Designing the layout and requirements for a prototype are only the first step in PCB development. Once the design has been completed and hopefully analyzed using PCB Layout/Design software tools, assembly of the prototype board is the next step. Many engineers turn to third party vendors for the fabrication of the printed circuit board and assembly – even prototypes of very few quantities.
Why is out-sourcing becoming even more prevalent for PCB assembly? PCB boards are rapidly evolving in the application of technology in assembling and mass-producing the end product. Such requirements as multi-layer fabrication, high-density interconnect boards (HDI), laser direct imaging (LDI), and manufacturing utilizing flex or flex-rigid materials has made in-house fabrication even for prototypes an expensive proposition.
Most PCB designers do not have such fabrication capabilities at their immediate disposal, and turn to assembly and manufacturing experts to transform their prototype PCB designs into working boards.
What Does a PCB Prototype Assembler Need?
Before a PCB assembler can turn the prototype design into a working product, most need a full complement of information related to the project:
- Gerber files
- Number of prototypes required (often multiple prototypes are needed for various test cases)
- Bill of Material (BOM) documenting the full list of materials that are required
- Any special manufacturing requirements (surface mount technology, through hole, single or double-sided, multi-layer, lead free assembly, substrate materials, etc)
- Timeline required for turn-around of the project
With this information, prospective PCB assemblers can generate a quote for their services, and can also determine if the time requirements can be met.
Choosing a PCB Prototype Assembler
Selecting the right resource for fabrication of a prototype is a process that requires several factors in vetting the prospective vendors:
- Does the vendor have experience with the technologies relevant to the design? (handling of specific materials, multi-layer construction, HDI, and other requirements will require specialized equipment and expertise)
- Will the fabricator perform all assembly internally, or will all or parts of the construction be sub-contracted? Sending work outside could cause delays or lack of control in the end results.
- Are the components called for in the design available to the manufacturer?
- Ensure the vendor can deliver to the project timeline. Falling behind in schedule due to assembly delays may not be acceptable in many cases.