PCB manufacturing is a complex procedure. Therefore, it is important to prevent certain errors in the course of manufacturing. PCB prototyping is a crucial stage in PCB manufacturing. Also, PCB prototyping board offers a lot of advantages. PCB manufacturers seek ways to reduce costs and time. PCB prototyping helps to reduce manufacturing cost. This is because it helps manufacturers to detect potential defects before the final production of a board.
PCB manufacturers prototype a printed circuit board before finally producing it in large batches. Also, prototyping your PCB is a proof of concept. It proves the intellectual property and demonstrates a product to possible buyers and investors.
What is a PCB Prototype?
A PCB prototype is an integral part of PCB fabrication. It is an early sample with the purpose of testing the functionality of the PCB design. Most prototypes are specifically designed to test the functionality and performance of a board. PCB manufacturers design a prototype before fabricating the real board.
Designers and engineers utilize several types of prototypes to test various design aspects. A prototype is essential before the full-scale production of boards. Therefore, it serves as the first sample of a circuit board. Prototyping a board is crucial from the design stage to the finished product. Prototypes enable you to test the functionality of a given design.
With prototypes, you can rectify and debug any circuit board defect. Also, PCB prototypes are ideal before mass production. There is always a risk associated with mass production without a prototype. The slightest mistake in board fabrication can be very costly. Also, it can take time to rectify such a mistake.
A fault in PCB design can make soldering very difficult. Also, without a prototype, it is harder to detect errors on a board. Therefore, prototypes before mass board production prevent any future loss or risk. There is a difference between PCB prototyping and full spec production projects. Full spec production can only commence when a prototype proves to be functional.
Types of Prototype Boards
Designers may use different types of circuit board prototypes to test various design aspects. A prototype circuit board doesn’t have the permanence of circuit boards. Therefore, this prototype allows designers to test circuit boards before the final production.
If you make a mistake with a prototype, you can try several circuit designs. Once the circuit is functioning based on requirements, you can go to the next stage of production.
This is a type of prototype circuit board that utilizes “pad per hole” design. This indicates that each hole is electrically isolated in the circuit board. Therefore, you can only connect components via soldering. Perfboards have a high degree of permanence. Also, perfboards provide more flexibility in design since it can form connections as it likes.
This is a solderless circuit board. A breadboard comprises small holes that can fit electronic components. These holes are well arranged in columns and rows. Also, the columns in the breadboard make it easy to build a circuit without the need for wires. You can fit one of the terminals into the other holes of the same column. Also, a breadboard allows you to create different circuit boards arrangements.
This is a type of prototype circuit board. It comprises a grid of holes vertically joined by copper strips. The connections between holes substitute wires. Therefore, they enable easy interconnection between components. Also, some of the connections on veroboard require soldering. Veroboards are smaller and enable more compact circuit design.
Steps in PCB Prototyping
PCB prototyping is a complex process that involves several steps. Designers need to be careful with each of these steps.
Create a circuit board design schematic
Designers use software to create the schematic design of the circuit board. Altium designer and Eagle are some of the most common software available. Also, the designer must state the type of software used to prevent discrepancies. The design will need approval for manufacturing once it is ready. The designer will need to export the design to the PCB manufacturer.
The extended Gerber file format is perfect for this design. The gerber files are very crucial in this aspect. Software encodes crucial and comprehensive details like copper tracking layers. The manufacturer will check all the aspects of the design. Also, the software will ensure there are no defects. The designer needs to check elements like hole size and track width. You can visit the software website to download this software.
Design a bill of materials (BOM)
The BOM is a very important document in circuit board prototyping. Therefore, it is crucial to create a BOM depending on the customers’ requirements. This BOM includes the list of materials needed for prototyping. Also, this document includes information like components, raw materials, assemblies, and sub assemblies.
