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Proven Strategies for Optimizing PCB Prototyping Cycles

- by Matt Stevenson

PCB prototyping for electronic projects can take many forms these days.  There are several different approaches that designers can take and generally it is a combination of all of the methods available. The PCB provides multiple functions within a project, it acts as the rigid component that gives strength and stability for all of the components, wires, etc, it also connects all of the components together such that they function in the manner desired.

At its core, the PCB design is simply connecting all of the point-A's to point-B's and arranging the parts on the PCB so that they fit into the mechanical constraints, but we all know that there is a lot more that goes into a PCB design than that. At times there is even blood, sweat and tears.  In order to get from the concept to the working prototype, there are steps and checks that need to occur.

With modern technologies available there are opportunities to take advantage and use circuit simulator software packages.  Most of these packages are geared at high speed, high frequency, mixed signals, and even RF designs.  One of the other limitations for these packages is there is generally a fairly large cost associated with them and may be cost-prohibitive except for the corporate design teams.  

Iterative prototyping is another strategy for proving out the function and concept.  Build a revision of the PCB put the parts on it and test it.  Make design changes to rectify any issues found.  Then build another spin of the PCB; assemble, test, and repeat until it works as intended.  This method can be a bit expensive to do if using expensive ICs, but sometimes there is really no good substitute for real-world data.

In the middle is likely a good spot to be to help cut down the number of prototype spins that can save time and cost.  Simulate the circuit board, when applicable, until the data output is desirable, build, assemble and test and make final tweaks to the design to optimize the performance.  One key strategy to take into consideration when designing PCBs is understanding the manufacturer that is turning your design into a physical board.

Every manufacturer has its sweet spot in terms of capabilities, technical support and speed of manufacturing, so have a good pulse on your needs (capabilities required, lead time and desired overall experience) so that you are able to manage your project as effectively as possible.  For more information on tips to optimize the experience with the PCB manufacturer, this article from 2015 is still very relevant.

Good luck out there!


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