Blog  /  PCB Prototype: What Is It and Why You Need One

PCB Prototype: What Is It and Why You Need One

Are you looking for a way to build your circuits with no errors in the design? If your answer is yes, then you need PCB Prototyping.

Before you start making anything, it's crucial to ensure your PCBs are in good condition. That's PCB Prototyping comes in.

It doesn't matter how great a designer you are; small mistakes on your circuit board can lead to disasters for your circuit board components. But you can avoid all these by using a prototype.

So, in this article, we'll dive deeper into why and when you should use a PCB Prototype.

Hang in there!  

What is a Prototype PCB?

 

Prototyping is essential, especially when it comes to electrical manufacturing. So, in the case of a circuit, what you'll need is a Prototype PCB.

So, prototype PCBs are simply product samples that allow you to check if your circuit designs work correctly.  

In most cases, prototypes are usually for basic testing. But, it's a different case for PCB prototypes. How? PCB prototypes need to be fully functional. Hence, you aim to test which components are working at the primary level and possibly check if the entire circuit design is correct.  

Types of PCB Prototypes

 

Indeed, there are different PCB prototypes for testing various circuit designs. Plus, you'll most likely have to use multiple PCBs when building your circuits.

So, some of these PCB prototypes include:  

1. Working Prototype PCBs

 

This PCB prototype contains all the functions and features of the final design, and it's fully functional. You can use this type of PCB prototype to test for errors in your design and check out the finished design.  

2. Visual Models

 

The primary purpose of the visual model is to test the physical properties of your PCB design and the structures of your circuit board components. You can use graphical models as the prototype since it's an affordable and easy way to test and review your PCB designs.  

Printed Circuit Board

Printed Circuit Board

 

3. Functional PCB Prototypes

 

This prototype is the closest to your final design. There are usually only a few economic differences, and it accurately shows you how your plan would work and how it looks.  

4. Proof-of-concept Prototype PCB

 

The main goal of this type of PCB prototype is to test if your design is usable. Thus, it doesn't have all the functions of your circuit design. It only takes the primary functions.  

Differences Between Prototype PCB and Solderless Breadboard

 

Prototype PCB and solderless breadboards are helpful for prototyping in the electronic world. But they do have particular distinctions that set them apart.

Solderless breadboards feature a grid with built-in clips that allow you to make connections.  

Breadboard

Breadboard

 

The best part of a Solderless breadboard is its temporal and reusable nature. You can easily take off what you've designed and salvage the breadboard. For this reason, breadboards are great for prototyping.

Additionally, you can test a circuit design to see if it works before designing your printed circuit board.

However, there are some downsides to using breadboards for prototyping. First, while it's great for specific circuits, you can only use through-hole components.

Prototype PCBs, on the other hand, use surface-mounted components. Thus, they avoid all the problems caused by using through-hole details.  

PCB electronic components

PCB electronic components

 

In essence, we recommend using prototype PCBs over Solderless breadboards for prototyping in modern circuitry.  

Benefits of PCB Prototyping

 

Prototypes may seem like they pack a bunch of extra expenses, but we can't dispute their significance in the design process.

While allowing you to test various designs, it also enables the addition and removal of components. For this reason, there are multiple benefits of prototyping that make your design process less stressful.

Let's take a deeper look at these benefits:  

1. Reduced Timeline

 

Before building the final version, you usually test through different versions when creating a PCB design. And it can be very time-consuming, but PCB prototyping can help speed things up.  

2. Manufacturing Review and Assistance

 

Using a PCB prototyping service, you'll get an extra set of eyes to help you spot any errors you would have missed. Different problems can lead to design flaws and other issues when you don't spot them.  

PCB Manufacturing

PCB Manufacturing

 

3. Accurate, Reliable Prototype

 

Having problems after building your PCB becomes a thing of the past with prototyping. Indeed, an accurate prototype eliminates most issues and problems with your design.

Plus, it's a representation of the productivity of your final design. So, you can test many things, including functional testing, final product design, PCB design, and conditional testing.  

