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PCB Prototype
PCB Prototype

PCB Circuit Prototyping Services

At RayMing we have developed new and unique PCB solutions, branded as Borderless Boards, meaning boards without borders.

We are now able to offer our customers any kind of prototype circuit boards they require. Whether our customers need single or double-sided FR4 boards or very high technology blind and buried via boards, boards made with unique materials, metal core boards, heavy copper boards, burn-in boards, rigid-flex PCB and flex PCB, they will be able to get them from us.

By developing a portfolio of very strong and fully qualified partners we have established the capability of giving our customers whatever prototype PCB they need and when they need them. We can offer low cost PCB prototypes for the electronics hobbyist for low volume PCB prototyping or a prototype for a high volume run.

Rapid PCB Prototyping

We can offer a complete turnkey service for PCB prototyping: PCB Layout Design, PCB prototype fab, and PCB Assembly. Our circuit board prototyping services and turn times are unmatched:

By networking with fully qualified PCB manufacturing and assembly facilities, including HDI PCB, we can provide printed boards as quickly as in 12 – 24 hours, depending on the technologies required, and assemble them in as quickly as 24 hours.

Our staff of experienced professionals is here to serve our customers, assisting them in finding the right printed circuit boards solutions for their specific needs. By using our vast network of fully qualified partners we can offer our customers Borderless Boards providing them with whatever printed circuit board technology and service they require. If you can’t find it anywhere else it’s time to contact the experts at RayMing.

Find a PCB Prototype Manufacturer and Supplier. Choose Quality PCB Prototype Manufacturers, Suppliers, Exporters at RayPCB.com.Welcome to send your design to Sales@raypcb.com

Developing a PCB Prototype

PCB prototypes are essential tools among engineers and designers who need a fully functioning model of their project at an early stage in the design process. A circuit prototype lets you experiment with the design and make sure the signal paths are correct, along with identifying any potential issues.

Every circuit board engineer or designer worth their salt appreciates the importance of a PCB prototype. It acts as an early sample aimed at testing the printed circuit board design to comprehend its functionality. Similar to how printed circuit boards play a pivotal role in the manufacturing and advancing electronics, circuit prototyping proves crucial to the manufacturing and assembly of high-volume PCBs.

The production process of printed circuit boards, however, entails a series of processes. It entails designing, prototyping, and mass production. However, this article will concentrate on the development of PCB prototypes and every other related aspect of the prototype circuit board that you should know. So, let’s dig in, shall we?

PCB Prototyping

A PCB Prototype is a physical representation of your circuit diagram. They are used by engineers, designers, and hobbyists for many reasons, but mainly to check the function of a design and make changes in the project. Product developers can also use it to test fit for form and fit modules on a board without the need for assembly.

If you want to develop a PCB prototype, then comprehend what to expect. Knowledge of the different types of PCBs comes in handy at this juncture. After that, you can embark on the prototyping process, especially once you have comprehended this and every other relevant information relating to it,

Printed circuit boards come in different sizes and types. However, the type of PCB often depends on the materials used, the number of layers, the technology deployed in developing it, etc. It, therefore, becomes unsurprising to find PCBs with a myriad of names such as Nelco PCB, Multi-layer PCBs, Eagle PCBs, and so forth. Since a prototype often tests the functionality of a PCB design before mass production, conceptualizing your design prototype concept and classifying it under a specific PCB type becomes pivotal before the prototyping process.

However, the process of prototyping can become cumbersome and costly, especially if you want to do it yourself. Therefore, it becomes prudent to hire us- RayMing PCB and Assembly for quality PCB prototype service, including fabrication and assembly. At RayMing, we not only have the pedigree to perform rapid PCB prototyping for your needs, but experts, the latest equipment and technologies, and the relevant quality certifications to ensure top-rate PCB prototypes.

With a PCB prototype, you can quickly make adjustments before completing your first run of production components. A finished prototype allows you to take on the task of preparing for mass production much more smoothly.

Developing a PCB prototype

PCB prototypes play an instrumental role in the circuit board production process. As a designer, it helps to comprehend the entire prototyping process. Such knowledge not only becomes pivotal when gauging the costs and capacity of potential prototype manufacturers but what it takes to deliver your PCB prototype as well.

Process Steps in PCB Prototyping

circuit prototyping

So what does the PCB prototyping process entail?

