Creating an Effective PCB Development Process

Whether you are just starting out in engineering or PCB development or making a mid-career change, one of the topics that always comes up during the interview process is collaboration. Although it may be presented in a number of ways, the interviewer ultimately wants to know how well you work with others. For a cohesive and effective working environment, this interpersonal skill is probably just as important as your individual design talents.

For PCB development, collaboration extends beyond the doors of your organization. In fact, the quality of your fabricated and assembled boards depends on your choice of PCB manufacturing services. Obviously, the capabilities of the equipment and techniques used are a major factor; however, the efficiency of the PCB development process is determined more by the effectiveness of your collaboration with your contract manufacturer (CM). By exploring the manufacturing stages of design, build, and test in terms of effectiveness, you will more clearly see the importance of collaboration with your CM to your PCB development process.

The Stages of the PCB Development Process

The PCB development process consists of three stages: design ⇒ build ⇒ test. For prototyping, typically the central focus of PCB development, this sequence is repeated and the design is continually refined until all errors are removed and performance validated. This iteration cycle is essential to achieving the best design. However, let’s examine these stages individually, in the usual order of operation.

  • Design

This initial stage includes drawing the schematic, selecting components, creating the PCB layout, and generating the design file(s), while BOM defines the intent of the design.

  • Build

During this stage, which follows design, your board is constructed. This is a two-step procedure that consists of board fabrication and PCB assembly. The result is the physical manifestation of your design.

  • Test

Once your board is built, PCB design testing needs to be done. First, operation and performance must be checked. Once the functionality is confirmed, regulatory compliance may need to be assured through additional testing.

The objective of the PCB development process is to transform your design into a quality product that reliably performs as intended. There are many forms or embodiments of the PCB development process that may result in you meeting this design objective; however, arriving at a solution does not necessarily mean the best or most effective path was taken.

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Effective PCB Development Process Implementation

In most cases, PCB development is not an unconstrained process. Most likely, there are some time and cost constraints to mandate an efficient board development process. And if your design is intended to be used for a critical system like aerospace, medical devices or automotive, then there are strict regulatory standards that must also be met. These additional standards primarily deal with quality and require testing. Now, let’s review the PCB development process again. This time, we will shine a light on key methods and how they can be made more effective, as shown in the table below.

Choose components without consulting outside sources, such as suppliers and CM (if turnkey PCB manufacturing) Component selection Use real-time component availability data to avoid shortages

Source from reputable suppliers to guard against counterfeit components

Design layout based on common industry specifications and tolerances PCB layout Consult and utilize your CM’s DFM guidelines to ensure specifications are within their equipment capabilities
Use ECAD default export or Gerber files Design and BOM file generation Export design to your CM’s preferred design and BOM formats to reduce the possibility of errors
Select materials, solder mask, silkscreen, copper weights, layer stackup without consulting with your CM Board fabrication Consult with CM about board materials to ensure your design is buildable or if alternatives may be more cost-effective
Set component placement and spacing based on industry standards and forego thermal analysis and panelization design PCB assembly Consult with your CM about soldering techniques and depanelization to maximize assembly efficiency and reduce costs
Perform all testing in-house without CM support. Design testing Utilize production logs and recommendations from your CM.

As shown in the table, the more effective PCB development process is attained by collaborating with your CM at key points in the process. In fact, for the best PCB development, you should begin this collaboration early in the design stage and maintain an open and transparent relationship throughout. This strategy is known as the white box approach to PCB design and manufacturing that brings the designer and factory together to optimize the PCB development process.

Instituting this collaborative approach is not linear. In fact, by understanding downstream design intent and manufacturing requirements and constraints, actions can be taken earlier in the process to improve efficiency and produce a better result. This benefits of this type of approach are multiplied for agile manufacturing and concurrent engineering, where all participants provide input and gain insights that can be implemented for improvement of the overall process.

Tempo‘s Custom PCB Manufacturing Service
  • ISO-9001, IPC-600 and IPC-610 commitment to quality certifications.
  • Accurate quote in less than 1 day.
  • Performs entire turnkey process in as fast as 3 days.
  • Emphasizes DFM to eliminate time-consuming back-and-forth design corrections.
  • Sources components from the most reputable suppliers in the industry to reduce procurement time.
  • Performs multiple automated inspections during assembly to ensure PCB quality for prototyping.
  • Provides support throughout the PCB manufacturing process, beginning with design.
  • Smooth transition from prototyping to production.

Tempo Automation will help you get started on the best path by furnishing information for your DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on the PCB development process or how to improve the efficiency of your process, contact us.

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