How to Ease the Transition from Prototype to High Volume PCB Production

July 17, 2018 , in Blog

Many people say that life is full of ups and downs and in my experience, this certainly seems to be the case. Life is full of inflection points, many of which occur during transitional periods. For instance, transitioning from school to the workforce usually results in increased income; transitioning from the workforce to retirement, on the other hand, typically involves a decrease. Regardless of the specific transition, the primary objective is to make the change as easy and painless as possible.

In electronic product development, the most significant transition occurs when shifting from prototyping to PCB production. Although the base unit essentially remains constant between prototype PCB manufacturing and high volume PCB production, the individual processes are unique and involve specific objectives. Being aware of differences in objectives can help engineers and PCB designers choose the best contract manufacturer (CM) for each stage of product development. Understanding how these manufacturing processes differ also helps ease the transition from prototype to high volume PCB production.

Prototype PCB Manufacturing

The general objective of prototype PCB manufacturing is to produce small quantities of PCBs that can be used to validate the design by facilitating the testing of the system’s operation and performance. To meet this objective, the prototype PCB manufacturing process should include the following attributes.

Attributes of Prototype PCB Manufacturing

  • Fast – Speed is important, as prototyping usually requires multiple iterations before the final design is nailed down.
  • Flexible – Prototype CMs should be able to accommodate multiple design formats, work with all component types (i.e. SMDs and through-holes, micro SMDs, etc.) and be capable of meeting board requirements (i.e. custom, module-based, rigid, flex, rigid-flex).
  • High quality – CMs should not only employ quality control (QC) but also meet various QC standards requirements.
  • Testing – The ability to incorporate testing protocols like continuity, impedance and component verification (thereby assisting the designer with operational verification and security) are definite assets.

In the first stage of board manufacture, it is imperative to correct any design issues that may negatively impact PCB development or the PCB’s ability to perform as desired throughout its lifecycle. To fulfill these requirements while providing fast turnaround times, it is important to incorporate good design for manufacturing (DFM) techniques based on your CM’s equipment capabilities and processes.

High Volume PCB Production

The general objective for high volume PCB production is to efficiently and reliably produce high-quality PCBs. For high volume production, it is assumed that the design, components, functionality and operation have been verified during the prototyping phase of development.  Therefore, the primary attributes are based on efficiency and cost.

Attributes of High Volume PCB Production

  • Reliable – Reliability is one of the primary attributes of high volume PCB production. The process must be able to deliver a large number of identical boards at a high yield (usability rate) over multiple runs and over time.
  • Testing – The ability to perform quality assurance (QA) tests is necessary.
  • Cost-effective – Due to the high number of units, per unit cost needs to be reasonable. In fact, consumers typically regard per unit cost as a major determinant of overall board price.

Prototype PCB manufacturing and high volume PCB production clearly have different objectives and attributes. As a result, transitioning a design from prototype to production may require several changes, including transitioning between CMs, as most PCB manufacturers specialize in either prototyping or high volume production.

Transitioning from Prototype to High Volume PCB Production

For optimal product development, it is ideal to transition directly and seamlessly from prototyping to production. Nevertheless, in most cases, the transition is far from seamless and may instead be quite challenging. For example, during prototype PCB manufacturing, it is not uncommon for the CM to have to make adjustments to design files to facilitate the manufacture of your boards, resulting in a more accurate set of as-built design files. The absence of these files may necessitate engineering change orders (ECOs) that can be time-consuming and costly before production. Escalating to high-volume PCB production can be painful for this and several other reasons, including:

  • Design files – The new CM may need additional design files or files in a different format from the prototype manufacturer.
  • Equipment or process variation – Your production CM may not be able to build your boards to the same specifications utilized by your prototype CM.
  • Component changes – It is not uncommon for components to be unavailable even after a design has already gone into production. These shortages may be caused by obsolescence, which can occur when component manufacturers institute replacements based on technological advances.
  • Design changes –  Once a product is in the field, operational inadequacies or underperformance may require redesign and re-prototyping.

These issues may significantly delay high volume production or even necessitate design revisions that could halt production until they are satisfactorily addressed. As you may have to change CMs when transitioning from prototype to high volume production, it may not always be possible to avoid all issues. However, by implementing certain guidelines during product development, you can significantly ease the transition from prototype to high volume production.

How to Ease the Transition from Prototype to High Volume PCB Production

One of the best ways to ensure that the potentially painful transition from PCB prototyping to PCB production manufacturing is as smooth as possible is to select a prototyping CM that will collaborate with you to create the best final prototype design along with as-built design files that will eliminate the need for ECOs that can slow down the production of your boards.

Tempo‘s Custom PCB Manufacturing Service

  • 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 is the leader in fast, high-quality turnkey PCB prototype manufacturing. With an open and transparent “white box” approach to PCB manufacturing, Tempo incorporates equipment capabilities and processes into your design process to ensure that you receive high-quality boards that meet your specific design requirements. To ensure an easy transition from prototyping to high volume PCB production, we also create compatible files, suggest design modifications and provide continuous support.

And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM 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 PCB production or how to easily transition from prototype manufacturing to high volume PCB production, contact us.

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