  • Design. It is the initial step of the prototyping process of your printed circuit board. While a daunting prospect, especially if you fail to consider certain vital things, you can always use PCB design software in creating your prototype design. However, remember to indicate the design software used once you send the design package for prototyping. Crucial aspects you must consider should include the PCB type, number of layers, application area, costs, etc.
  • Schematic design. It represents a description of vital information engineers and manufacturers use in the PCB prototype production process. Information often entails materials, hardware to be deployed in the production process, relevant PCB components, the board’s function, features, and component placement. In this phase, you have to select the correct grid and panel size.

It is important to note that this schematic is a segment of the first design phase. You have to run a preliminary check to scout for and fix probable defects. As a designer, immediately you finalize the preliminary check and fix issues, you then have to run simulations through a specialized design tool (PCB) to ensure the proper functioning of the board. The process acts as a thorough design check. It then becomes crucial to convert the electronic design into a netlist. A netlist describes the interconnectivity between the components included.

Please note that it becomes useful to run design rule checks consistently during the design process instead of when everything is finalized. It is an excellent approach that enables you to identify and fix problems as you progress. Consequently, it ensures an extra efficient PCB prototype design process.

  • Bill of materials. The development of a PCB bill of materials becomes crucial to post the schematic phase. Here, all the materials and components needed for the production of the PCB prototype gets listed, complete with details concerning each element. It especially becomes vital in instances where you want us to source your PCB prototype materials. The BoM improves the accuracy of the PCB as designed in the schematic.  It can include the following information.
  •  Quantity. it includes the number of PCB components required
  • Reference designators. It encompasses codes that get used in the identification of specific parts.
  • Value. It indicates the component specifications in units and can include units such as ohms, farads, etc.
  • Footprint. It represents the exact location of every component on the PCB prototype board.
  • Manufacturer parts number. It implies the component manufacturer’s part number.

Once the schematic and the BOM get finalized, it becomes necessary to check and ascertain that you gather all the relevant parts. Here, you can always enlist the help of a component engineer to ensure the parts selected prove ideal for your PCB prototype design, besides fitting within the size and cost requirements.

  • Routing design. It comes as the subsequent step and involves designing your PCB prototype routing. You can accomplish this by using traces anticipated to connect every element of the printed circuit board. However, it helps if you remembered that several factors impact the routing plan. It includes noise sensitivity, power levels, and signal noise generation.

Most printed circuit board design software programs deploy the information on the netlist to develop and plan your PCB routing. Therefore, the programs can automatically compute the PCB’s optimal routes using layer number, among other crucial factors. However, the process can always take longer for larger PCB or circuit boards with plenty of components.

  • Checks. It is important to check your PCB prototype design regularly throughout the process to ensure no functionality issues arise, especially in the fabrication stage. Typical problems that you need to watch out for encompassing thermal issues like heat spots. PCB boards need to get maintained at a consistent temperature. Therefore, address any issues that arise from design features like varying copper thickness, thermal paths, large PCB size, inconsistent temperatures, and the layer number.  
  • Additionally, conducting the design rule check, an ERC (electrical rule check), and LVS (layout-versus-schematic check). In addition to a thermal check, conduct a design rule check, a layout-versus-schematic (LVS) check, an electrical rule check (ERC), and an antenna check. Some manufacturers also conduct other quality assurance assessments.

If you finish this process step, you can then submit the PCB prototype design for fabrication. The subsequent steps detailed below entail the fabrication phase.

  • Developing the photo film. Our company experts will use the design you provide to develop a photo film of the printed circuit board prototype using the appropriate plotter (printer.) It prints each of the PCB layers and solder mask.  The film infers to a printed plastic sheet that contains the board’s photo negative. The photo negative marks the non-conductive and conductive copper parts of the PCB prototype board. 
  • Printing of the inner layers. It involves the application of copper to the PCB substrate material. It starts with the copper pre-bonding process onto the substrate material. After that, the application of a photoresist follows. A photoresist implies a photosensitive film that, upon exposure to UV, it hardens. Areas that get blocked with the black ink remain soft. After that, you have to remove the unhardened photoresist with hardened parts functioning to protect the copper. Lastly, the hardened photoresist gets removed to expose the copper in areas that the design specifies.
  • Aligning the PCB prototype layers
  • Whenever you have multiple layers, it becomes crucial to align them accurately before punching precise registration holes. The importance of accurate alignment ensures a non-revision of inner layers. It is practically impossible to do later on in the fabrication process when the layers get fused.
  • Fusing the layers
  • The step entails fusing the Prepreg (outer layer material) and the copper foil-clad original substrate containing the copper traces. It involves two phases, the layer-up phase, and the bonding phase.

