The Keys to Good Prototype Circuit Board Assembly Design

In my humble opinion, one of the most entertaining movie series of all time is the Matrix trilogy. It has everything including superior special effects, a superhero, Neo, a supervillain, Mr. Smith (or Mr. Smiths), a love story where the man and woman each save the other’s life, an epic struggle between the human spirit and machine efficiency, and the ultimate sacrifice of laying one’s life down in order to save others. As if this wasn’t enough, there is also an oracle and a character who is able to create the right key to unlock any door. Unless you have an oracle at your disposal, having the right key (or keys) offers the best chance of success for most endeavors.

When the objective is producing the most reliable electronics product of the highest quality, PCB success hinges on the development process. Specifically, this involves employing design steps to optimize PCB manufacturing. For board fabrication, optimization is similar for all manufacturing stages. Printed circuit board assembly (PCBA), however, is more flexible and your overall product development can benefit from varying your design requirements for prototyping from those for production. Let’s see why this is advantageous and then look at the design keys for the success of prototype circuit board assembly.

Prototype Design versus Production Design

Although PCB manufacturing consists of a set of well-defined steps, there are different levels of manufacturing that coincide with your particular stage of product development. These levels range from initially demonstrating that your design idea has merit or proof of concept to producing high volumes for distribution to customers. Between these extremes are prototyping and low-volume production. Not all product development includes four distinct PCB manufacturing levels. For example, simple circuits may forego proof of concept and specialized designs such as piezotronics manufactured for use in aerospace systems are typically not produced in high volumes.

For production manufacturing your design is in its final form and the primary objectives include minimizing costs and maximizing the yield rate. Whether your design is destined for high volume production or will only be built in low numbers for your client or customers, it will most likely go through a prototyping phase. During this phase, the objectives are to remove any errors and maximize design quality such that you can easily transition to production. Achieving these objectives depends to a great degree on your prototype circuit board assembly.

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The Design Keys to Prototype Circuit Board Assembly Success

As the boards built during prototyping are not delivered to clients, you are able to take some liberties with your design and manufacturing. For example, you can:

  • Experiment with different component footprint pad layouts and compare different packages where the pads may be loose or have wider spacing as opposed to tight.
  • Replace SMD components with through-hole and even perform hand assembly if changes are probable or even possible.
  • Relax the quality, testing, and costs of components although performance criterion should be maintained.
  • Use leaded solder, which allows for rework during prototyping, even though you may require unleaded for your final product.

Although prototyping provides flexibility for refining your design, this stage of development should end with your board design ready for production. Reaching this goal necessitates having enough prototype iterations to achieve the highest quality design. Therefore, your prototype circuit board assembly should be optimized for speed, which is best accomplished by using the right design keys.

🔑 The Right Team

One of the keys to the success of your prototype circuit board assembly is having the right partner or contract manufacturer (CM). Your choice of CM defines the capabilities that are available and processes that will be implemented for PCBA. To take full advantage of your CM’s expertise and ability, you should include them at the outset of design and maintain an open and transparent relationship or white box manufacturing process throughout product development.

🔑 The Right Strategy

Another key, that, if followed, will not only elevate your design but can also aid in PCBA optimization is utilizing design for assembly (DFA). DFA helps ensure your design decisions are geared to maximally leverage your CM’s equipment. It also calls for defining and targeting quality throughout PCBA and development.

By using the keys listed above, you will be able to unlock the door to a successful prototype circuit board assembly design that will meet your quality and reliability needs.

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 are committed to helping you achieve the highest quality for your boards. Our industry-leading PCB turnkey prototype manufacturing process includes several inspections during PCB assembly to support this commitment. We also are able to perform board testing, if needed, for validation or to troubleshoot your design. 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 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 prototype circuit board assembly or design keys to aid your CM in the PCBA process, contact us.

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