4. Test Components Individually

 

In cases where you can't easily detect errors, prototyping allows you to test your components individually to help you find the mistake.  

5. Reduced Costs

 

PCB prototyping helps you reduce costs by preventing errors that will cost you more money.

How? With prototyping, you can detect errors early enough.  

When to Use a PCB Prototype

 

Although prototyping is essential for testing and designing, there are some tips to follow before using them if you want to be cost-effective.  

1. New Product Creation

 

When creating a new product or project, prototyping shows its high importance. Think of it this way: you'll need to know what features work for your design and detect any issues before you start making your product. For this reason, prototyping comes in handy—when you plan to create a new product.  

2. Testing

 

You can use prototyping for any kind of test during the production process. From environmental tests to quality assurance tests, PCB prototyping is your go-to.  

PCB Testing

PCB Testing

 

3. Complex Components

 

You can also use prototyping when dealing with complex designs that involve various components. Also, complex structures with advanced circuits can be frustrating if there's an error, and prototype PCBs can help you prevent such occurrences.  

4. Modeling Purposes

 

You can use a prototype PCB if you need a visual representation of your design, even when it's not yet functional. By so doing, you won't have to spend money on standard production PCBs.  

Considerations for PCB Product Prototyping

 

After your prototyping sessions, you should have your designs ready for printing on your circuit board. But, before that, here are some things you should consider for prototyping and production.

  • Try different components layouts, and experiment with various spaces.

 

Circuit Components

Circuit Components

 

  • Make a well-calculated choice between through-hole or surface-mount technology.
  • If you think you're going to rework your circuit, choose lead solder over unleaded.

 

Lead Wires

Lead Wires

 

  • If your project involves complex designs, use simple technology to make your prototyping faster.
  • Use a basic functional test to take your prototype from the electrical validation phase to the design validation.

 

Different Ways to Prototype Your Designs Using PCBs

 

After testing, the next step would be to move your designs to a PCB. And there are various ways to do this. Let us take a closer look at the multiple paths.  

1. Using CNC Machining to Create Prototype PCBs

 

CNC technology works perfectly for prototyping. Why? CNC machining can etch traces and holes on blank copper plates with mills.

One benefit of using CNC machines to make PCB prototypes is their speed. It only takes a few hours to fully mill a copper plate design, but this also depends on the PCB's size.  

However, the quality of PCB milling has its downsides compared to traditionally manufactured PCBs. Also, CNC machines don't have solder masks. Therefore, it could lead to solder bridges, forming and creating short circuits.  

2. Prototype PCBs From Quick Turnaround Services

 

You can also get a prototype PCB from Bare Bone PCB.

This service uses the standard chemical etching to create PCBs. However, the prototype PCB doesn't take a long time.  

This process has one of the fastest prototyping processes. However, the Bare Bone PCB service does not include solder masks or silkscreen in their designs, making soldering difficult.  

3. Prototype PCBs From Full-Scale Production Companies

 

The third and final way of making PCBs with prototyping is the processes found in full-scale production companies. In truth, PCBs made this way usually come in smaller quantities.

In truth, many of these full-scale production companies use similar complex processes to produce PCBs.  

Full-Scale PCB Production 

Full-Scale PCB Production 

 

Plus, using professional manufacturing services for your PCB gives you a prototype that's almost as good as your final design.

However, there's some time between ordering your PCB and getting your order. So, you'll have to wait a while if you want to use this service.  

Final Thoughts

 

From the look of things, PCB prototype services are pretty beneficial—as it saves you time and money—while ensuring you get high-quality printed circuit boards.

No doubt, you can design and create your PCB with prototyping. But we highly recommend using a PCB prototype before building your designs. Why? Because you tend to save cost and time and avoid unnecessary errors beforehand.

So, we'd like to know: were we able to solve your issues concerning PCB prototyping?

Do you still have issues concerning the subject you'd like to share?

You can contact us. We'll be happy to assist.