The fusion starts by placing the Prepreg layer over the alignment basin. You then have to stack the substrate layer followed by the copper sheet before adding another layer of Prepreg. On top of the Prepreg, another layer of aluminum foil gest incorporated before topping it off with a copper press plate. The layers get fitted into pins that are attached to the steel table.

After this, the bonding press computer controls the process which heats the stack besides applying pressure and cooling the stack. Consequently, you remove the pins and disengage the pressure plate to unpack the stack and obtain your PCB prototype.

  • Drilling holes. The next process entails drilling holes into the PCB stack that comes in handy when incorporating components later. However, you must ensure precision, especially with the 100-micron diameter specification. Because of this, the process normally gets carried out by a computer-controlled machine.  
  • Copper plating. It represents the next step and deploys a chemical bath to incorporate a copper layer onto the surface of the PCB panel. The copper shields the whole panel, including the holes’ interior walls. The process gets controlled by computers to ensure precision.  
  • Imaging of the outer layer. After the copper plating, the next step involves applying another photoresist layer to the PCB panel. It allows for the imaging of the PCB prototype’s outer layer. It follows a similar process as the one discussed earlier, which creates the inner layers’ inversion.
  • Tin and copper plating
  • It is the next step and involves the application of another round of copper layers. The photoresist, in this instance, ensures the deposition of copper on the desired parts of the PCB board. After that, the board gets a tin plating, which serves to safeguard the copper in the subsequent step.
  • Final etching. The process entails removing any extra copper through a chemical reaction, with the tin plating protecting the copper in the conductive areas. Upon the finalization of this step, the conductive connections become established.
  • Applying the solder mask
  • Here, you have to clean the board or panel before applying the solder mask ink (epoxy). After that, the board gets passed through UV light to harden the solder mask photo film. Remember to remove any unwanted and unhardened parts.
  • Applying the printed circuit board surface finish
  • The process includes the deposition of more silver or gold plating. Additionally, the deployment of hot air leveling to make the pads uniform becomes pivotal at this point.
  • Applying silkscreen
  • The ink-jet writing ensures that the PCB surface receives the silkscreen, conveying crucial details about the PCB board.
  • Cutting. Before you cut the board from its larger panel, it becomes essential to conduct an electrical test to ensure the board functions as projected.  The board gets cut either by a v-groove or a router. You can then pop the cut PCB board from the panel.
  • Sourcing. Sourcing for every component you need for the printed circuit board prototype assembly becomes key in the preparation stage. Here, you can source them yourself or entrust the contract manufacturer with your component sourcing. It is where the BOM you prepared earlier becomes pivotal. It will guide the component sourcing on your behalf by the contract manufacturer and ensure it satisfies your PCB design.
  • Assembly. It comes as the next step, and it entails attaching the needed components to your PCB board.
  • Solder paste stenciling. It encompasses the application of solder paste onto the board. It mixes with the flux and assists in melting the solder besides bonding it to the printed circuit board surface. The stainless steel stencil gets placed over the printed circuit board to allow the solder paste application in spots where the components will be stationed. The stainless steel stencil spreads the paste evenly on every open spot. After that, the stencil gets removed, leaving your PCB’s solder paste in the preferred locations.
  • Pick and place. The step ensures the accurate placing of surface mount components on the prototype PCB using a pick and place machine. It also places the non-connector components atop the soldering paste, especially in pre-programmed spots.
  • Reflow soldering. It is an instrumental process of attaching the surface mount parts or components to the printed circuit board. Here, the PCB prototype gets placed on a conveyor belt, passing it through the reflow oven. In most instances, the oven possesses heaters that slowly and steadily heat the board to 480 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat melts the solder, and when it gradually gets reduced, the solder cools and solidifies, ensuring a permanent attachment of the SMDs to the PCB.

However, for a double-sided PCB prototype, you have to apply the stencil and perform the reflow process separately on either side.

