Good, Fast or Cheap: In PCB Prototyping, All Three are a Reach
The hoary “fast, good, or cheap” triangle maintains that any project can have two out of the three qualities, but only at the expense of the third. Possibility is not the same as promise, however: you can throw a lot of money at a project without guaranteeing that it will be either fast or good. This has always been evident in quick-turn printed circuit board assembly (PCBA). Prototyping circuit boards is typically both expensive and highly uncertain – and as a result, it’s often not even fast.
In traditional PCB manufacturing, electronics engineers have little to no visibility into prototype production, and along the way there are multiple opportunities for human error. As the DFM study is completed; as designs are interpreted and programmed into the equipment on the factory floor; as components are sourced and alternative FAB materials identified as necessary – deviations from the original intent can creep in, while opportunities to make positive adjustments slip by unnoticed. Not only do the engineers not have a clear timeline, but upon delivery, whenever that may be, the completed order has an invisible history, obscuring the source of any issues. These issues, if uncovered later and left uncorrected, could negatively impact board quality and yield rate.
This opacity often leads to a prolonged trial and error process, where the PCBA design and manufacture process must go through multiple iterations before a successful board is produced. It may be impossible for a project to be good, fast, and cheap, but traditional PCBA prototype manufacturing proves that it’s certainly possible to be none of the above.
A printed circuit board is only good if it’s right, and it’s only fast if it’s right the first time. This goal – being first-time-right – is a must for mission critical manufacturing, but it requires unprecedented transparency. Tempo Automation’s propriety software and automation process removes opportunities for human error and optimizes design and production while illuminating the “black box” of traditional fast-turn circuit board manufacturing.
Removing Opportunities for Error
Traditional PCBA is hamstrung by failure to communicate. This model relies on analog data that does not fully capture the design intent of the engineer. That intent must instead be inferred, often by different people at each stage of build. Each new interpretation has the potential to introduce errors.
Digital documentation has outstripped the limitations of analog drawings. eCAD tools can contain rich metadata fully documenting design intent that cannot be translated to traditional mediums. Instead of interpreting and recreating an engineer’s drawings, Tempo’s proprietary software uses computational geometry to extract all the data from the digital source files and directly input the design into the Tempo platform.
The Tempo platform is aware of not just the eCAD data, but also the fabrication material properties and factory machine tolerances. This information is synthesized in order to simulate actual fabrication in advance of the build, enabling the identification of potential improvements before production even begins. This method removes the risks of mistaken interpretation, version control, or missed details associated with traditional manufacturing, increasing the odds of a first-time-right build. Tempo’s approach is not just better, though – it’s faster too.
Optimizing Design and Production
When source documents are submitted to Tempo, the company’s proprietary software automatically performs a feature extraction, which allows it to produce the DFM study including both feasibility and any suggested component replacements; a Bill of Materials (BOM) and quote; and a photorealistic rendering of the completed PCB. Tempo produces this documentation not in a matter of weeks or days, but hours.
The BOM Tempo produces is not a static document, but a real-time supply chain monitoring and management tool. Tempo tracks the status and capacity of close to 200 component suppliers, from raw materials to last-mile delivery. Any disruption in the supply chain is detected in real time; Tempo’s deep network of suppliers enables appropriate alternative FAB materials to be sourced rapidly.
Once the order is approved, Tempo software automatically programs the machines in Tempo Automation’s smart factory production line within a matter of minutes. The people on Tempo’s factory floor are updated as well. Instead of a hard copy “traveler” process checklist following the prototype through production, every employee on the factory floor receives a “digital traveler” on their mobile device that both details the process and alerts them if something needs attention. All Tempo Automation factory workers have a shared awareness of the design intent, process, and progress of any given PCB in production. This prevents siloing and uninformed judgement while ensuring efficiency, enabling Tempo to produce PCBAs that are right the first time in less time.
Illuminating the “Black Box”
Eliminating assumptions wherever possible is central to achieving a first-time-right build. This is why Tempo Automation engages in radically transparent communications with its customers. The rendering that Tempo produces from the design source files is more than a pretty picture: this fab simulation is a manufacturing aware visual representation demonstrating how the software has interpreted the design. It’s also a photorealistic 3D model that engineers can inspect just as they would the completed board: what customers see when they place an order is precisely what they will get. If the PCBA doesn’t look right at the simulation stage, adjustments can still be made so that it is right the first time it’s actually assembled.
When the design is finalized and the order is approved, customers maintain total visibility into the manufacturing process from anywhere. They can view the expected delivery date and order status through Tempo Automation’s software portal and order tracker, eliminating the need for in-person site visits. This level of remote access is critical in the current restricted travel environment, and it will remain important post-pandemic as work-from-home design and engineering teams become increasingly physically dispersed. This is prototype manufacturing for how we work now and in the future.
|Tempo’s Software-Driven Smart Factory Delivers the Industry’s Leading Custom Turnkey PCBA Services for First-time-right Manufacturing
By offering customers access to an unbroken thread of rich data throughout the PCB manufacturing process, Tempo Automation creates the conditions for first-time-right builds. Customers know what Tempo is doing, when, and why: there are no false assumptions, unpleasant surprises, or missed opportunities.
At our smart factory in downtown San Francisco, we produce boards faster than anyone else in the industry. Our software automation makes “good” and “fast” attainable in PCBA manufacturing – ultimately saving customers the time and expense of multiple iterative design cycles. If you are ready for a new approach to low volume PCBA production, contact us or try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files today.
 The factory representation is conceptual and only shows the range of operation types that may be included in a smart factory and does not represent any particular industrial facility, its equipment or operations.