The PCB Norsemen: A Path to Successful PCB Fabrication

Didrik_Bech.jpgIn the PCB fabrication process, there can be multiple actors involved, ranging from designers to developers, project leaders, salespeople, business developers, accounting personnel, government officials, and industry associations. How can you ensure that all these actors are cooperating to maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative effects of the pillars of PCB fabrication? It might sound like an insurmountable task, but there is a path that can increase your chances of success.

PCB Fabrication Pillars

The First Pillar: Technology
PCB capability and production can be challenging. If you stumble in this phase, you might end up with costly mistakes and delays later in the process, so keep your focus and consider the following questions:

  • What are the demands for the product?
  • What technology is feasible for your demands and design? 
  • Will the design require flexible, rigid, or rigid-flex printed circuits? 
  • What PCB laminates are suitable, considering whether the product needs reliability for harsh environments?

The Second and Third Pillars: Labor and Cost
Choosing the right internal team, as well as partners and manufacturers, is vital and constitutes your labor force. HMS and routines must be fulfilled and monitored. As the world goes greener, so is the demand for greener production, and environmental certifications. You don’t want surprises in your production after release, and you need the right labor force with the knowledge and experience necessary to succeed. There are several examples where well-known market leaders in all industries faced bad PR cases when child labor was identified, or products were withdrawn from the market due to safety or regulatory concerns, or unsafe or unfair labor conditions. These elements can be detrimental for a product or company, and the costs can be shattering.

The Fourth Pillar: Sales
The fourth pillar is no less important. Your product is ready for launch and global distribution, but do you have the right partners to succeed and ramp up or adapt to new market demands? Do you have the necessary insurance or a solid relationship with your logistic partners offering the necessary priority you need? COVID-19 has shown us how brittle a supply chain can be, and we have all learned many lessons; have you taken those into consideration?

The Fifth Pillar: Cybersecurity
The fifth pillar of PCB production should be cybersecurity. Protecting your data and intellectual property rights is a core necessity to allow you to keep your competitors at bay and give you room to further develop your products. Are you working with partners with the necessary equipment and procedures to protect your data?

Six Steps to Success
Understanding the pillars of PCB fabrication without setting it into a proper context may not allow you to fully understand its challenges and opportunities. I see this context by laying a path from the start to the end of the product development process (PDP). It’s essential to recognize at which step along the path you should involve the right actors based on the knowledge and expertise that the process requires is essential.

Unfortunately, actors are often brought in too late or at the wrong stage of the PDP, resulting in slower development, increased costs, and a suboptimal product. It is vital that the project leader for every new idea institutes a clear plan, path, timeline, and goals, as well as what to do if you are successful or unsuccessful.

Here are six steps to success, from concept and idea generation to product launch and distribution.

elmatica_idea_250.jpg1. Concept and Idea Generation
An idea itself will not end up as a product. When starting a PDP, you need to ask all the important questions. What is possible, cost-effective, legal, smart, and most optimal for your electrical product? What technological solution should you select, and at what price? At this stage, there is a tendency not to involve actors, such as procurement, sales, and accounting. These actors have unique knowledge regarding what technology the market actually is requesting (sales), cost-and-benefit analyses of technological solutions (procurement), and the actual profitability of the potential solution (accounting).

2. Research and Analysis

When the concept is set, research and analysis can begin. Ensure that you have all the actors to help you. The analysis is a key strength during any PDP, and this stage is often underestimated. Resources are spent on a product that the market either did not request (sales) or are labor-intensive and expensive (procurement and accounting). Spend time developing a comprehensive cost, sales, and market analysis. Know your market, and then you will know your product.

elmatica_design.jpg3. Design
When all parameters are set, and the analysis is complete, you are ready to start designing. Avoiding costly mistakes in your design and knowing at an early stage whether the design is optimal or not will ensure that the right manufacturer is selected for your design. Procurement and third-party actors are key during this stage to ensure that the right partners are selected. The costs can vary greatly if you select the wrong manufacturing entity at this stage, as they might lack the optimal technical capability, capacity, or experience with the product you are designing.
Many entities say, “Yes, we can,” but do you really know? How can you really find out? My advice is simple: Make sure you have the right knowledge and experience internally or through third-party entities to secure your design and manufacturing selection.

elmatica_production.jpg4. Prototype
Building your prototype is one of the most exciting phases during your PDP. Are all parameters covered, and will you meet the deadline? Are the manufacturing entities qualified and audited, and what is their experience with your type of products?
Working diligently in this phase will save you lots of trouble and costs. Select the right manufacturer from the beginning based on the expected sales volume of your product, compliance in relation to environmental standards (IPC, UL, automotive, medical, defense, ROSH, REACH, and numerous others). The cost of requalification is not only expensive and time-consuming, but it can determine whether you are actually allowed to access a market or deliver a bid.

elmatica_assy.jpg5. Production
When volume production kicks in, you want to make sure you are in good hands. Document your production and audit the manufacturer to secure your delivery. From here on, it is the supply chain management, combined with the market demand for your product, which will determine if your product can be a success.
Seamless production and being able to actively receive feedback from the market to improve your product will allow you to offer a good solution and create the trust that is vital to give your product a good reputation. Thus, your sales and market apparatus is key during this stage in combination with your designers and developers.

elmatica_shipping.jpg6. Launch
Your product is ready for launch and global distribution. Your global delivery platform and experience with documentation, regulations, and compliance should now be set. Having involved all the right actors at the right stage should now ensure that the pillars of PCB production are either stacked in your favor or reduced as much as possible. Get ready and launch.

Five Tips for Improved Product Development

  1. Ask the Right Questions: Ask necessary why, how, where, what, and when questions.
  2. Do Your Research: Involve an experienced partner to identify challenges, growth potential, and compliance.
  3. Do Not Skip Steps When Designing: If PCB design is not your strength, involve someone with the right skills. This will save you from making costly mistakes. The same applies to your choice of manufacturer.
  4. Know Where You Produce: Make sure to have a trusted partner for production who offers transparency, documentation, and audited manufacturers.
  5. Do Not Forget Documentation: Do not step into the “I forgot documentation” trap. When your product is ready for launch, use a partner with a global delivery platform and experience with documentation, regulations, and compliance. You do not want your product to face trouble at the finishing line. A great idea is not equivalent to a viable one.

There are a lot of technologies to consider, designs to create, costs to be calculated, manufacturers to be selected, and sales quotas to be met. Numerous times, I have seen the unfortunate result of inadequate planning and execution in the early phase of the PDP. Thus, I strongly recommend structuring and spending more time during the first three stages of this process (idea, research and analysis, and design). This will ensure that your PCB manufacturing aspects are in line, handled, and optimized for your future sales. And remember that even though an idea might be great, it does not mean that it is technologically viable, labor optimized at an acceptable market cost, or able to bring in the required sales revenue.

This column originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of PCB007 Magazine.



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