Today, almost all printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturers build a prototype before beginning with high-volume production. Why? There are countless benefits of building a functioning model of the PCB before full-scale manufacturing of boards for several end products. Also, copies of the prototype can be developed later through 3D printing if the client requires them. Building an operative prototype not only helps test the functionality of the board and fix design bugs if any, but also aids in improving it as per the requirement. In addition to this, prototype PCB fabrication helps early detection of functional errors. All-in-all, prototype creation plays a vital role, especially in the complex PCB designs where failure after final fabrication of board creates costly and time-consuming rework. This post offers insights into prototype PCB fabrication. So, stay tuned.
A Quick Overview of PCB Prototype Methods
There are various types of prototypes each of which are used at a specific stage of PCB manufacturing:
- Visual Model: A visual model is the most basic prototype model, and as the term implies, it is used to test the physical aspects of circuit board designs. This type of prototype tests the size, structural issues, component mounting, and overall appearance. These are useful for design reviews.
- Proof-of-Concept Prototype: This type of prototype simulate the basic functionality of the PCB. It is not capable of all functionalities in the end product; however, it does prove the design feasibility.
- Working Prototype: As the name implies, these are almost fully functional boards that can simulate the features and functionalities expected in the end product. However, these are not meant to simulate the finished product, but fix bugs if any through the process and identify errors.
- Functional Prototype: This type is designed to be closest to the final production circuit board that provides an exact idea of how the board will work. This may include all the features of the final product, however, there may be slight variations. This is because of the differences in fabricating materials used. Also, most OEMs may have separate areas for the development of prototypes on a quick-turn basis as opposed to mass production lines.
OEMs should start with a visual model or proof-of-concept before moving to the working and functional prototypes. If there are any problems with the circuit board designs, they can fix them before moving to the next step. This is a more efficient and cost-effective way than coming back and fixing issues after the development process.
Developing and Evaluating a PCB Prototype
As discussed earlier, prototyping is the initial step in building a functional product and ensuring that it will match the end product. Prototype design software helps you create all aspects of the design, including schematics and layout. Here are some factors to consider when designing and developing a prototype and selecting the right prototype development software.
- It is important to buy sophisticated software for advanced functionalities; however, this depends largely on your requirement in terms of design complexities, number of layers, components, and so on.
- Software that is difficult to operate will probably take more time to provide efficiency and value to the user. User-friendliness of that software is also an important aspect.
- Software users may take integrated help, online documentation, or live support contacts for prototype PCB fabrication.
- Schematics creation should be the first stage of prototype generation. In this, one should include features to place and edit board components, electrical elements, and desired graphics.
- The creation of connecting points, pins, as well as description, may also help.
- Inserting the required libraries for board elements and components needed for circuit board designing is crucial.
- Complete circuit board routing, RF designing, and file generation help turning the prototype design into an almost functional prototype and subsequently scaled up to mass production.
Prototyping your circuit board might seem an additional step for some OEMs, but it is one step that cannot be overlooked because of its usefulness. It is always a good practice to weed out any possible errors before mass production of PCBs. PCB prototyping not only offers quick turnaround time and efficient design but also reduces the overall cost. Such a crucial aspect of PCB fabrication must be handled by a trusted and experienced PCB manufacturer and service provider. Rigiflex Technology specializes in handling flex printed circuit board prototyping with utmost accuracy after considering the customer’s specifications. With superior materials, advanced machinery, and skill sets, the company always focuses on prototype PCB fabrication that meets the expected quality standards.