Printed circuit boards (PCBs) should function properly before you begin full production. When a PCB fails after full production or performs inadequately, it can cause you a great deal of trouble and cost you a whole lot of money. Such situations can be avoided if your PCB is prototyped beforehand.
PCB prototypes: why should you consider them?
Whatever the level of care your designers apply to a project, invisible problems and small errors will always exist. When testing PCB-based solutions, engineers use a prototype PCB early in the design process.
Before moving to more complicated designs, they will often order multiple prototypes of a single PCB or redesign the board. The prototyping allows them to discover errors at an early stage of the process, which reduces costs.
How do PCB prototypes work?
PCB prototypes are early versions of products built solely to test new design ideas. In general, prototypes are designed to test basic functionality, but engineers have to make slightly functional PCB prototypes to check the design’s complete functionality.
Different types of PCB prototypes are used by engineers and designers to test different aspects of their designs. The design teams of your projects may be required to use several PCBs throughout the course of their design processes. An example of one of these prototypes is:
- The visual model shows the overall structure and shape of the PCB and illustrates the physical aspects. Using visual models as the first prototypes in your design process makes the process of reviewing and communicating the design easy and affordable.
- Proof-of-Concept Prototypes: These prototypes are focused on replicating the function of PCB boards without including all of the capabilities of the final product. Clearly, they are viable.
- Working Prototype: Essentially, these are working boards for the end product, with all the features and functions planned for it. They can show design flaws and weaknesses, but they rarely depict the finished product.
- Functional Prototype: Designed to look like the finished product, these are made by designers. A sketch gives the best idea of what the final design will look like.
PCB prototyping advantages
PCB designers test their solutions repeatedly throughout the design process, every time they make changes or add to them. However, before a standard batch of PCBs is produced, it is advisable to develop a prototype.
The process of designing a prototype might seem like it adds many steps and costs, but it serves an essential function. You and your team can test at multiple design stages before production and make adjustments where necessary before going into full production.
The benefits to your designers and clients are numerous, as discussed below.
1 – Reduced timeframe
PCB engineers usually test the final design several times before they finalize the design. PCB prototypes can speed up this time-consuming process by utilizing the following features:
- Visual assistance: A prototype of the final product is useful as a visual aid so that clients can understand the design easily, so explaining the design or requesting a redesign takes less time.
- Complete testing: Your engineers will have a much better chance of identifying problems quickly and accurately with prototyping.
- Minimize rework: It is possible to test and see prototypes before full-sized production and save time and money.
2 – Accurate and Reliable Prototypes
As the development process progresses, a reliable PCB prototype will simplify the resolution of issues. An accurate PCB prototype represents the functionality of your final product and allows designers to see and test PCB design, functional testing, conditional testing, and the final product design.