Speed is an essential component of the rapid prototyping process. A custom quick turn PCB flex prototype is a common prototype manufacturing technique, and you can complete it in as little as one to three days. You will fabricate your PCBs and test them. This ensures that they meet your expectations and conform to stringent specifications during this process.
This article provides you with a list of places where you can find quick-turn custom flexible PCB prototypes. These companies also offer everything from online ordering to on-site quotations and turn times.
What is quick turn PCB assembly?
Quick turn PCB assembly fabricates printed circuit boards (PCBs) in bulk. It is a common prototyping technique for companies that want to mass-produce products. As a result, they are not willing or able to wait for complex and time-consuming PCB fabrication or prototype assembly. We also use it for prototyping non-PCBs like DLP displays, brake controllers, etc.
Quick turn flex circuits assembly is fast to prototype custom printed circuit boards (PCBs). We use this method of PCB fabrication by companies that need to fabricate multiple boards with the same design and function as other boards. It is a rapid prototyping technique that takes only one to three days to complete using materials like PVC, PETG, or both.
Flex PCB Prototyping
Flexible PCB prototyping is fabricating PCBs using flexible materials. They include polyimide, polyethylene terephthalate (PETG), and PVC. The process of prototyping using flexible PCB is much faster than standard methods of PCB prototyping like quick turn and rigid panel prototyping.
Companies make flexible circuit boards of very bendable plastic materials. One can cut it without causing damage to the panel due to the breakage of soldering wires during the normal operation of the product.
Shortening the design process with fast turnaround times is ideal for prototyping products with a short design cycle and limited documentation.
This method frees you from depending on other companies to make the circuit board prototypes. You can do everything in-house, which means less waiting time and a larger number of boards. You can also choose your lead-time and order as many as your company requires or needs. Also, you can move on to mass production (in the house) once the prototype meets your standards.
DIY flexible PCB: Building a circuit board from scratch
This is an excellent option if you are an engineer and like building circuits. You can build your PCB using off-the-shelf components, saving time and money. You need not worry about the lack of documentation for drawing up schematics. This method allows you to build your PCB with ease and quickly.
However, if you are not experienced with circuit development or electronics, working on such a project might be difficult at first.
PCB Prototyping Process
There are two standard ways to prototype your customized PCBs, including manual and automated systems. Each system has its advantages, depending on the design you want to create. The automated system is helpful in situations when you have many boards that need simultaneous fabrication. This method is fast, and it can reduce the cost of prototyping PCBs by up to 30%. This process lets you fabricate up to 10 times more prototype PCBs than custom quick turn PCB assembly.
The automated system is a fully integrated machine that consists of a pick and place robot, a reflow oven, and a high-definition camera. The robot picks and places passive components one by one on each PCB location, leaving no room for errors. The reflow oven then uses the solder paste to place the electronic chips on the PCBs. After correctly placing all components, they pass the boards an infrared camera that checks for missing or misplaced components. Next, they move the boards to another station to remove the solder mask and then solder the components. The entire system then passes through automatic testing to adjust before shipping the boards.
One can complete Quick turn PCB prototypes in as little as one to three days. This process allows you to fabricate and test PCBs simultaneously. It reduces costs that may occur when using a traditional, more expensive prototyping method. In this method, you must purchase the boards and test them separately.
Before PCB Prototyping
The process of PCB prototyping is a complex and labor-intensive process. Before starting the quick turn PCB prototyping, you need to get the required materials for your prototype board fabrication. If you don’t have these materials, you may have to wait for a more costly and time-consuming rigid panel prototype assembly method.
We can make PCBs into quick-turn prototypes like any other product, provided you have the right materials and knowledge. Following are the materials that you need to get started.
How to know if you need a Prototype
A prototype helps you clarify your ideas for a product you are creating. It is a process in which we simulate the final product to help users understand how it operates and what its design looks like. We can create a prototype for large products, like airplanes and small devices, such as mobile phones. The kind of prototype you need depends on the type of product you are creating. There are three prototypes: functional, form and fit, and quick-turn PCB prototyping.