  • Quality control and inspection
  • Sometimes, accidental movement of the board can happen during the reflow process, resulting in poor connectivity or the absence of connections and electrical shorts. It, therefore, becomes prudent to check the board for errors post the reflow process through manual checks, x-ray inspection, and automatic optical inspection. It also becomes ideal for testing for the quality of connection and functionality.
  • Inserting through-hole parts or components
  • Some prototype boards need extra components besides the SMDs. Such components get inferred as plated through-hole parts or components, and they are plated all through to allow for the reception and transmission of electrical signals from one side to the next. It is crucial to note that solder paste cannot work on PTH components because of its effect of running through the hole without adhering. Therefore, you have to solder manually or deploy wave soldering. Here the board gets placed on a conveyor that passes it through an oven to cover the board’s base with molten solder. It ensures soldering of the pins simultaneously, though not effective for double-sided boards.  
  • Conducting the functionality test
  • It represents the final stage of the entire PCB prototyping process. The process entails testing the functionality of the board. It simulates the standard operating conditions that the prototype will get subjected to upon development.

Advantages of a PCB Prototype

Besides the well-understood advantages of a printed circuit board, a PCB prototype serves the functionality testing purpose and becomes beneficial in the following ways.

  • It allows you to detect any design flaws before you commence with the mass production process. It will therefore safeguard your capital investment.
  • Prototyping of PCBs proves a cost-effective method of testing multiple designs.
  • It also allows you to get a correct depiction of the functionality of your printed circuit board upon production.

How to Pick an Ideal PCB Prototype Manufacturing and Assembly Company

prototype circuit board

Presently, plenty of PCB prototype service companies exist in the market. A quick look at the PCB directory reinforces this point. Therefore, settling on a suitable top manufacturer can become tedious, especially when you have no previous printed circuit board prototyping history. So what factors should you consider to avoid picking the wrong company for your PCB prototype needs?

  • Quality. Quality represents a fundamental aspect to consider when picking an ideal PCB prototype service provider. You want a perfect PCB prototype free from printing errors and defects. Therefore, a PCB prototype manufacturer needs to guarantee this quality to ensure a functional and right based on your design. A fundamental way of gauging the seriousness of the PCB Company regarding their prototyping service includes having a chat with their customer care support. Whatever impression you get will act as an excellent beacon in either picking or disregarding the company.
  • Minimum order quantity (MOQ)
  • It also becomes prudent to consider the MOQ provision that a PCB prototype company offers before deciding on their suitability to your PCB prototype needs. Since prototyping represents an early stage of the design and production stage, getting a manufacturer with a high MOQ that perhaps surpasses your budget becomes a non-starter. Therefore, considering this aspect becomes pivotal based on your PCB prototype needs and budget portfolio. However, like us- RayMing PCB, most PCB prototype manufacturers often prove amenable to price negotiations.
  • Cost. It is another vital consideration you must take into account when picking a suitable PCB prototype service provider. Consider the quoted prototyping prices by the respective manufacturers to gauge the kind and quality of service they provide. In most instances, advanced prototype manufacturing and assembly technologies, state-of-the-art machines, high-level craftsmanship, and certifications will have higher prices than substandard prototyping services. However, it is crucial to note that most PCB prototyping companies will have a similar range of price quotes due to competition. Additionally, it is always better to pick quality over price, especially when your budget can allow it.
  • Turnaround time. You have to consider the delivery timelines of a company when shortlisting a PCB prototype manufacturer. In most cases, it should take a maximum of five days from receipt of the prototype’s Gerber file, though most take one or two days to deliver your prototype.    
  • Customization option. You have to consider if the prototype manufacturer is amenable to customization before picking them, especially if you are interested in customization. PCB prototyping sometimes requires changes in size, components, and shape.
  • International delivery. It is important to ascertain that the PCB prototype manufacturer provides delivery or shipping to your country. However, most PCB prototype manufacturers offer international deliveries.
  • Instant quote. Plenty of the well-established PCB prototype companies offer instant quotes through their websites. Therefore, it helps to pick one that has this facility as well.
  • Industry experience. It becomes a pivotal aspect of demonstrating the company’s capacity to deliver quality PCB prototyping service in the targeted industry. For example, a PCB design that targets the telecommunication sector will prove suitable for a PCB prototyping company that delves into this field. The experience should span a couple of years.
  • Multi-disciplinary services. It becomes prudent to hire a company that offers a multi-disciplinary service whenever you want to outsource services such as assembly.
  • Safe packaging and shipping. Finally, pick a PCB prototype service provider premised on their capability to safely package and ship the PCB prototype. It can become counterproductive to lose the prototypes due to breakages during shipping.

Final Remarks

The process of developing a PCB prototype often proves lengthy and complicated. However, by contacting us for your PCB prototyping needs, you can get accelerated development. We have the machines, the technologies, and the workforce to make it happen and quickly. All you have to do entails contacting us.