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Making your prototype service work to your advantage

Posted: 09 Feb 2016 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:OCM Manufacturing? prototype? manufacturing? assembly?

As a contract manufacturer we see a number of PCB designs and companies across various industries. In every one of those sectors, our clients run up against an age-old problem: the inability to find support for their prototyping needs. Now, there is a range of practices that will yield top performance and optimum results out of your prototype service.

Indeed, prototyping is an under-served market for our clients (we are in the low- to mid-volume, high-mix market). Of course it's important to have prototypes made, but it's equally important that they be made by someone who can provide great service and meaningful design for manufacturing (DFM) feedback. That is, by someone who can analyse and document the challenges that a design may face in production.

Still, it is a constant challenge to deliver on this industry's prototype needs, for a variety of reasons, most of which boil down to a time-versus-cost factor. Innovators are looking for fast turns on their prototypes, but issues can arise that are counter to this goal, leading to slow, expensive, or poor-quality prototype production.

Make no mistake: a prototype is a product. While it may be a product-in-concept, from a manufacturing perspective it still requires time to set up, assemble and properly review/document for manufacturability. The following steps will help to speed the turn-around and reduce the cost of your prototyping project.

Preparation is key

How you prepare your design for prototyping will make all the difference in the end result. These best practices should guide you:

1) First, talk to your contract manufacturer (CM) early on to understand the best process (manual or automated) for your proto, and what that will mean in terms of turnaround and cost. Talk to them before you begin your materials planning, purchasing, or seeking quotations.

2) Plan materials supply (turnkey materials supply or consigned) with your CM. Discuss your build options (manual or automated), costs, establish responsibilities and requirements.

3) Plan for device programming. Either work with your manufacturer on this or provide devices pre-programmed. Programming issues can delay prototype completion.

4) Plan the product labelling. This is frequently an afterthought but shouldn't be. Labels are almost always required on products or subassemblies and the space needs to be assigned and label design established. You might not be able or need to get your prototypes labeled in the same way you would for a production product, but now is an ideal time to establish a plan for the final product.

5) If you are doing turnkey prototypes, prepare a purchase order concurrently with your design so that your CM can work with you early to procure materials. Your CM will need to know when a design (in whole or part) is stable enough to begin ordering materials.

6) Provide adequate assembly documentation as early as possible and indicate whether or not it is pre-release or final (and so can be acted on).

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