Prototyping is a concept that has to do with the development of an initial design of a product to help validate the overall design concept. If the initial design is as expected, the product can then be manufactured at a larger scale. But if it didn’t take the expected path, the errors will be corrected ahead of the final design.
A similar outlook is used when prototyping PCB board. The circuit board’s first set of designs are made to confirm if the components are placed where they ought to be placed. The signal path and a couple of other factors are also considered in the process.
However, the traditional or normal prototyping process is now joined with a new model called PCB fast prototyping. In this article, you will find out what it is all about.
What is PCB Fast Prototyping?
It is faster method of making prototypes of Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs). Also known as rapid PCB prototyping, it helps to accelerate the processes used when making a circuit board’s first set of designs.
Attributes of Rapid PCB Prototypes
Here are some of the features or characteristics peculiar to this PCB initial design method:
1. Faster Turnarounds
The traditional PCB prototyping process can take anywhere between 5 and 10 business days. With the introduction of the faster variant, we can expect the time to reduce to 5 business days or less.
2. Core Focus
The primary focus is not on creating the final designs of the PCBs. Instead, the faster prototyping method focuses on checking the overall functional design of the board. It helps to validate if the PCB meets the required functions, as specified in the design rules.
3. Testing Processes
Once the prototype is ready, the board will be subjected to a variety of testing processes. These help to highlight some of the design errors that need fixing. Through the tests, one can find out the possible ways to speed-up the PCB’s performance.
4. Limited Quantities
It is called a prototype for a reason – to help reduce the design hassles arising from a badly-fabricated PCB.
Thus, the numbers of circuit boards made with the PCB fast prototyping process are always limited. You can expect numbers between 5 and 100 units of the boards.
Why Use Rapid PCB Prototyping?
The introduction of this model appears to be kicking against the original or traditional method of designing the initial boards.
If you must use PCB fast prototyping method, what are some of the upsides or benefits?
1. 3D Printing
A three-dimensional (3D) printing method is commonly used for making rapid PCB prototypes. The benefit includes the faster replication of the final product via the integration of layers of material.
In addition to scaling the prototype-making, the use of 3D printing also enables the real-time modifications of the designs.
2. Small PCB Quantities
The use of PCB fast prototyping allows for the making of a limited number of the boards. You can make anywhere between 5 and 100 units of the PCBs – although it is possible to make lesser than that.
3. Lowered Costs
One of the best ways to save costs when making a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) is by following an ideal design pathway. What could be a better way than being certain of some potential errors, fixing the same on time and optimizing the board’s footprints?
The PCB fast prototyping route allows for the optimization of costs in several ways, such as:
- Supporting the making of limited quantities of the PCBs. This way, enough money is saved on doing “trial and error” trying to figure out the best design pattern.
- Accelerating the process of testing, finding design flaws and fixing the same. This is what could have taken a longer time and with more time used up, the costs shoot to the roof.
4. Faster Lead Time
Lead time refers to the time or duration it takes to get a product ready – in this case, the PCB. It is possible to attain a shorter lead time or circuit board development timeframe with the aid of PCB fast prototyping.
What happens is the quicker turnarounds for the prototypes, which leads to enough time to fix the errors before making the final design.
5. Flexible Modifications
Modifying the PCB shouldn’t come at such a great expense, as the flexibility introduced by rapid PCB takes care of that.
The fact that it is the initial design and up for critics and error fixing helps the designers to make the necessary changes and optimize the board for better performance.
6. Adaptability to Different Materials
Different materials can be used to make the faster PCB prototypes. This paves the way for the boards to use a variety of materials, including multiple layers for the design.
7. Concept Validation & Functional Testing
The last thing you want is for the PCB to “behave abysmally” after coupling. A better way to avoid the embarrassment and to ensure the optimal function of the applications is to validate the concept and testing the board’s function.
In the first instance, the early-stage design and concept validation is a major step towards the confirmation of the fitting of the design into the respective applications.
In the second instance, the functional testing has to do with the validation of the objectives (design rules) of the prototype. It is also used to adjudge the specifications or potential outcome of the final PCB product.
What is Prototype PCB Assembly?
It has to do with the initial design of what a Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) will look like, after the necessary components have been mounted on the board.
What Goes into the PCB Fast Prototyping Process?
A lot of processes go into the prototyping of PCBs. The most outstanding is the additive manufacturing process, which is also referred to as 3D printing.
It is to be noted that the additive manufacturing process must not be confused for or regarded as the prototypes for circuit boards. More on this below.
PCB Prototyping vs. Breadboard
This is where the core difference between additive manufacturing/3D printing and circuit board prototyping is laid bare.
On the one hand, we have PCB prototyping, which refers to the process of making an initial set of designs for Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs).
