Detail of an electronic printed circuit board

The Advantages of Digital Twin Technology for PCBA Development

At the time that it was first published in 1905 by Albert Einstein, the theory of relativity was an enigma to virtually everyone, scientist and layman alike. Subsequently, there have been many attempts to provide an explanation or description that could be understood by anyone. The most famous of these is probably the Twin Paradox. In this example, two identical twins age differently as one travels through space and back, while the other remains on Earth. Although the trip produces a variation from their shared phenotype or physical appearance, the twins remain true to the genotype or basis for their likeness.

Once defined by the engineer or developer, the objective of PCBA manufacturing is to produce a board that is true to the basis or design intent. This intent is typically communicated to the contract manufacturer (CM) through the specifications in the design file (or package). Yet, during the actual fabrication and/or assembly it is not uncommon to find that modifications or additions to the file’s content are required, most often to make the board design manufacturable. For advanced PCBA development, a means of viewing the final board’s twin prior to manufacturing is implemented. Let’s explore how the advantages of digital twin technology are used to avoid the extended turnaround time and increased costs associated with having to do board redesigns and respins.

What is Digital Twin Technology?

Simulation has long been used in many industries to analyze the operation and/or performance of physical devices and systems prior to building and testing them. The advantages of this are well-known and include the ability to refine or improve designs, identify areas that will likely fail to meet performance objectives once embodied physically, and reduction or elimination of substantial wasted costs if indeed rebuilding is found to be necessary. Until fairly recently, this development concept was largely limited to data analytics or functionality evaluations.

Today, however, with the use of a digital twin, which is a digital or software generated replica of a physical device or process, opportunities for utilization are opening rapidly. This includes IoT systems and industrial production, where inputs are acquired from sensors or simulated to analyze signal propagation and/or process flows. The benefits of this digital twin technology can be summarized, as follows.

Benefits of Digital Twin Technology

  • Identification of potential faults and risk management
  • Improvement or enhancement of design prior to build
  • Process monitoring and refinement
  • Product or system lifecycle analysis

Similar benefits can be achieved for PCBA manufacturing. In the next section, we discuss how the advantages of digital twin technology can be realized for your board building.

Capitalizing on the Advantages of Digital Twin Technology for Electronics Development

The process of building circuit boards is somewhat unique among manufacturing operations, in that for all but very simple PCBAs, several builds or spins are typically required before the board design is ready for low or high volume production. And depending on the development process, transitioning to high volume production can be a significant challenge. This iterative prototyping process is critical to attaining high-quality PCBA designs and the speed at which boards are built and returned to the developer is a primary focal point of efforts to optimize the building of circuit boards and electronics.

One of the most advanced methods to maximize the efficiency of PCBA low-volume production or prototyping, while not sacrificing quality, is the application of digital twin technology. To fully leverage this technology, your CM should have a software-based PCB manufacturing process that exhibits the following attributes.

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Software-Based PCBA Manufacturing Attributes

  • Open and Transparent Communication

Black box manufacturing, where the developer and CM rarely collaborate and are mostly unaware of the intricacies of each other’s roles in PCBA development, is rapidly fading. Taking its place is the recognition that a symbiotic relationship between developer and CM, which is predicated on open and transparent communication and best executed in a universal data access environment, leads to the highest quality boards.

  • Comprehensive Monitoring and Control

By utilizing software to monitor and control the equipment that manufactures PCBAs, important DFM, and DFA rules and guidelines that must be followed to ensure right first time (RFT) manufacturing can be optimally applied.

  • Effective Data Supply Chain Management

In order for a software-based manufacturing process to function at the highest level, effective data supply chain management is essential. Not only does data have to be accurate and complete, but it must also be available when and where needed at all times.

The above attributes are indicative that your CM employs smart circuit board construction and is well-suited to implement digital twin technology for your board manufacturing.

Using Fabrication Simulation to Optimize Board Manufacturing Stages

Digital twin technology, at its most effective implementation, begins prior to fabrication and impacts the entire board manufacturing process. Fabrication simulation, where an idealized 3-D digital image of the board is created, is the essential first step. During this simulation, data and information provided in the design file(s) and BOM are compared and used to generate an image of the desired board design. This design is also checked for DFM and DFA compliance, design errors, and any issues that may adversely affect the board build.

Successfully passing the fabrication simulation step is the prelude to instigating fabrication, the first board manufacturing stage. Failure means the design must be modified. This preview capability inherently delivers the following advantages for each stage of the manufacturing process, as described below. 

Advantages of Digital Twin Technology for PCBA Manufacturing Stages

Manufacturing Stage Advantages
Fabrication Validate there are no board layout errors that would halt board construction or compromise the board’s reliability. 
Component Procurement Ensure components match BOM entries and footprints prior to acquisition.
Assembly Identify potential areas that are likely to yield bad solder joints, solder bridges, etc. 

The advantages listed above are not exhaustive. In fact, virtually all issues that may negatively affect the building of your board can be examined and analyzed prior to manufacturing with digital twin technology.

Tempo’s Software-Driven Smart Factory Delivers the Industry’s Leading Custom Turnkey PCBA Manufacturing Services
  • Virtual 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.
  • QC certified Agile Manufacturing process to support risk management.
  • 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.

Tempo Automation, the industry-leading manufacturer of low-volume production PCBAs and prototypes, employs digital twin technology for all designs to ensure the highest quality boards are built. Additionally, we employ a proprietary evaluation functionality to ensure that your board can be assembled as designed and selected components are actually available. Moreover, as the CM for your project, we manage the entire process via our digital thread-based at our smart-factory in Silicon Valley.

And to help you get started on the best path for your board build, 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 the advantages of digital twin technology, contact us.

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