Recommendations On How To Reduce The Price Tag Of PCB Prototype Assembly

Manufacturing electronic product prototypes includes PCB design and PCB assembly and is an important step when launching new products. Depending on how far evolved your design is, there is a high risk of costly mistakes. I will give some advice about avoiding common mistakes and how to minimize time to market and cost when manufacturing prototypes.

After you have the design for a new product, you want to build some prototypes. This will ensure that your product will meet the performance criteria. Simulating the behavior of your product is often done before starting to build prototypes. Common design software such as PCB and industrial design packages will allow you to simulate various performance aspects such as electrical, mechanical and thermal performance. Running simulations will take some extra time. However, the results often will uncover mistakes in your design. Minimizing the number of mistakes in your design will simplify achieving the required performance of your prototypes more quickly and in the end save you time.

If you are designing a complex product, you may want to consider a modular design in which all of the main functions are located in individual modules. During your testing, you can then swap modules which do not meet the design constraints. Spinning individual modules will be quicker and more cost effective than spinning a whole design.

PCB components are often mounted manually during the prototype phase even though this method is time consuming. Subcontracting the prototype assembly offers higher quality. It can also save a lot of time.

You should look for a subcontractor that has a low setup cost because this cost will dominate the overall cost in case of small-quantity runs. Because prototype PCB manufacturers combine boards from several customers, you will typically only have a limited selection of board materials and thicknesses when using a PCB prototyping service.

When looking for a supplier, you should however not focus on low setup costs alone. Choosing a supplier that can also run production quantity runs later on will avoid a lot of problems during the production stage because the prototype data can easily be reused. If there are no major changes in your design, production can start quickly. The production files are already available in the manufacturer-specific machine format.

Some PCB manufacturers also can assist you during the design by offering in-house PCB design. If you are not very experienced in the design, you may want to consider picking such a vendor. Such a supplier can also much more easily and much more quickly resolve design-related issues.

Component sourcing is a major problem when mounting prototypes due to the low volume and the ship cost and minimum order quantity requirements of some vendors. SMT components are mounted by mounting them as tape in feeders. Assembling small quantities of components however is a challenge because they don’t mount in a feeder. Some vendors carry inventory of commonly used SMT components which you can purchase which will save you the time of buying these components yourself and also eliminates wasting unused components.

Choosing a manufacturer that is also able to do the final product assembly minimizes time to market by avoiding ship times between different vendors. Also, circuit boards that are found to be defective during the final testing can be repaired much more quickly. Finally, ensure that you are able to easily communicate with your supplier. This will help avoid costly mistakes and shorten production preparation times throughout all stages of PCB manufacture, PCB assembly and final product assembly.

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