We create functional prototypes when you are trying to mimic the working of a product. This prototype helps you understand your final product and the quantities of parts you will need to purchase to make it. Functional prototypes only contain information about a product’s functions and performance. It does not include any visual parts or visuals. You won’t see how the product works from a functional prototype alone. This means that it is best for testing an invention that doesn’t require visual appeal or aesthetics.
Functional prototypes are the most affordable type of prototype. When using this method, you need to create the product’s functions without any visual appeal and then test it for their functionality.
Form and Fit Prototype
Form and fit prototype are a simple 4-step process that can help you reduce the cost of production. It also prevents incurring extra expenses in the manufacturing phase. This prototype lets you check if your product has all the features required for its normal operation. The process of forming and fitting a prototype is straightforward. All you need to do is create a model of your product, called the mock-up. Check if the parts can fit in their positions. Also, check for any visual mistakes and aesthetics flaws using a 3D CAD program and make necessary adjustments if errors occur.
Quick Turn flex PCB Prototyping
Finally, quick turn PCB prototyping is ideal for products with an identical copy. We use this method to produce multiple copies of the same design. This method can save up to 70% on the cost of PCB manufacturing, which is a huge benefit when you are creating a prototype. The quick turn flex circuits prototyping process allows you to produce up to 10 times more prototypes than manual assembly techniques.
Quick turn PCB prototyping is also helpful in situations where there is a need for design documentation. It can help create different documentation depending on the required needs.
Preparing for the Prototyping Process
If you choose to do a quick turn PCB prototyping, you must also prepare yourself for the physical and emotional demands of the process. This process requires you to be well-organized and have a constant source of motivation. The process of rapid prototyping is very time-consuming. It can stress people who are not physically and emotionally prepared for the task ahead. You must also be ready to deal with competition and the frustrations that may arise when completing the task.
If you plan to do quick-turn PCB prototyping, you need to do specific things. For example, a well-equipped facility is the best place for quick-turn PCB prototyping. One that can provide all the tools and materials needed for PCB fabrication.
• The number of layers you need:
If your whole design requires multiple layers, you need to be ready to take a longer time for the process. Quick turn PCB prototyping usually has a limitation of two-layer boards. You may not include more than two layers in the quick-turn PCB prototyping process.
• Board thickness:
The thickness of your boards will also affect the time taken for their production. The maximum thickness used for quick-turn PCB prototyping is .062 inches. Anything over that may not be possible in a quick turn flex PCB prototyping facility.
• Have your CAD file ready:
You also need to ensure that you have a working and accurate design before sending it to a quick turn PCB prototyping company—the better the design, the lower the chances of errors occurring during production.
• Board dimensions:
The size of the boards will also affect the completion time. A smaller size will increase production speed, but a larger size generally means a lower cost per unit.
• Copper thickness and weight:
The thickness and weight of the copper used in your boards are also essential because they can influence the cost of production. A thinner board will have a faster production time and cost less, while a thicker one may cost more and take longer to finish.
• Minimum tracing and spacing:
When making the PCB layout, you must ensure enough room for the design. If the boards are too small, they will not fit inside a normal PCB fabricator, where PCB prototyping facilities can help.
• Minimum hole size:
You must make sure to insert the hole sizes in your boards with a drill bit or screwdriver. If the holes are too small, they will not connect with any external connectors or components.
• Be ready for changes:
The design process is never linear, so it is best to expect some changes as you go along. If a change occurs, it is best to learn from it and carry on with the process because altering a PCB layout can cause errors and affect the final product.
• Minimum annular ring:
While the annular ring may not be present on your final product, it is still essential in the design process. This is because annular rings can affect the accuracy and quality of your boards.