On the other hand, we have the prototyping board. Also known as protoboard or breadboard, it is the “foundation” – the platform upon which the PCBs are prototyped.
Thus, in essence, without the breadboard, we may be unable to make PCBs, because they provide the framework for the prototyping process.
How to Use PCB Prototype Board
If you are to use the breadboard or protoboard for your circuit board prototyping, there are a couple of things to know.
- Dense Pattern of Holes: the #1 feature of the PCB prototyping board is the possession of a dense pattern of holes. These are used to enable the passage of the jumper wires or Through-Hole component leads.
- Rows for Different Planes: the breadboard has rows dedicated to simplifying the connections of the components. To this end, these rows are dedicated to facilitate the connection of the ground and power planes.
Prototype PCB Design Software
Worthy of mentioning is that the making of prototypes is simplified with the integration of the breadboard prototyping software. Available in both the solderable and solderless options, the software aids the initial design of circuit boards.
The different variants of the software offer a variety of benefits. If you are going for the soldered PCB prototype software, be sure to expect the following:
- The connection of the jumper wire or component’s led to the hole.
- Non-reusability of the leads.
- The leads of the soldered PCB prototypes are permanently captured.
For the solderless variant of the PCB fast prototyping process, it is streamlined. In addition to being one of the simplest methods, it also facilitates jumper wire connections and lead capture via the integration of a metal clip in each of the row of connected holes.
PCB Prototyping Board Types
You can make prototypes or initial designs of your PCBs using different processes. The following are some of the options:
1. Low-Fidelity PCB Prototype
These are the ideal and first types of prototyping boards you can make. They have to do with the basic representations and outlook of what the final PCB design would look like.
The typical models or methods of making the low-profile PCB prototypes include cardboard mockups and paper sketches.
2. High-Profile PCB Prototype
As you can guess, this has to do with the higher variant of the low-profile PCB prototype. It refers to the highly-functional and interactive circuit board designs made to have a similar feature as the finished product.
It is best considered the second and near-finished product design for PCBs. With the high-profile prototypes, you have a clearer picture of what the circuit boards will look like and how they would function once the design is complete.
Downsides to PCB Fast Prototyping
You can expect a few downsides or disadvantages for every benefit you get. The following are some of the downsides to working with rapidly-prototyped PCBs:
1. Considerably Non-Economical
It is believed that one of the benefits of prototyping is the reduced costs, especially in terms of the limited units made at the onset to be sure of the design path.
On the flipside, you can be certain of spending more due to the additional costs, arising from the cost of manpower to pay attention to the process until it is completed.
2. Limited Property Usage
Some key properties, components or features are likely to be left out when making prototypes of PCBs – at a fast pace.
For example, some materials used for strengthening the board and finishing the surface might not be fully-utilized.
How to Choose Your Fast Prototype PCB Board Manufacturer
In consideration of the upsides, downsides and design iterations required of rapid PCB prototypes, the bulk of the work has to be handled by a professional. There is no better way to start than by considering some of the manufacturer’s strengths in that regard.
We recommend using these tips to pick the best prototype PCB board manufacturer for your next project:
Nothing beats an experienced professional in any field. The extensive years of offering a service in that regard helps the manufacturer to master the tips, tricks and develop important strategies for getting the job done.
2. Instant Rapid PCB Quotations
How much will it cost for the PCB fast prototype to be made? The manufacturer should have an instant quote feature on the site. This way, you get an idea of what it would likely cost for the prototypes to be made.
For the best results, consider doing the following to get the best quotations:
- Be sure to include all the required components’ list and where they are to be mounted in the Bill of Material (BOM).
- Specify the numbers or units of rapidly-prototyped PCBs you would like the manufacturer to make.
- Specify the sizes and dimensions of these circuit boards.
3. Quick Turn PCB Prototyping
What is the essence of fast prototyping if it is not “fast?” The manufacturer you want to work with should offer quick turn PCB prototyping. This service stipulates the manufacturer’s capabilities of completing the initial designs on time.
The following are some of the elements that come together to bolster the quick turn or fast-paced making of PCB prototypes:
- The manufacturer has experienced staff/engineers who know what to do at any point in the course of prototyping the board.
- The excellent supply chain that includes the component sourcing process.
- The manufacturer should have the right certifications to offer this kind of service.
- It is also important for the rapid PCB prototype company to have the relevant machines, including the testing pieces of equipment to support the quick-turning of PCB prototypes.
Conclusion: Let Hillman Curtis Handle Your PCB Fast Prototyping
The best results on circuit board prototyping are gotten from the companies that have an expertise in that regard, the use of relevant pieces of equipment and an understanding of the processes to follow.
Hillman Curtis ticks those boxes and with an extensive coverage, you can be confident that we will make PCB prototypes for different industries and applications.