Reading time ( words)
Imagine this crunch-time scenario: You are meeting with big investors in less than two weeks, your designers are still working on the design, and you are behind schedule. You spend hours daily on the phone with your designers, trying to push them along so that you can get the design over to your PCB and PCBA vendors. They will work together to get the board built and assembled, so you can plug it into the new unit with enough time to present your new earth-shattering product to your potential investors.
Your PCB vendor and assembly company each have promised to have their parts done in five days. You’re looking at 10 working days and a weekend in between—you still look good, but only if the design can be sent to the PCB fabricators by midnight. Otherwise, all bets are off!
You’ve already moved out the date with your venture capitalists, and that was fine the first time. The second time they got a little perturbed, so you just don’t dare go to them a third time. VCs are always edgy, antsy, and on the lookout for something to go wrong with a company they might invest in. The last thing you want is to miss your presentation date for the third time. This means you need a solid plan to make the date.
Obviously, you should have just started with a one-stop-shop that provides total concept (design, fabrication, and assembly), but it’s too late now. You have run out of time and options. What are you going to do?
First, remain calm. If you have a reliable PCB fabricator and contract manufacturer, there is still hope of getting things done on time. But you must be proactive, act quickly, and get design, fabrication, and assembly working concurrently.
The next step is to have your design vendor communicate two things to your PCB fabricator: A firm date for getting the data package into the hands of the PCB shop and a snapshot of the bare board. If the PCB fab house knows the basic outline and stackup of the board, there are several things they can do even before they see the final design.
For example, the PCB fabricator can make sure they have the laminate (or recommend a solid alternative). But assuming they have the laminate in stock, they can prep the material and have it ready to go when the design finally shows up. This should save you at least a day, which is 20% of the time allotted. Now, if the PCB shop knows exactly when they will get the design, they can line up their operations to receive and process the data for building the board the minute it arrives. You’ve just saved yourself another day.
The same goes for the CM. If the designer lets the CM know what the bill of materials (BOM) will look like, the CM can start ordering the parts. They can cull out the parts that are hard to get and make approved substitutions in advance so that the entire kit—minus the PCB—will be ready and waiting when the bare board arrives. They can also prepare their schedule to ensure the team is ready to assemble those PCBs the minute they hit their dock.
Finally, the PCB and PCBA companies need to communicate so that both parties know exactly when the board will be completed and ready to assemble.
Whew! That’s a lot of communication, but it’s completely necessary for this type of hot project. Always remember that when all three functions—design, fabrication, and assembly—consistently communicate, the project will run smoothly and efficiently, and deadlines will be met.
Remember: Since nothing happens until the design is complete, and the first board is assembled, the most important aspect of any schedule is making sure there is enough time for the designer to complete the design. This means sometimes creating a sense of urgency with your design team. Since they’re at the start of the supply chain, they might feel they have all the time in the world when they really don’t. Make this your first bit of communication.
As always, solid communication is the most important factor in getting to market on time.
Imran Valiani is an account manager at Rush PCB.