When we were kids, we valued the possibility to design, create, and build—the ambition to create something special over hours spent drawing or building things. The quest for making a wooden go-kart that would make you the coolest kid in the street. Sometimes, the design fits the purpose. Other times, there might not even be a plan—just pure luck to succeed, or even better, win the heart of the most popular girl with your homemade vehicle.
As adults, the situation is slightly different. For some of us, the ability to design and create withers. Some keep this creativity and create fantastic products. As technology accelerates and the toolbox develops, it opens up a whole new set of tools and inventiveness.
An Important Foundation
For printed circuits, we gave up building the coolest go-kart a long time ago, but the story is the same; it all has to start with design. PCBs are the foundation for the product—the one thing connecting the bits and pieces. If poorly designed, it might cause unnecessary challenges for the EMS putting it all together and prevent the product from working optimally.
As a broker of printed circuits—the link between designers and manufacturers—we often see that early involvement and commitment between all the involved parties in a product development process diminishes the risk for mistakes and misunderstandings. Several times, we have seen the unfortunate result of inadequate planning and execution in the early phase of the product development process. Early involvement of an experienced partner in the design phase can save you from costly mistakes. With a knowledgeable partner onboard who’s not reluctant to share their know-how or ask the challenging questions, you can be on the secure side when planning.
Five Tips to Start Your Product Development Design
What tips should you provide when designing a new product? Here are five for you to consider.
1. Ask the Right Questions
When starting a product development process, you need to ask all of the important questions—why, how, where, what, when? What is possible, cost-effective, legal, and smart? Find the best solution for the heart of your electrical product—the PCB!
2. Do Your Research
When the concept is set, research and analysis begin. Involve an experienced partner to help you identify challenges, growth potential, and compliance.
3. Do Not Skip Steps
If PCB design is not your strength, involve someone with the skills. This will save you from costly mistakes. The same goes for the choice of the manufacturer.
4. Know Where You Produce
Make sure to have a trusted partner for production, offering transparency, documentation, and audited manufacturers.
5. Do Not Forget Documentation
When your product is ready for launch, use a partner with a global delivery platform and experience. You do not want your product to face trouble on the finishing line.
Product Development Process
At Elmatica, we have split the product development process into six steps from idea generation to launch. We have supported the development of thousands of products throughout the years. Even if the process is more or less the same in 2018 compared to 1971 when we started, some things have changed. Outsourcing part of the supply chain is more frequent, and the products have increased in complexity. What is the result of this? The involvement of the right competence and knowledge in every step is more important than ever.
Designing PCBs Is an Art
Often, we see a design that is not feasible or possible to produce. Sometimes, the improvements needed are either time-consuming or difficult. You just need to know what to look for and how to solve it. Designing PCB is a bit like art; there are holes, pads, and wires that need to connect. While the painting might end up on the wall inspiring many, the perfect PCB drawing might end up saving you lots of challenges later in the process. However, an artist might not always start with a set purpose for their design, but a PCB designer aims to fill a very specific one with strict schematics as the base. Because we all know that PCBs are not shelf goods.
As with anything else in life, PCB design follows the same rules: The more you know before you start, the better. What environment will the printed circuit be in? Will it fit into a box? Will tall components need to be laid down flat to fit? Will flex-rigid be the best solution? Will this affect the cost of the PCB or the final product? How many PCBs are ideal to fit into one panel? Can a different design optimize panel utilization?
Important “Dos” to Remember
No matter where your product will end up, the better you plan and design, the better the end product will be. What we often preach when it comes to PCB designing is the following points:
• Consider early cost planning, which might prevent unnecessary surprises later
• Involve the supplier as early as possible, and make sure the right capabilities are available
• Do you possess the needed PCB knowledge? If not, involve a partner who does
• Consider risk vs. cost and reliability, as this can affect both choices of technology and capability
The following statement says it all: “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little.” Of course, it’s unnecessary to pay too much. But if a higher cost is equal to better reliability, transparency, and security, then paying too little is just the beginning of the trouble that might come. Because when it comes to PCB design or design in general, there are always some parameters to follow and adapt the design. You need to have important discussions and answer crucial questions, such as:
• Hardware design: What mm and tolerance requirements are there?
• Environment restrictions: Are there any?
• PCB technology: Which one is best suited for the product?
• Material restrictions: What is needed, and what environment will the product and PCB face?
• Reliability level: What is expected and mandatory?
• Test and qualification: How, when, and by whom?
• Standards and regulations: What standards does the product apply for, and are there any regulations that you need to handle?
Planks, Blocks, and Legos: Designers Evolve
Childhood in the ‘60s and ‘70s encouraged designing through planks, blocks, Legos, or whatever else we found by stacking, assembling, disassembling, sorting, or molding. We pushed the boundaries we had and developed design skills and thinking. Whether Josse’s incredible PCB design skills and knowledge started with him designing a treetop hut, we will not say for sure, but it all started with the design. We have learned that even if designing has evolved since then, the tools to facilitate it have been through an even steeper inventiveness.
A good example is a previous column Jan Pedersen wrote about how the unfinished printed circuit was tested before computer-based 3D simulations were a possibility. How did they do it? Simple! They took a piece of paper, scissors, and started to cut the paper into the shape of the flexible PCB to be designed. Next, they glued this to samples of the rigid PCB and started to simulate the application. Not only did they examine how it fit into the application, but they also checked the manual assembly process and found areas where the paper was torn. Then, the model was improved, and the process started again until the sample hit perfection. It was rough, honest, handcrafted work.
As for Josse’s treetop hut, Didrik’s wooden go-kart, or Jan’s paper models, we all want our design to hit perfection each time. However, to make that happen, we know that working thoroughly in the beginning. Involving the right parties to the table and setting the right parameters is a good start. As we say at Elmatica: What is your product or design challenge, and how can we assist you?
John Steinar "Josse" Johnsen and Jan Pedersen are senior technical advisors and Didrik Bech is CEO at Elmatica.
This article was originally published in the June 2019 issue of PCB007 Magazine.