The BOM is crucial for designing the prototype. Therefore, it must be very accurate. Also, customers use the BOM to make further explanations about the intended design of the board. Assemblers use the BOM to meet the requirements of the customer while fabricating the prototype. A BOM makes the prototyping process much easier.
The BOM should be specifically designed based on the demands of the exact board you want to build. Ensure you use up-to-date software when creating a BOM. Also, you should include the right information in the BOM.
PCB layout design
The PCB layout design is an important consideration when creating a circuit board design. Most times, engineers are responsible for creating the prototype designs. Then, a PCB layout specialist will use a CAD system to design the layout from a schematic.
This stage requires the expertise and skills of a specialist. This specialist must be vast in CAD system and design software. There are standards and techniques that ensure the transfer of the design to an overall board.
Create a photo film and print inner layers
The prototype fabrication will begin once the designer has submitted the design considering other factors. The manufacturer will create a photo film and print the inner layers of the board. A plotter will help to create the photo films of the board. Also, the films will serve as the blue print for printing the prototypes’ image.
For a multilayer board, you will need to align the layers. You will need to align these layers in a specific order.
This is crucial for adding components on the board. The manufacturer will have to drill exact holes and use an X-ray locater to get hole locations. After drilling, you must deposit a thick layer of copper on the panel’s surface. The copper will ensure it conceals the whole panel.
Solder masking and surface finishing
Solder masking involves the application of solder mask. After applying the epoxy solder mask ink, the manufacturer passes the boar under UV lighting. After this, the circuit board goes via the solder mask photo film and hardens the film.
The next step after solder masking is the surface finishing. This finishing involves the use of gold or silver for chemical plating. Also, you can make use of hot air level pads when finishing the surface.
This is the last stage of the prototyping process. Technicians will carry out the final test. Also, the electrical test is the final test. This test helps to confirm the functionality of the prototype to the original design. Some manufacturers use flying probes for this test.
Why is PCB Prototyping Important?
PCB prototypes are useful throughout the PCB design processes. This is because these prototypes are ideal for testing functionality. Why are PCB prototypes used before a standard production run. PCB prototypes offer crucial benefits in PCB design and manufacturing.
Engineers usually experience several iterations when developing a circuit board design. This could be a time-consuming process. However, prototypes enhance the process through complete testing and visual assistance. Also, prototypes enable designers to test boards before full scale production. Hence, this helps to save cost and time.
Accuracy and reliability
A reliable prototype solves a lot of design issues. Also, a quality prototype demonstrates the functionality of your final PCB. A prototype allows designers to detect flaws much earlier in the development process. Accurate prototypes help to reveal any design flaws. Also, accurate boards can help to evaluate the theoretical values of a PCB.
Manufacturing review and assistance
PCB companies can benefit from the assistance of a third party prototyping service. There are several mistakes in the design process. Designers can make mistakes in a PCB design. While this is normal, prototyping helps to detect such mistakes.
Therefore, a third-party prototyping service can identify all of these problems. This service can offer suggestions before prototyping. This can make the prototype ready for testing.
Individual testing of components
Designers and engineers use PCB prototype for testing. However, the best testing occurs when testing singular components. Circuit board prototypes help to test single functions. These prototypes ensure these functions work. Testing components individually is ideal for the functionality of a board.
The final PCB production is costly. Therefore, it is important to detect errors before this process. Prototypes reduce manufacturing costs since they help to detect defects earlier.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between prototyping boards and solderless breadboards?
The solderless breadboard offers a working space to build temporary circuits. A prototyping board is a sample of the actual PCB.
A solderless breadboard is ideal for use in electronic development.
What is the difference between a protoboard and a breadboard?
A breadboard refers to a solderless board while a protoboard is a construction base for electronics prototyping.
Prototyping is resource intensive. However, it requires prior proper planning to achieve great result. Also, the essence of prototypes is to test the functionality of the design. Therefore, prototyping is only achieved through sound planning. RayMing offers customers the best circuit board prototyping service.