Communication, Part 4: The Top 5 Causes of Engineering Delays


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Editor’s note: Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, and stay tuned for Parts 5 and 6 of this series.

In Part 4 of this series on how PCB fabricators and designers can better communicate, Bob Chandler from CA Design and Mark Thompson from Prototron Circuits address the top five causes of engineering delays.

Steve Williams: Our topic for today is the top five causes for engineering delays at the board shop. Mark, let’s start with you.

Mark Thompson: From where I sit, the first cause is conflicting or improper notes that don’t reflect the data that’s been supplied. The second cause is bad data, such as silkscreens that have been left on signal layers that are creating broken nets. The third cause is when changes are made to the agreed-upon impedance geometry. Somebody might come to me and say, “I have an eight-layer board. Layers one, three, six, and eight are 50-ohm, 90-ohm, and 100-ohm, and they’re based on this material type, this copper weight, and this color of solder mask.” If something changes—such as if they copper pour stuff too close and it changes from a free space geometry to a co-planner structure, or if they changed the color of the solder mask—I have to review everything.

The fourth is missing files, which we frequently experience, such as IPC-6012 Class 3 jobs that are missing netlists, where we’re then obligated to run an IPC netlist. The last cause is sending something and then not getting a response. It’s great that somebody will order something in a three-day turn and ask us to manufacture it in that amount of time, but if I’m quick in responding, we expect them to respond in a timely manner as well. However, it doesn’t always happen that way; sometimes, there’s a delay of one to three days.

Williams: That’s quite the laundry list. I know that none of that stuff applies to CA Design, Bob, but what do you have to say about the five causes Mark mentioned? Is this what you hear from your customers when they talk about other design services and some of the challenges they have with them?

BobChandler300.jpgBob Chandler: Most of those items are very typical and come down to one main cause: communication. Talk to your customers before and after. Make sure that you get the information for controlled impedance in advance, as well as for blind and buried vias, and stick to it. Also, talk to the fabrication house when you send it to see if they have any problems and answer their questions when they come back. It all comes back down to communication.

Williams: That’s a great point. One of my favorite consultants/business strategists is Tom Peters. I saw him speak one time, and he talked about an interview with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Tom asked, “What’s the secret to your success?” And the CEO said, “We’ve discovered an incredible technique on how to satisfy our customers: We actually talk to them,” so your points on communication is spot on. I think Mark would agree.

Thompson: Yes. And much of what we have discussed, and will discuss, in this series starts with that same conversation.

Williams: I know what Mark would say, but how would you suggest opening up those communication channels between the board shop and the designer, Bob? Who should own that or initiate first?

Chandler: The designer should own that a great deal. The electrical engineer in charge of the project and should ensure that it happens, and the designer should be able to talk directly to the fabrication house to get the answers they need to lay out the board properly.

Thompson: I completely agree.

Williams: And board shops aren’t without some skin in the game either; they have an obligation to keep the communication going.

Thompson: Absolutely.

Williams: Very good. This is a topic that everyone in the PCB industry faces, and if you ask anybody in the business, they would probably come up with a similar list to Mark’s. I appreciate both of your time.

Thompson: It was great to talk to you again.

Chandler: Thank you.

Steve Williams is the president of The Right Approach Consulting and an I-Connect007 columnist.

Bob Chandler is CTO of CA Design (cadesign.net) and a senior Allegro/OrCAD trainer and consultant.

Mark Thompson, CID+, is in engineering support at Prototron Circuits and an I-Connect007 columnist. Thompson is also the author of The Printed Circuit Designer's Guide to… Producing the Perfect Data Package. Visit I-007eBooks.com to download this book and other free, educational titles.

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