Today, more than ever, prototyping is crucial to the electronic design process. In this world of blazing time-to-market requirements and fierce R&D expectations, effective prototyping is critical to success. Yet, in spite of the need for effective prototyping, engineers still find themselves constrained by the time and cost limitations inherent in outsourcing their prototypes. As a result, an increasing number of engineers are adopting in-house prototyping because of its enhanced technological capabilities and clear advantages over outsourcing.
The following example is typical of the time and iteration constraints inherent in outsourcing. An engineer must order a minimum of 10 to 20 boards and wait one to two weeks in order to receive an initial prototype.pcba manufacturer Usually, the prototype is populated with components and then tested. If the test results are unfavorable or the engineer wants to test a second iteration, then the design has to be reconfigured and a set of prototypes created a second time, usually taking another one to two weeks to PCB Assembly be received and tested. Since effective prototyping almost always requires multiple design iterations, outsourcing makes it difficult to meet the demands of many development cycles. Plus, downtime between prototype builds can lead to a loss of engineering focus and momentum, thus causing projects to suffer.
Another problem with outsourcing is that the cost to fabricate one or multiple prototypes can be prohibitively high and these costs must be estimated for each project. Outsourcing costs become an even greater issue when designing multilayer boards. Those costs can easily run the thousands of dollars for a single prototype.
In-House Prototyping Methods
Engineers have several production methods available for fabricating prototype boards and test circuits in-house, depending on the type of circuit and its application. These methods are described in the following chart:
Breadboarding and wire wrapping methods are low-cost, but they do not provide the high signal quality and compatibility with SMT components often required by today's complex designs.
Chemical etching can produce prototype boards that are comparable in quality and performance to outsourced boards. However, the financial impact of implementing chemical etching is reflected in the large quantity of equipment that must be purchased. The etching chemicals can also be hazardous and require frequent maintenance,pcba manufacturer thus requiring the equipment and chemicals to be monitored even when they are not in use.
Mechanical PCB milling systems (also referred to as plotters) produce high-performance boards that match the quality of outsourced PCBs by delivering high signal integrity and SMT component capability. Producing milled boards in-house does involve an initial investment in equipment and materials, but the long lifespan of this equipment means that the cost can be amortized over five to 10 years. Plus, milling machines do not require hazardous chemicals for processing, so their maintenance is much less involved than it is for chemical etching and environmental certificates and permits are not required.