Prototypes are the mock-ups of a product used to test the product's deficiencies and improve user experience. However, PCB prototyping is much different from ordinary product prototypes because they have higher requirements for suitable prototypes.
They need to be highly-functional, almost to the point of perfection, with high-level conductivity and robustness in actual environmental and situational conditions.
PCB prototype production is a critical process as it can directly lead to the realization of PCB functions. Therefore, the precautions before, during, and after prototype production are worthy of attention. There are a few things to note when ordering a PCB prototype such as:
（PCB prototype board）
1. About PCB Prototyping Development
(PCB prototyping Development, Blue prototyping PCB in hand isolated on the white background)
Before a manufacturer can order the full number of PCBs needed for an electronic product's mass production, They first need to ensure good PCB design and identify any deficiencies in the design process missing. To avoid unnecessary wastage and extra costs, manufacturers usually choose to develop a PCB prototype of their design and run tests on its functionality.
Unfortunately, even if you have a viable plan, PCB prototyping is not so easy. So most manufacturers choose to cooperate with overseas prototype suppliers, usually in East Asian countries such as China, to master the technology of PCB prototype design.
Most circuit board designs are in Gerber format. Sending the design to a manufacturing partner is a simple process, especially since there are so many different types of external fabricators online that can instantly offer you a quote. However, choosing the wrong company to do your PCB prototyping can have severe consequences, especially expenses and time loss. How?
A failed PCB prototyping means extended time fixing the PCB prototype's deficiencies, increased cost for project delays, hold-up at ports or customs, and other obstructions that push the turnaround date far away. That's why you need to choose professional external fabricators or manufacturing partners who have the capability and the equipment required for rapid PCB prototyping, as well as the ability and knowledge required to minimize the possibility of failed prototype PCBs.
2. Selecting the Core Components for Prototyping PCB
(Core components of prototyping PCB. Set of electronic components isolated on white background)
After PCB prototyping design, the next step is selecting the core components you will need, such as connectors, sensors, microchips, and so on. A PCB prototype's elements are vital to this step. Each component has a different function that gives your printed circuit boards the quality and functionality needed for its purpose.
You can use your detailed block diagram, a previously existing PCB, the functions and uses of the device to be prototyped, and the components needed on the printed circuit board. When picking your manufacturing partner, you need to ensure that they can source for elements for your PCB prototyping.
3. Design of PCB Layout
(PCB layout design. Layout design in circuit board software)
The PCB layout design phase is critical, and if any mistakes made, You may waste time and money The layout design usually done with a schematic diagram or design using essential circuit software, preferably one that allows you to convert the PCB layout design into PCB files or a PCB CAD system.
Careful consideration when designing a PCB layout
- Layers of PCB prototype
- Overall layout design
- Board Constrained Design
- Trace design
- Thermal issues (regardless of whether a flexible or rigid-flex board use)
- Signal integrity and RF
In most cases, layout design does not take long.
However, if your PCB is for a compact product, the components will need to be placed closer to each other, taking more time. Another thing that can increase layout design is whether the product will have wireless connectivity or be used to route large amounts of power. The PCB layout design can then sent as a PCB file to an external manufacturer or manufacturing partner.
4. Repeatable Detection Performance During PCB Prototyping Process
(Repeatable detection performance. Radiofrequency engineer inspect microwave mixer printed circuit board in front of Smith chart)
Repeatable detection performance happens when you continually search for any performance defects at the various rapid PCB prototyping processes. Detection can be quite difficult because of the different kinds of machines used when prototyping PCB and during the design layout.
Detecting repeatable performance can only be done by doing PCB quality testing during the entire process of PCB rapid prototyping. Detection of PCB defects can be done in a conveyor unit, during solder paste screen printing, during an inspection, and in a magazine or an SMD pick and place machine.
5. Precautions for Gerber file Generation for Rapid Prototyping PCB
(Generating Gerber files, Layout PCB with Gerber files of inner layers)
Gerber files, Layout PCB with Gerber files of inner layers
After drawing the schematic design and doing the PCB layout design, the next step is to generate the Gerber files for your PCB prototype. The Gerber files specify the manufacturing partner's entire process, and there must be no mistakes in it. There are many challenges for generating Gerber files So that the data should accurately reflect the products manufactured.
Here are some of the precautions to take during Gerber file generation:
- Ensure that there is one comprehensive aperture list for all the layers for prototyping PCB.
- The Excellon Drill File is essential for determining the holes' size to be drilled, Type tools used for each hole, plated holes and non-plated, and the need to include drilling a hole in the location file. Therefore, don't forget to send it to the external fabricator as well.
- You need to send the tool list specifying the tools to be used during rapid prototyping PCB. It can either be submitted as a separate file or embedded in the Excellon drill file.
Before submitting PCB design files to the manufacturing partner, you need to carefully check your Gerber file and compare it to your actual design to ensure that there is no significant difference.
6. What Standard PCB Annotation to Prototype PCB
(Standard PCB annotations, Yellow printed circuit board with annotations)
Annotation is the process whereby designers make explanatory notes to detail their work and ensure the synchronization of the design's different components. Annotation provides the referencing and unique identification of every element, either logical or physical. There are three major standard approaches to PCB annotation: schematic level annotation, board-level annotation, and PCB annotation.
The schematic level annotation is useful for simple and flat designs that don't use device sheets. Board level annotation can be used for all your designs but works best for multi-channel configurations. PCB annotation, on the other hand, is most useful when you prefer to do your annotation in the PCB editor. Therefore, your choice of approach to your annotation will depend on your design, preference, and your company policies and standard procedures.
7. Pay Attention to the Prototyping PCB With Multilayer Board
(Multi-layer board prototyping, Vector circuit board Gold and Grey multi-layer prototyping)
When compared to single-layer boards, designing and manufacturing multilayer PCB boards is much more complicated. There are numerous challenges, such as the problems faced during the alignment between layers, during compression manufacturing, and during drilling.
The difficulties encountered during adjustment usually have to do with the attempt to control the graphic conversion environment's temperature and humidity, the inconsistency of core boards that may lead to dislocation overlap, the interlayer positioning mode, and how to control the centering of the multilayer PCB.
During compression manufacturing, problems like inconsistent dimension coefficient compensation, uncontrolled expansion or contraction, and interlayer insulating issues may arise. While drilling, the thickness of the copper plates can also cause problems.
8. Choose the Right PCB Prototyping Partner
(Choose the right PCB prototyping partner. Production of electronic components at the high-tech factory)
Now that you understand most of the things you need to understand about prototyping PCB, you should know that to reduce your costs and turnaround time, you need to choose the right partner. Apart from time and money, your manufacturing partner also decides your PCB prototype's standard and the PCB rapid prototyping methods employed during its Production.
The only way to create a balance between cost, time, and quality is to choose the right partner for your PCB prototyping carefully. To select the right manufacturing partner, you need to check their instant online quotes and ensure that they offer reasonable prices and discounts. You also need to ensure that they can source the necessary parts for prototyping PCB and have all the resources, connections, and experience to facilitate successful rapid PCB prototyping. You should also make sure that they have a system that allows you to track the progress of your PCB prototype production and shipping.
PCB prototyping design and manufacturing have many technicalities and some things that you need to take note of, especially when choosing your designer and your manufacturing partner. We can help you with your PCB manufacturing, PCB assembly, and flex PCB orders.
You can contact us for your PCB prototype pricing and get an instant quote on our website.