Why use a PCB prototype?

Before you start a full production run, you must ensure that your Printed Circuit board (PCB) functions correctly. Since PCBs are an integral part of many electronic devices, if one performs inadequately or fails after full production, it can cost you extraordinarily. Prototyping your PCB beforehand can help avoid such situations.

Why invest in a PCB prototype?

Regardless of how careful your designers are on a project, invisible problems and small mistakes always pose a threat to the final product’s functionality. Usually, your engineers will use a PCB prototype early in the design process when testing the functions of PCB-based solutions.

They will often order multiple PCB prototype runs to test a single function or redesigns before moving to more complicated designs. Prototyping enables them to discover any elements that require correction in the early stages of the process, which makes the project less costly.

 

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What is a PCB Prototype?

PCB prototypes are early samples of products built with the sole purpose of testing design ideas to see if they work. Although most prototypes, in general, are made to test basic user functionality, engineers require somewhat, if not entirely, functional PCB prototypes to check the complete functionality of designs.

Engineers and designers use different types of PCB prototypes to test different design aspects. Throughout a project, your design teams may use several PCBs at various stages of their design processes. Example of these prototypes include:

  • Visual Models: They illustrate the physical aspects of PCB designs and show the overall component structure and shape. As the initial prototypes in your design process, engineers use visual models to review and communicate the design easily and affordably.
  • Proof-of-Concept Prototypes: These prototypes focus on the replication of the primary function of PCB boards without carrying all of the final product’s capabilities. They show viability.
  • Working Prototype: These are functioning boards containing all the planned functions and features of the final product. They help identify problems and weaknesses in designs but rarely represent what or how the final product will look like when finished.
  • Functional Prototype: Designers make these to resemble the final product. They provide the most accurate idea of the final design.

Advantages of a PCB Prototype

PCB designers use prototypes throughout the design process to test the functionality of their solution repeatedly with every new change or addition. But why use a PCB prototype before a standard production run, you may ask.

Although it seems like prototypes add several costs and steps to the process, they serve essential functions in the design process. They allow your designers and their teams to test at multiple design stages and make adjustments when necessary to tailor the solution before a full production run.

This creates several advantages for your designers and clients, as discussed below.

1 – Reduced Timeline

Whenever engineers develop a PCB design, they usually go through several iterations, while testing, before creating the final product. While this could be a time-consuming process, PCB prototypes help speed up the process through the following means:

  • Visual assistance: Showing clients prototypes of the final product as visual aids help communicate the design easily, which minimizes the time spent on explanations or client-requested redesigns.
  • Complete testing: Prototyping takes the guesswork out of the equation and allows your design teams to identify problems quickly and accurately.
  • Minimize rework: Prototypes allow your design team to see and test boards before full production, saving time and money.

2 – Accurate, Reliable Prototype

A reliable PCB prototype makes it easier to solve issues throughout the development process. Quality PCB prototypes represent your final product’s functionality accurately and allow designers to see and test the following: PCB design, functional testing, conditional testing, and final product design.

3 – Manufacturing Review and Assistance

When you use a PCB prototyping service, you stand to benefit from a new set of eyes from a third party. Several things can go wrong during the design process, including excessive input, design blind spots, and design-rule-check (DRC) limitations. These problems can result in design flaws, inefficiencies, and a host of other issues that your designers miss during the review process.

4 – Ability to Test Components Individually

For complex projects, the ability to test and validate each component individually enables your team to pinpoint where issues occur. Without individual components testing, it would be challenging to find problematic areas.

5 – Reduced Costs

So why incorporate a PCB prototype in your design process? Because it reduces a project’s overall cost. By helping your design team catch issues sooner, you can fix them before investing in a standard production run. It is cheaper to rework faulty components than to produce the entire project.

6 – Efficient Project Completion

Using PCB prototyping enables your design team to spot issues early and quickly identify the components that need adjustment. Without it, uncovering the causes of inadequate performance and other flaws would be a time-consuming process that could substantially extend your project’s timeframe.

The Bottom Line

Why produce a PCB prototype? Because this is a powerful tool for designers to offer time and cost-saving benefits while ensuring a top-quality final product. It has numerous benefits such as reduced project timeline and costs, ability to test components individually, efficient project completion, and accurate prototypes. As such, industry professionals recommend the use of prototyping to test new designs and revisions.

 

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