PCBs: From Concept To Ordering

Say your business is looking for a new printed circuit board—anything from the finished layout for a wearable device or a heads-up display, to fabrication and assembly of a prototype. No matter the case, precise manufacturing and quick turnaround times, as well as a reliable single point of support throughout the entire process, are essential to getting what you need, when you need it. So what happens between the time you first conceive of the PCB to the moment it arrives at your office, ready for use?

Expectations for fulfillment are understandably high in a world in which so many other products and services are available near-instantly, on-demand, from sellers like Amazon and couriers such as FedEx. With PCBs, much of the procurement work—e.g., putting together a bill of materials (BOM) and submitting its components list to a vendor—happens between conception and actual ordering. Accordingly, there is the need to remove any potential barrier to getting a rapid response from your PCB partner once you have something concrete in mind.

Let's dive into what the concept-to-ordering progression often entails. With its steps in mind, we can see what an ideal process for getting a top-notch PCB would look like, with design, purchasing, manufacturing and delivery all optimized for rapid turnaround. We will look at one possible example, among many, for a PCB in a hardware device.

Once a schematic has been finalized, PCB manufacturers can move on to designing a precise layout.
Once a blueprint has been finalized, PCB manufacturers can move on to designing a precise layout.

Creating a schematic and prototype
The initial schematic should include a blueprint showing how the the various components will be connected. Plus, it should provide a basis for a bill of materials that can eventually be submitted during ordering. It may be possible to test out the design using a low-cost CPU like Raspberry Pi, in conjunction with some breadboarding (i.e., makeshift prototyping without any soldering required) to simulate the connections.

Designing the PCB layout
Going from a blueprint to an actual PCB layout requires additional technical attention to design details. A designer will keep a close eye on metrics such as how close the traces are to each other, whether there is sufficient airflow and heat dissipation throughout the board, the overall package size, and general resistance to environmental issues such as vibrations and possible bending, although this last factor relates to only flexible and rigid-flex PCBs.

Sending your plans to a PCB partner
At this point, you may be ready to see how feasible the proposed PCB really is. This juncture has traditionally been a bottleneck for many organizations since there can be delays in ordering components from your compiled BOM, checking the impedance requirements, and additional possible roadblocks.

Sierra Circuits has streamlined this process in our Instant Turnkey PCB Service, so that ordering online is as simple as possible. Receive a quote in just minutes after uploading your Excel sheet. BOM components can then be adjusted before actually placing the order. BOM ordering is instantaneous, with the option to compare different quantities and prices using our material selector. An impedance calculator is also available, as is a planner for integrating high density interconnect (HDI) technology into your design.

Getting support and making subsequent changes to your PCB
Initial designs may still require some modifications to ensure that they are manufacturable. For example, the board may need to be tweaked so that it can meet impedance requirements without becoming too thin and too difficult to assemble reliably. Or, its flex layers may be better off placed inside the rigid layers of the proposed stackup, so as to avoid any manufacturing errors.

Having a single point of contact for these types of issues is paramount for eliminating the confusion and communications errors that can arise when changes are made. Moreover, working with a nearby partner further simplifies matters and ensures that the overall time from conception and prototyping to accurate ordering and fulfillment is quick. Sierra Circuits designs, fabricates and assembles in-house, at their Sunnyvale, California facility. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, delivery or pick-up options are available on all your orders. Rather than rely on a manufacturer in another country, you get the convenience of quick turnaround and the ability to make last-minute changes.

This is a broad overview of what is often involved in the process of turning a PCB concept into an actual circuit board. Design revisions and back and forth communication with vendors are common, and with streamlined online ordering and testing tools, these activities can be easily managed so your project stays on schedule.

Find out more about how to order and what to expect from our PCB Products and Services page. Our sales representatives are available from 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, and we also offer live chat during business hours. With a simple login or registration, you can begin an instant quote for your PCB design.

Want to learn more about Sierra’s products and services? Download our brochure!

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