Helping companies to remove at least one PCB Re-Spin from product development process
In today’s competitive market place, companies are looking for new ways to differentiate their products. As a result, electronics have become a critical components of product development. With that in mind, a focus on the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design process offers a strategic advantage with opportunities to improve time to market, lower product cost, and provide product differentiation. Time of PCB development by creating a mask with electrical tape and marker pens are long time gone but approach to physical design of PCB itself still today showing that trend of end of 20th century are still present.
The Business Need for Improving PCB Design
To understand the external factors driving companies to improve they design PCB’s, survey (conducted by Aberdeen Group) respondents were asked to pick the top two pressures driving that improvement. The top pressures clearly speak to time, cost, and product differentiation. Same survey are conducted in different time frames (2010, 2014 and 2015) and here are some details from it:
Today’s development schedules are so tight, every aspect of the design is critical. There is no room for error. A delay in any part of the design will have a downstream impact on the entire product and subsequently, delay the product launch. Late to market means competitors can capture market share from you which ultimately leads to lost revenue opportunities.
Companies have recognized this and therefore looking to improve the PCB design process to make it more efficient. As a result, products will be able to launch to market as quickly as possible.
What Makes PCB Design Hard?
As the pressures indicate, improved PCB design practices create opportunities for faster time to market, lower product cost, and greater product differentiation. However, what challenges must be addressed in order to improve the PCB process? Unfortunately, PCB design and fabrication are usually limiting factor in getting a products to market, at the root of the issue, rising product complexity.
Using a contractor to assist with your PCB design project can have its complications. If you haven’t used the contractor before, it can be difficult to trust that someone outside your company will provide the same level of results you would develop in-house, and communication is often complicated. The reality, however, is that it is sometimes necessary, or even preferred, to use the services of out-sourced contractors so it’s important to ensure they feel like they’re part of the team. Include your contractor’s right from the start, in planning, testing, and practically everything you do. As trusted partners, your contractors will feel more obliged to provide quality results, and you will develop a relationship in which you share a common language, making it easier to ramp up on future projects.
It’s also beneficial to communicate with your contractor through the PCB design process. A good design review system typically provides review, mark up, and reporting capabilities, allowing you to search and annotate design data for greater collaboration and efficiency throughout the design flow. If your contractor also provides MCAD services, implementing an efficient ECAD-MCAD collaboration system will help both you and the mechanical engineer stay in your respective system’s comfort zone, making collaboration effective and convenient.
The decision not to compromise on quality needs to be made by management. When and if to skip DFM analysis or any other quality test should be reasoned and properly defined. To make quality a culture inside your organization, it’s important for everyone to understand what they’re being asked to do. Management needs to explain and show project managers the importance of the required tests and the costs, in time, money, and extra work, of not detecting these issues.
That being said, it is also important to find balance cost and benefit. You will see that in regards to DFM analysis, thermal analysis, signal integrity, or any other integrity test available. Each is exceptionally important and beneficial, but you need to make sure your efforts are cost-effective as well. With proper experience and adequate discussion you can define places where less rigorous testing is required, but be sure your decision is well calculated or you will pay the price in the end.
Although it is difficult to do when schedules are tight and multiple projects are on your desk, data mining is an important key to improving PCB design quality and reliability. If you take the time and effort to analyze results from simulations and real-life failures of your products in the field, you can establish working methods and guidelines that will prevent these failures from occurring in the future.
Throughout the PCB design cycle, you use multiple methods to detect and correct issues in your design, from signal integrity and analog simulation during schematic, to layout, thermal and power integrity analysis, verification, and of course, DFT audit and DFM analysis prior to fabrication. With each pass, you get a lot of information that could be great for future use as well.
When investigating failure cause(s), it is important to take into account as many details as possible, including the materials used and how they behave under different circumstances. This is the only way to truly determine whether what you’re doing is right or wrong. Make sure you build an educational path within your organization, perform data mining on the information you have, and the quality and stability of your designs will increase.
Even as consumers become less tolerant of product failure and low-quality products, new technologies, smaller form factors, and more complex products are driving significant increases in design complexity. To stay profitable and relevant in this industry, companies must make a decision to invest in quality. While the decision needs to start at the management level, it cannot end there. Measures must be taken throughout a company in order to produce reliable, high-quality products on deadline. The first step is to establish a culture in your organization that encourages and proves to your employees the importance of producing high-quality products. Be sure there’s good cooperation with all the people invested in the process, take your manufacturer’s constraints into consideration during the design stage, check for failure as much as possible, and always try to learn from your mistakes.
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