvers.|
|4||Field solver data and component datasheets provide the minimum/maximum design rule values. We combine this information with our manufacturing experience to optimize DFM results.|
|5||Commencement of board layout. While design rules provide the constraints for board design, experienced layout designers ensure maximum functionality.|
From a documentation standpoint, design starts with a BOM and schematic, which combined form the logic and component list for the circuit. At the same time, board layout designers need to scour datasheets and design documents for the limiting factors of the components (e.g., frequency, rise/fall time, current/voltage requirements, via size, thermal performance, etc.) to form the design rules. Afterward, designers must use field solver software to calculate the impedance for different conductor structures (single/double-ended, microstrips/striplines). This simulation data will be critical for determining several physical parameters of the board, like the trace width and thickness of the dielectric between signal/plane layers.
While the components will be more or less spelled out in the BOM (barring adjustments for cost, availability, packaging, etc.), material selection for the printed circuit will be more ambiguous. Different factors, such as the fiberglass weave and material properties, will determine the electrical performance in terms of loss, and specialty materials meant for high-speed design may be necessary. Alternatively, the mechanical constraints of the design and form factor may require a rigid-flex or flex-printed circuit, which is a considerably more challenging and constrained manufacturing process than a rigid PCB.
The layout begins with a selection of design rules that provide the framework for the design and manufacturing of the board; as such, the process should be collaborative between the design team and the manufacturer to ensure compliance and optimal outcomes. For this reason, the first item for any new design that enters our facility is a complete design review to establish any design sections that need refinement. To us, taking ownership as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) plays a critical role in production: carefully reviewing all relevant design aspects before engaging in production avoids many common pitfalls.
After settling these items, the layout must place components and route connections for optimal performance while adhering to the design intent and rules outlined in the above processes. Sometimes, this is easier said than done: as designs become more feature-rich, their layout becomes more complex. Our experienced PCB designers balance practicality with performance, creating board designs that meet or exceed all design provisions.
After the layout and review of the design files are complete, alongside material and component sourcing, fabrication and assembly begin. NPI manufacturing is, at its core, an iterative process: multiple steps of prototyping to confirm or assuage different design goals (i.e., testing, safety, reliability, assembly, manufacturing, etc.). First, the bare board must come together through fabrication; it is the unpopulated or unassembled circuit board, and the bulk of the manufacturing work revolves around its creation.
PCB Production Steps
|1||The fabrication process builds the base of the printed circuit, whether that’s a rigid board, flex circuit, or something in between. VSE carefully manages production for high yield, quality, and timely turnarounds.|
|2||Assembly places and bonds the various components to the board. One or more soldering techniques may be necessary.|
|3||Throughout fabrication and assembly, testing is ongoing and comprehensive.|
|4||Enclosure design, cable manufacturing, and wire harness routing finalize electronic box builds.|
Because PCB manufacturing is such an involved production, testing is necessary throughout to ascertain quality; a bare board that fails to fulfill specific criteria is subject to rework in the case of correctable issues or rendered scrap if not. Significant delays incurred from rework/scrap are unpredictable cost adders and can delay production deadlines – an unacceptable outcome for production-level runs. To minimize the effects of production defects, a quality management system (QMS) oversees all aspects of manufacturing. Accreditations like ISO 9001 form the basis of an enterprise’s quality control strategy. VSE has many industry-specific accreditations and certifications like ISO 13485 and ITAR to meet the various obligations for electronic devices across many industries.
Following fabrication, the board is ready for assembly. While a much more compact process than fabrication, defects introduced at this stage are magnified due to the resources spent fabricating the bare board. Assembly must weigh multiple soldering methods – reflow, wave, or by trained technicians – based on cost, temperature, and component packaging size and suitability. It’s entirely possible that two methods, usually one of reflow/wave soldering and hand soldering, may be appropriate. The quality of the solder bond is equivalent to the quality of the assembly; investigative techniques like X-ray or visual inspection (with and without magnification) will assure the reliability of the PCBA for the duration of its service life.
While a PCBA that passes assembly inspection is a finished product, manufacturing may still be incomplete. Electronic systems often require additional design elements, namely the enclosure and any interfacing cabling, to protect the board from contaminants and environmental damage. While many manufacturers can offer fabrication and assembly turnkey production, VSE offers total peace of mind with start-to-finish box builds that synchronize thermal, mechanical, and electrical demands for durable and reliable electronic devices.
For PCB manufacturing in the Bay Area, the best results come from carefully considered designs, where all aspects of production impact receive careful consideration for quick turnaround times and competitive costs. VSE has built its position as a leading NPI manufacturer in San Jose for over forty years, and we’re proud to stand by the results of our life-saving and life-changing products. Coupled with our high-volume manufacturing facility in Reno, we provide our customers with all-inclusive PCBA manufacturing at any stage of product development.
If you are looking for a CM that prides itself on its care and attention to detail to ensure that each PCB assembly is built to the highest standards, look no further than VSE. Contact us today to learn more about partnering with us for your next project.