How to Maximize the Efficiency of Your Low Volume Custom PCB Production Process

October 23, 2019 , in Blog

Fear of change can be paralyzing. It can cause a great idea to lay dormant and never be realized or delay a potentially life-changing action from being implemented. If you’re like me, you can probably recall an example or two of how the apprehension of doing or trying something new resulted in a loss of an opportunity or reward. Of course, simply altering your course for the sake of changing is foolhardy. Instead, following a custom plan that includes instituting promising changes will more often than not lead you to success.

A custom path

Although there are indeed specific steps that are common for all PCB development and production, each board design follows a custom path. Functional objectives, types, and numbers of components, board materials and stackup, number of prototyping iterations, testing requirements and production levels all may vary from design to design. Differences are even more profound for industries; such as for medical devices, aerospace, or advanced industrial systems, which are typically specialized designs produced in low volumes. Let’s take a look at low-volume production and some of the types of products that require custom boards, then see how we can maximize the efficiency for low volume custom PCB production.

Low-Volume PCBA Production

There is a common misconception that PCB manufacturing and PCB production are synonymous. Although they are often used interchangeably they are more accurately defined as follows:

PCBA manufacturing is a two-step process that consists of fabrication: converting raw materials (e.g. laminates, substrates, solder masking, etc.) into a printed circuit board and assembly: the mounting or attaching of electronic components to the printed circuit board through a soldering process. The entire process consists of well-defined steps that transform the design, which is defined by a design package that includes board layout and materials, a list of components and other directives, into a physical embodiment to perform the functional objectives. PCBA manufacturing may be used to create proof-of-concept, prototype or finished boards.

PCBA production is the implementation of the PCBA manufacturing process to create a finished printed circuit board assembly. The finished board is often utilized in a production process for a more complex system. There are two types of PCBA production: low-volume and high-volume.

High-volume PCBA manufacturing and high-volume PCBA production can be viewed as the same process, which is probably the major source of confusion between manufacturing and production, since the result of both processes are finished products that may number in the thousands or higher. For low-volume, this is not the case as all PCBAs are not intended for end-users or sale. For example, during development, it is common for several PCBA manufacturing prototype iterations to be necessary to achieve the best design quality and numbers may be in the tens or dozens for each board spin. For low-volume production, the numbers may be in the hundreds or considerably less depending on what products they are used in. Some examples are given below.

Types of Products

Types of Custom BoardsIndustry

Satellite monitoring and control, communications, CubeSats

Radiation hardened, flexible, highly reliable

Aerospace
Laboratory test equipmentHigh-speed, very small, highly reliable

Medical Devices

Robotics, process control, power distribution

High power, high temperature resistant, durable

Advanced Industrial

The table above does not include all products that may utilize custom boards produced in low volumes. However, it does provide common examples of low volume production processes that typically include custom designs, which enables us to define ways to make the production process more efficient.

Efficient Low Volume Custom PCB Production

Efficient low-volume PCB production can be defined as building boards to achieve the maximum yield rate, shortest turnaround and best cost. These objectives can be met by doing the following:

  • How to reach the highest yield rate

The yield rate is the ratio of usable boards to boards produced. The rate can be maximized by employing good design guidelines, which includes following your CM’s DFM rules and optimizing the design quality during prototyping.

  • How to receive the shortest turnaround for your boards

A standard metric of a good PCB production process is the speed at which your boards are built. However, speed cannot be used as an offset for quality. Therefore, your choice of fabrication and assembly services is critical to ensure that you optimize both of these key metrics.

  • How to attain the best cost

Achieving the lowest cost is not necessarily the best choice for low-volume custom PCB production; however, achieving the best cost is. This is realized by weighing the time and cost tradeoffs of your board’s manufacture and ensuring your CM delivers the highest quality boards with the lowest yield rate.

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.

At Tempo Automation, we specialize in low-volume custom PCB production and prototyping. In fact, we lead the industry in turnaround time and work with many leaders in aerospace, medical devices and other industries that require customized, fast board production.

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 custom PCB production, contact us.

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