The worldwide market for PCBs was nearly $60 billion in 2012, according to IPC’s World PCB Production Report for the Year 2012. With such a large market, it can be tempting to rush to production to stark making revenue. The temptation to skip making prototype circuit boards, may be even greater when the PCB is only a part of a larger product. After all, you can’t sell your product until you have the printed circuit boards to make it operate.
This can be a risky strategy, however. Prototype circuit boards are a necessary and important step in the PCB fabrication process. Without prototype circuit boards, you may not identify problems with your PCB during the design process. Rather than risk incurring the cost of a major production run only to learn after the fact that your PCB had a fault in its design, take the time to build a prototype circuit board first to vet your design.
Why prototype printed circuit boards are essential
Since every printed circuit board is designed individually to meet is specific use requirements, each time you develop a new product, you must return to the design board. Board designers will employ a computer-based design software to determine the appropriate layout for the circuits on your board. This is also when the location is chosen for the holes through which the component leads or contact points will be laid out.
Since PCBs today are typically highly dense, the designer will be working on a very small scale. In general, the spacing between electrical paths will be one millimeter or less. Even the best design software can’t always predict shortcomings on such a minute scale. With prototype printed circuit boards, you’ll have the opportunity to examine the board in physical form. As such, you can determine faults in your design that may not be identifiable when using the design software.
Prototype printed circuit boards can also help you determine and verify the best manufacturing techniques to use on your board. For instance, while there are three main types of printed circuit boards (single-sided, double-sided, and multi-sided), you may determine another type of circuit assembly better suits your needs. An integrated circuit, also known as an IC or microchip, or a hybrid circuit may be a better assembly method.
An integrated circuit can perform similar functions to a PCB, but are capable of containing more circuits and components. ICs are made on a small chip of silicon with the components electrochemically formed. A hybrid circuit, on the other hand, looks like a PCB but has components which have been electrochemically formed and others which are soldered as on PCBs through surface mount technology or, for larger components, using through hole technology.
Testing prototype printed circuit boards
After each manufacturing, prototype printed circuit boards are tested. Only with a prototype PCB in hand can you fully determine if your PCB design is compatible with your intended application. This way you can check for both design and performance issues in the design.
Testing prototype printed circuit boards enables you to analyze their functionality. You can compare performance against the design specifications to determine if the design was a success. If it fails to meet your standards, it’s a simple matter of going back to the drawing board and modifying your design. The only loss you’ll have incurred at this point is the cost of printing a single PCB.
Through testing of prototype printed circuit boards, the board designer gains a better understanding of the feasibility of the design and whether or not the boards are ready to be marketed and sold. Making prototype printed circuit boards is an essential means of perfecting the design.
Building the final printed circuit board
After designing, manufacturing, and testing prototype printed circuit boards, you’ll be ready to build a final product. Any incorporate any necessary changes as determined by your prototype circuit boards to build a fully functional PCB. Thanks to your use of a prototype PCB, you can rest assured that the PCBs you manufacture next will be free of inconsistencies and fully functional with your final product.