Giving Engineering Visibility into the Manufacturing Process

December 21, 2020 , in Blog

Many electronics engineers have an “I’ll know it when I see it” way of spotting issues with prototype circuit boards. However, when working with a contract manufacturer for PCBA, there is nothing to “see”, and as a result, not much insight on why a board was or will be complex to manufacture. This is why PCBA manufacturing often gets referred to as a black box — traditionally the engineer will not hear anything about the details of their board build until the order is shipped back. In today’s climate it is even more challenging for engineers to get the visibility that they need into manufacturer operations and the status of their order. Travel restrictions, rolling stay-at-home orders, and reduced onsite workforces have limited the engineer’s ability to visit factories and test facilities, which further complicates the debugging and testing of boards.

Open communication between the CM and the engineering team has become more essential than ever; a CM that doesn’t provide reliable, continuous access to the design leaves room for error and extends project timelines instead of streamlining them.

Tempo leverages a software-driven digital thread to increase visibility into the status of an engineer’s project, the timeline and expected delivery date, and the different configurations needed to produce boards, so that engineers can be sure that their project is staying on track. This software allows Tempo to easily combine rich data and visuals, and report directly into the engineer for approval, filling the gap between engineer and Tempo that typically hinders and elongates the manufacturing process with a traditional CM.

Tempo also uses this software-driven process to automatically interpret the engineer’s design and program it directly into the factory to manufacture it. As a result, engineers achieve the high quality, reliability, and speed that they need to succeed. Compared to the normative black-box approach, this open communication allows engineers to fully track the details of their board build, so they can have confidence in achieving first-time-right success.

Example of the Tempo order tracker, one of Tempo’s many tools for transparency & traceability.

The Tools for Transparency & Traceability

Fabrication Simulation

Tempo has developed proprietary software that creates a Fabrication Simulation, also known as a ‘board visualizer’ tool, that gives engineers the ability to see and examine a manufacturing-aware representation of the PCB before they commit to manufacture.

The simulation shows a photorealistic view of the outer layers, including silkscreen, soldermask, surface finish, and top or bottom copper. This provides engineers with an intuitive view of the board as if it was in their hands. Fabrication Simulation leverages software automation to unify traditionally disparate manufacturing data into an easy-to-understand visual preview. In the traditional CM industry, this level of transparency does not exist; engineers can only submit a design, hope for the best, and then fix problems once they have the board. But with a software-based approach, specific material layers that make up the PCB are simulated, intelligently overlaying the component placement information from the BOM.

Production Forensics & Order Traceability

During the prototyping process, boards will typically go through several iterations. With added traceability, engineers can identify specific issues, often related to the board’s materials or design, and make changes before the product goes live into production.

Granular traceability for PCB design is critical, as it helps to narrow the scope and determine the root cause of a board failure. When something goes wrong in the field, engineers need to be able to adjust for improvement, but this can only be done when there is highly granular traceability. For industries and high-risk environments where first-time-right success is critical such as aerospace electronics and medical device technology, it is even more essential for engineers to have the ability to make component or design changes based on real-time data analytics.

Each and every part and component are tracked in Tempo’s database, along with its batch, lot, origination, and other important material information, so traceability begins even before the moment a CAD is uploaded and parts are ordered. This system tracks manufacturing data and materials that are used throughout the entire board build process, creating a comprehensive forensics data package that can pinpoint any issue with the board’s parts. Then, when the assembled board is handed back to a customer, if there were problems with the manufacturing process, such as the solder is too weak, Tempo knows exactly what happened.

By using a software-focused solution for PCBA that enables the identification of potential flaws in the design and the specific location of these flaws, engineers can be confident in their ability to review their design with board-level and component-level traceability.  

The data gleaned using Tempo’s simulation and tracking systems can feed into another tool offered by Tempo: production forensic reports. These defect reports give engineers an X-Ray report of the assembled PCB with analysis on why something might have failed and suggestions for improvement and changes to yield better results.

Tempo Order Tracker

With a traditional PCBA factory, it is near-impossible to achieve the level of transparency needed for first-time-right board builds. Tempo recognized that customers want to see exactly where their order is throughout the entire process, and developed the Order Tracker feature that works in the same way that other digital shipping status trackers do.

The Order Tracker shows the board order in each step of the assembly and build process. From the initial DFM (design for manufacturing) review, to parts and fabrication check-in, to assembly, to a final QA check, engineers are kept abreast of the status of their build and are given full transparency into the timeline and expected delivery date, so they can be sure that their project is staying on track.

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.

For many of our customers, Tempo is a support system — a development partner that makes the design-for-manufacturing process more seamless and successful. It is this vision that propelled the origin of Tempo. At Tempo, all of the information used to interpret your design, program the machines in the factory, and provide operational data at every point in the production line accompanies and manages your order throughout its progress through the factory and is shared with you via our tools to deliver better visibility, traceability and transparency to each build.

If you’re trying to navigate the electronics manufacturing process, especially amidst the continuously evolving implications of COVID-19, it’s essential to find a CM that has efficient and transparent communication methods that allow you to keep up with the process. CMs who can leverage a software-driven iteration, transparent DMF tools, and open communication via a digital thread are the right fit to support bringing innovations to market with minimal roadblocks.

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