• Surface finish:
The surface finish of the PCB will also influence the time taken to complete production. A rough surface with many imperfections will take longer than a flat and smooth one. A good surface finish is necessary for PCB production with high tolerances.
• Minimum copper length:
The copper length used in your boards can also influence the overall time to complete production. If your board is too short, it will be difficult to solder it, which may cause problems during production.
• Soldermask and color:
The solder mask and the color of the PCB will also affect production time. This is because the quality of the solder mask and color affects the ability of the proper completion of your boards.
• Silkscreen legend and color:
The legend and color of the silkscreen are also important because they can impact the overall aesthetics of your final product.
• Drill file NC Excellon:
We use a drill file to create the holes needed in the boards. The need for a drill file depends on the number of layers and the material you plan to use. Some materials require a different drill file than others, so it is best to discuss this with your PCB fabricator beforehand.
• Drill file tool list:
Each drill file has its tool list, and this is the list of tools that we need to use during production. You should include a drill file tool list in your PCB layout to make an easy transfer to the fabrication facility.
• Drill file information:
The drill file also includes information about the needed tools for production. This includes things like bore diameters and pitch diameter.
PCB Prototyping Process Steps
The PCB prototype process includes many steps, and you must know all of them before you start the actual production process. The following are some of the steps that you need to follow when doing quick turn PCB prototyping:
Before you start PCB prototyping, you must do a thorough design. The design must include all the details of your PCB and not only the required dimensions and components. When designing a PCB, it is best to think of multiple layers because having two layers will not achieve the functionality you need. This is because the number of layers can vary depending on how many components you want to include and how complex your design is.
2. Schematic Design
Once you have finished designing your PCB prototypes, you must create a schematic to transfer the design onto the PCB. A schematic is a circuit plan that is present on the PCB. When making a schematic, you must ensure that the design of your PCB is present on the same plane as the copper layer. You can only complete your flex PCB prototype once you have completed your schematic. A proper schematic has all the required components and components required to complete that component.
3. Bill of Materials
If you are not using a Gerber file, you must create a bill of materials that includes all the parts needed to complete the prototype. Suppose you have included any libraries and schematic symbols in your design. In that case, it is best to include them in your bill of materials because they can be very useful in the production process.
Manufacturer Part Number:
This is the part number given by the manufacturer to identify a particular part. This will be unique to each manufacturer.
The footprint is the physical dimensions of the part, and it will include information about the shape and size of each part. This will consist of details like drill sizes and pad shapes.
Value refers to the value of each component, and the number will depend on the number of PCBs you want to make.
This will include the reference designator of each part. We will use this in the location of the schematic legend.
The quantity refers to the number of units you are purchasing, depending on the number of PCBs you want to make.
4. Routing Design
After you have completed your schematic design and your bill of materials, you must start routing. This is the step where you transfer your PCB layout to the production stage by creating tracks and vias that connect different layers. The tracks and vias are the paths where signals will flow between the various components of the final product. It is best to think about the length of a track or via. Any error in this step can greatly affect the overall quality of your boards.
Once you have completed the routing design, you must verify the design to ensure it works as expected. You can do this by either testing the components present on your PCB or the simulation test given in the board route. This is important to ensure that your design works perfectly.
6. Creating the Photo Film
Once the routing is complete with the design and confirming it, you must create the photo film used in the PCB production process. This photo film is essential for high-quality printing, and you must think about it before starting your prototype.
7. Printing the Inner layers
The flex PCB prototype process starts by creating the PCB inner layers. Before starting the actual printing, you must ensure that the photos are printable and laminated onto the inner layers. We do this using a laminator. The laminator is essential in attaching the photo film to your inner layers without tearing or damage. It also ensures that all the components on your board are well aligned and stay that way during the lamination process.
8. Aligning the Layers
Once the print is over, you must align the layers using a laminator. To achieve this, you need to turn your PCB on its side. Then absorb some of these materials into the film. This will ensure that the thermal transfer tape aligns in all directions, not affected by light or temperature fluctuations. Once you complete this process, you can move to other processes like soldering or PCB assembly.
