When creating a circuit board, you must ensure it works appropriately. Keep in mind that a Printed Circuit Board is a vital part of most electronic gadgets. If it does not perform as expected, it can cost you a lot of money.
Hence, it is a good idea to include the prototype stage when building a PCB. PCB Prototyping will ensure your board works as expected. In this article, you will learn all about it.
What is a PCB Prototype?
A prototype is an early sample of a product. It is created to test whether the product will function as expected. With a prototype, it is possible to try several designs and then select the best that works for you. In addition, you can make modifications after testing the procedures.
Like the rapid prototyping part in manufacturing, Electronics also need prototyping for testing. After confirming the circuit board is working as per requirements, you can now move to the production phase. Here are the main benefits of using a PCB prototype.
Benefits of using PCB prototype
1. Smaller Line
One benefit of using a PCB prototype is getting a smaller line. Most manufacturing companies will build a few examples of the circuit board once you order a prototype.
For example, you can test one or 100 printed circuit boards. With this, you do not need to waste much money on testing.
2. Faster Production
Since you only need a few circuit boards for the prototype, production is a bit faster. It takes a few days to build the necessary prototypes for testing. Hence, it is easier to adjust or make required modifications without wasting time.
3. Testing materials
Another benefit of using a PCB prototype is testing the materials. Since most companies build PCBs with cheaper materials, you are given a chance to test whether the materials will work or not. Also, it is possible to try different materials before going into full production.
PCB Prototyping Process Steps
Prototyping is essential because it helps you perform a quality check on your circuit board before the real production. However, you need to understand the requirements and select an experienced company that provides excellent services. Here are the main steps of PCB prototyping
The first stage of making a prototype is to design it. Happily, you can use several PCB design software that is available. With a good design, you will be able to come up with an effective printed circuit board.
2. Creating the photo film
Now with a prototype design, the next step is to create a photo film. This is made with a printer known as a plotter for every layer.
A photo film is a plastic sheet with a photo negative of the circuit board. It marks the parts that will be conductive copper and non-conductive.
3. Printing the inner layers
At this step, copper is applied to the substrate material. First, there is a pre-bonding of copper to the substrate, and then a photoresist layer is applied. Then UV light is used to harden it.
4. Aligning the layers
When using multiple layers, the next step is aligning them. They need to be aligned and then punch accurate registration holes. This is very important because they need to line up perfectly. Remember that it is impossible to correct the inner layers once they have been combined.
5. Drilling the holes
The next step is to drill holes into the stack. This is used later when adding the components. Using an x-ray locator, you can target locations to drill the holes. Then a computer control will drill the holes.
The holes need to be drilled to around 100 microns in diameter. Keep in mind that a circuit board requires more than 100 holes. Hence, the process may take some time even though it drills very fast.
6. Copper plating
Copper plating is a process in which a chemical bath is used to deposit a layer of copper on the panel’s surface. It is applied to cover the whole board, even the drilled holes’ interior walls. Computers are used to control the process.
Silkscreen is another crucial step when building PCB prototypes. In this stage, a silkscreen is applied to the surface of the circuit board with ink-jet writing. This conveys vital information about the board.
After silk-screening, the board goes through an electrical test before cutting. Cutting is an important stage where the separate board is removed from the main panel. This is done using a particular machine known as a router or v-groove.
One of the most critical steps while manufacturing a PCB prototype is testing. Since it is the final step, every area should be tested. In short, the prototype needs to be tested before moving to total production.
First, the prototype is tested according to the reason for building it. Hence, you need to check the design errors and look for areas that might require enhancements. For multiple prototype designs, the best option is to run identity tests. After the trial, compare the results.
If you reveal some errors after the tests, you must start again. Happily, this is not an expensive affair, unlike when it is a full production. All you need is to build a new prototype and correct the errors. But if you are pleased with the quality and performance, you are now ready for the full production of the circuit board.
PCB prototyping is a fantastic phrase that helps manufacturers detect flaws and mistakes earlier. In addition, it is a process that enables you to avoid costly mistakes and helps you save a lot of time.
Therefore, if you are planning to build a printed circuit board, it is not a good idea to ignore PCB prototyping. Also, make sure you select a reliable company that will help you develop the boards you need.