Printed circuit boards play a major role in determining the success or failure of any quickturn project. There are many factors—and therefore many potential mistakes—that PCB layout engineers and other professionals have to avoid to enjoy the benefits of quickturn PCBs.
Here are seven of the most common, critical mistakes for PCB layout engineers to avoid through the design process and beyond in order to achieve fast time to market.
1. Ignoring PCB Fabrication Companies' Reputations
"If a firm doesn't have a reputation for quick turnaround times, then it isn't going to deliver."
This first mistake is also one of the broadest. Without a doubt, the PCB manufacturing partnership will significantly impact whether a company can fulfill quick turnaround times. When choosing a PCB partner, make sure you know the PCB shop’s reputations. The fact of the matter is that if a firm doesn't have a reputation for quick turnaround times, then it isn't going to deliver in this area. If quickturn PCBs are a priority, you need to look for a vendor that has clearly made speed a priority on their end as well.
2. Overlooking PCB Fabrication Companies' Capabilities
Another major mistake is assuming that a given PCB fabrication company will be able to provide precisely the services your design requires. Again, no two PCB manufacturers are the same. If you don't ensure their capabilities can address your PCB design requirements, you’ll run into delays that could diminish their turnaround time. Or worst case scenario, they’ll be unable to manufacture the board to your specifications.
This is especially important if your PCB design requires any unique processes. Regardless of your board’s complexity, you should reach out to the manufacturer to discuss capabilities and optimal speed.
3. Disregarding Prototype vs. Volume Issues
We covered this topic in greater depth previously. Suffice to say any company that assumes prototype and large-volume production speeds will be unable to achieve quick turnaround time for their PCBs.
4. Overlooking the Importance of Manufacturer Support
Even seemingly simple PCB designs may run into complications that can potentially prevent quick turnaround times. You can minimize this risk by developing a manufacturing partnership with a PCB fabrication firm that offers in-depth and always-available support. More specifically, the manufacturer should have expert engineers on staff who can work closely with clients to identify design problems early on, before they cause any delays.
5. Unnecessarily Incorporating Multiple Laminations
Moving from the bigger-picture issues to the more granular, this misstep is easy to overlook. Every board lam cycle requires the same amount of time and processes as the fabricating an entirely new board. With each lamination cycle, the board must go through every fabrication step, which can easily add two days to the total turnaround time, or even more.
This doesn't mean that multiple laminations aren't ever necessary, of course. But the process is inherently going to conflict with quick turn efforts, and as such should be used sparingly in quickturn designs.
6. Adding Via-in-Pads
Similarly, via-in-pads are a feature which, when unnecessarily included, undermine quickturn. There are certainly benefits to using via-in-pads. Most notably, the process can potentially keep heat out from under components or conserve space. However, adding via-in-pads can add a day or more to the total PCB turnaround time, and should only be done deliberately if quickturn is a priority. Check with your fab house to see if via-in-pads are required, or if there are any workarounds
7. Lacking Clarity for Your Notes
Finally, you need to be sure that any notes you include on your fabrication drawing are completely clear. This may seem obvious, but it's an extremely common mistake that can seriously delay PCB delivery. If your PCB fabrication partner cannot fully understand the design, the manufacturer will need to reconnect with the designer for clarification, and that back-and-forth can delay the delivery date. Make sure notes are thorough to avoid this complication and speed up PCB delivery.