Advanced Circuits, Inc. (ACI)

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Is It Too Expensive to Create a PCB Prototype?

A consumer who cracks open an electronic device will typically recognize the PCB (printed circuit board). This leads many to believe that all PCBs are the same and that there is no need for them to be redesigned or innovated in any way. Experts in electronics know differently. They understand that innovation goes on all the time, and PCB prototypes are extremely common.

Prototype Challenges

The trouble is that a PCB prototype can be a costly endeavor, particularly when production issues are added to the equation. As an example, many manufacturers employ the following practices, which make PCB prototypes difficult to build.

  • Lengthy production times – A cheap, fast production process is highly desirable where PCB prototypes are concerned. After all, it is key to product testing and design tweaks. Yet very few manufacturers offer a fast turnaround – such as one to five days – and it forces firms to rethink their options and skip a PCB prototype or product redesign.
  • Order minimums – Too many PCB makers demand a minimum order quantity, which means the production of a number of the same PCB prototypes. This is a substantial waste of money and requires the company to find a use for – or flatly discard – a batch of PCB prototypes.
  • Expensive design system – Hiring engineers and designers, investing in complicated and costly software, using printed films or evaluating digital files…these all cost a great deal but are typical steps in a standard PCB prototype design process.

The entire production process of any prototype PCB or standard PCB (from generating blueprints to making the substrate, printing the layers, UV hardening, copper removal, laminations, inspections, pressing, drilling, plating, imaging, etching, soldering, and silk screening stages and testing) will take a lot of time and generate a lot of expense. And yet, producers offering something like a one-day turnaround time are greeted with skepticism.

Considering the challenges of PCB prototype processes, that skepticism is wise, but there are producers capable of such feats. The team at Advanced Circuits, for instance, has a history of making the production of a PCB prototype, as well as full orders of PCBs, affordable, fast, and fail-proof.

How do they do this? They use unique tools and production methods that allow them to consistently rank at the top of the industry.

The Advanced Circuits PCB Prototype Production Process

The struggles of designing and producing a PCB prototype are even more complex than those points outlined earlier. For example, a PCB prototype runs the same risk of trouble if it runs beyond a single layer. There may be problems in the design that negate the functionality between layers, and this could render the PCB or PCB prototype unusable.

What can be done to facilitate an easier process? Advanced Circuits has created a PCB prototype process that overcomes most of the common concerns and hurdles. It includes:

  • No minimums – With the ability to order a single, affordable PCB, the idea of quick prototype design is a reality. One-day turnarounds are an option, and this means that a company’s production or design processes are not significantly interrupted.
  • Free software – One major concern for many companies is their need to invest in high-priced, high-tech design software. Advanced Circuits makes advanced options available entirely free of charge using their industry-recognized PCB Artist software. This software is available in an unrestricted format and comes with tutorials to speed up the learning curve. It also includes a discount when designs are run through the program – even a single PCB prototype order. Simply download the free software and use the program to create a prototype of up to 28 layers, using any of the half-million parts and components in the software’s built-in library.
  • FreeDFM evaluation software – In addition to the advanced design software, there is a simple-to-use option that allows a client to upload Gerber files and have them analyzed and corrected. The software also generates a report indicating potential roadblocks.
  • CAM engineer evaluations – All products are evaluated by one of the in-house engineers long before production begins, helping to eliminate costly mistakes.
  • Software-based ordering – Running the design through the free software allows for immediate ordering. A PCB prototype can be generated within the software, go through the FreeDFM and CAM engineer reviews, and receive a discount just as easily as a full batch of PCBs can.
  • Full tech support – Advanced Circuits offers 24-hour tech support that features direct access to a CAM engineer to help troubleshoot PCB prototype or standard design dilemmas.

After all these features are used, a PCB prototype is typically prepared for error-free production. Advanced Circuits then makes the product at the most rapid pace imaginable. As an industry leader with decades of experience making PCB prototypes (as well as huge production batches of PCBs), they are suited to companies of any size.

Advanced Circuits Offers Other Benefits for PCB Prototyping

Their immense facility provides production and assembly through a streamlined and cost-efficient process. In addition to their PCB prototype services, they also offer the following:

  • Full support – Unlike many other manufacturers, their team works with you every step of the way. They begin with a quote based on initial design spec uploads and walk all clients through to the final production and assembly phases.
  • Clear pricing – Also, unlike many other producers, they do not ask for stenciling fees, setup fees, and other sneaky, but ultimately unnecessary, charges.
  • Quality – While many in the PCB industry approve of Advanced Circuits’ array of design resources, they also appreciate the inspection process beginning with a full CAM review before any manufacturing begins, as well as visual inspections of the final circuit boards produced.
  • One-stop production – Everything takes place in the same place, from design tools, quality checks, design and production services, assembly, and anything else that’s needed to turn out a quality PCB prototype the first time.

A PCB prototype is just as important – if not more so – as the final PCB produced for a product line. Either way, the most affordable and hassle-free approach should be used, and a one-stop option like Advanced Circuits can be an invaluable partner in any company’s design and production process.


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