Digital Thread Manufacturing: Software-based PCBA Development

June 2, 2020 , in Blog

The significance of some inventions is temporary. For a brief period of time, they are tremendously beneficial, yet something else soon comes along to replace them and the idea or process is relegated to the historical footnotes. Other inventions are unbounded by time. One of these timeless innovations is the loom whose origin cannot be precisely pinpointed; however, estimates place this milestone at least 7000 years ago. Instead of fading into oblivion, this thread manufacturing invention that began as a manual device for a single operator has steadily advanced over the millennia, surpassing a speed of 2100 rpm in recent years.

Modern thread weaving equipment

Short-term inventions can be helpful; however, much more useful are ideas or processes that are broadly transformative and provide a solution that may be applied to multiple temporary problems over time. One such innovation is Digital Thread Manufacturing, which is an advanced method of production that bridges the gap between design and manufacturing that has plagued circuit board and electronics development almost since the beginning. This process, in conjunction with a white box PCBA manufacturing approach, provides insulation against temporary issues and events that can sideline your board production process. Let’s see exactly how to realize the many advantages of Digital Thread Manufacturing.

What is Digital Thread Manufacturing?

Unlike the cloth thread(s) linking different parts of a loom, Digital Thread Manufacturing (DTM) does not rely on a physical connection between major process equipment. Instead, a “digital thread” or communications network provides interconnectivity between the various systems and users involved in the manufacturing process. Specifically, Digital Thread Manufacturing can be defined as below:

Digital Thread Manufacturing (DTM) is the utilization of digital communications technology, devices and protocols to link the manufacturing process principles and equipment to enable real-time monitoring and control of a product throughout the process

Principals, which may include designers, technicians, managers, and others, may be located in a single factory or spread across different facilities at various locations. Equipment includes all devices that contain, generate, modify, process, or transfer any physical element of the product or data and information related to its manufacture. Now, let’s see how DTM is applied to PCBA development and the advantages that it provides.

Advanced PCBA Development with Digital Thread Manufacturing

The concept of DTM is relatively speaking, still in its infancy. And its application to actual manufacturing processes does require that certain standards and protocols be well-defined. For example, information and data formats must be specified and utilized by communicating entities. This presents a challenge for the PCB industry as there is an ever-growing groundswell among contract manufacturers (CMs) to move away from the Gerber file pseudo-standard to a more reliable and comprehensive single-file format; such as Digital Product Model Exchange (DPMX) or IPC-2581. In spite of the challenges, DTM is being implemented to improve the building and circuit boards, as shown below.

Modern thread weaving equipment

PCBA Digital Thread Manufacturing

In the figure above, a model of DTM with the assembler as the hub is shown. For turnkey PCB manufacturing, which illustrates the digitally connected internal processes at the assembly factory, the board designer, fabricator, and component supplier(s) are all located remotely. The use of geolocation renders proximity irrelevant to the PCBA manufacturing process. Therefore, you are always able to have your boards produced even in the face of events such as restricted movement. The list below enumerates many of the advantages of PCBA DTM.

Advantages of Digital Thread Manufacturing

  • Process control

DTM allows for the institution of full process control, which translates into faster identification of potential issues and better yields.

  • Real-time monitoring

Knowing where and what stage a product is in real-time streamlines operation and minimizes delays and downtime.

  • Improved collaboration

DTM helps facilitate white-box manufacturing, which depends upon open and transparent communication.

  • Agility

Today, board changes may become necessary at any time, and agile manufacturing (i.e. the ability to quickly institute changes with minimal cost increase and no loss of quality) is often required. DTM supports this capability by expanding the ease of data and information exchange.

  • Cost-effective

The use of cloud reduces costs for data processing and storage. Moreover, the ability to identify and mitigate risks, as well as respond to design changes quicker saves time and avoids waste.

Tempo’s Software-Driven Smart Factory Delivers the Industry’s Leading Custom Turnkey PCBA Manufacturing Services
  • On-demand PCBA Contract manufacturing.
  • Rapid, accurate quotes.
  • DFM support from Day 1 of design.
  • Digital Thread Processing with real-time monitoring.
  • Fastest turnaround times in the industry to maximize ROI.
  • Standard and Advanced QC testing.
  • Worry-free supply chain continuity.
  • Specialization in rapid prototyping and low-volume production.
  • PCBA development optimization for complex critical system industries like Aerospace, Medical Devices, Automotive, and Industrial.

The ability to continue PCBA manufacturing unabated is in many cases essential, especially in the current moment. Working with a CM like Tempo Automation that employs Digital Thread Manufacturing enables you to meet this and other challenges that would otherwise hamper or cause you to halt operations.

And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium Designer or Cadence Allegro user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software. For Mentor Pads or other design packages, we furnish DRC information in other CAD formats and Excel.

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 digital thread manufacturing, contact us.

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