9. Fusing the Layers
We then fuse the inner layers with special glue. Using this glue, you can easily assemble a single-layer PCB. After fusing all the layers, you must solder them together to allow proper electrical connections. You can achieve better electrical performance and performance required in your final product by doing this. When fusing layers, you must ensure that each layer is properly aligned using several alignment fixtures.
10. Drilling the Holes
Now you must drill the holes where you will place the components. For this step, you can either use a manual or automatic drill. The hole result is most precise if you are using an automatic drill. The hole size is uniform compared to a manual drill which may not have perfect results.
11. Copper Plating
Depending on your project and the number of PCBs you want to make, you may have to do a double-sided plating. This method is best for components like relays because they require proper grounding. So, in case you are using these components, you can opt for this option.
12. Outer Layer Imaging
After completing the manufacturing process needed to complete your PCB prototype, you must take a photo of your finished product. This will allow for better quality and correct images that we can use to manufacture your PCBs. It is also essential because it will make it easier for the people who assemble your final product.
13. Final Etching
The etching process is the last step to make your PCB prototype ready. This process will clean up any unwanted residue, and it will give your PCB a shiny finish.
After finishing the etching process, you can solder all your components onto the PCB. Test for functionality before using it for your final product.
PCB prototypes have become very common in the past few years. It allows for faster product testing and quicker error detection.
Why should you go with quick-turn PCB prototype assembly?
The Quick turn PCB assembly method is a fast and flexible prototyping technique that lets you fabricate multiple boards within one day or less. This process can reduce the turnaround time from days to hours, ideal for prototyping products with a short design cycle and limited design documentation. We also use it when we need the same design on multiple boards. When you use quick turn flex PCB assembly, you can ensure that the part you receive will meet your expectations and conform to all design standards. Some of the benefits include:
1. Best Cost Solutions
This method provides the most affordable products because it allows for a high number of boards per run. It is also ideal for companies to test multiple designs and get the product to market quickly with minimum expense. The quality of the product is not compromised because you can use a quick-turn PCB prototype assembly service that offers high-quality boards that conform to all design standards.
This method allows for customization at every step of the process, which means that you can alter your design and get a new board in just a few hours. It also allows you to create variations in your product line easily and quickly with no additional costs for designing or prototype time.
3. Scalable Processes
This method enables you to increase your capacity and meet the needs of your business as it grows. The turnaround time is quick, flexible, and scalable to accommodate any volume for any design. You can also reduce the turnaround time because you do not need a dedicated circuit board production facility. This enables you to complete multiple projects simultaneously without a high setup cost.
4. High Reliability
Companies make the components used in this method with state-of-the-art technology and standards. This makes it ideal for mass production and long-term use of the product. It is also waterproof, fireproof, and anti-static, which means that one can use your products anywhere without encountering metal objects. The components used here do not suffer from defects or changes in properties during the prototype process. This makes it ideal for any consumer or business that needs quality products.
5. Fast and On-Time Delivery
This method allows for the fast delivery of the product and on-time delivery. You can create multiple products at once.
6. Best Quality Control
This method provides you with a high-quality prototype that meets all design standards and conforms to all requirements.
7. Ease of Assembly
The products created in this method are easy to assemble because it uses a solder paste that is pre-applied to the boards, making it simpler than using traditional prototypes where you must apply the solder paste yourself.
8. Trained Personnel
Manufacturers who provide this service have the correct equipment and processes required to create high-quality prototypes. This means that they will make your product using the latest methods and technology available.
The PCB prototyping industry is constantly evolving, and flexible plastic boards allow prototyping in a short period. This is one reason companies are increasingly choosing to prototype using this method. And if you need to prototype other parts, we will also use a quick turn or rigid panel.
Because we can use several technologies to make PCBs, giving anyone method an edge over the rest is impossible.