PCB Manufacturing

Eight Myths About Quick Turn PCB Fabrication

myths about quick turn PCB fabrication

In an urge to repair a broken electronic device, you might have probably attempted to disassemble your favorite gadgets where you discover that a simple handheld device can compose myriads of electronics inside. Printed circuit boards, also known as PCB, are the typical green boards that can be found inside these electronic devices. These PCBs act as the physical substrate that supports and electrically connects the components that enable the functions of your devices.

Industry experts foresee a growth in the PCB industry of 6.3% in 2024. The Chinese government is very supportive of providing incentives and subsidies to strengthen the semiconductor supply chain. Although the growth is positive, competition among PCB fabricators is tight, thus, a PCB fabricator that is resilient and competitive in investing in innovative solutions will most likely keep with the pace of the constantly evolving playing field of electronics. With the surge in electronic products being produced and released in the market, quick turn PCB fabrication was developed. As with any product and service, PCB fabrication can also be done fast, with the final product delivered just when you need it. Pretty close to the concept of fast food where you want your food delivered quickly to your table, quick-turn PCB fabrication is a complicated and technical process that requires systematic and efficient decision-making to shorten the overall cycle time.

Since quick turn PCB fabrication is a unique way of fabrication, this may cause some confusion, questions, and hesitations in opting for this type of PCB fabrication solution. In this article, we are going to debunk myths about quick turn PCB fabrication.

Myth 1: “Quick turn is for PCB prototyping only.”

Did you know that quick turn PCB fabrication is not just for Prototypes? Prototyping is a part of the design process to verify in a few samples if the PCB design and functionality are both met according to requirements. Quick turn PCB fabrication is very beneficial if your project requires rapid prototyping to get the expected results in an instant.

A prototype can be delivered in as fast as 24-hour turnaround time. Aside from prototyping, quick turn PCB fabrication is also applicable to pre-production and mass production builds. Design rules should be understood like spacing, drill registration accuracy and trace widths. Pre-production runs have a higher sample size to statistically simulate the performance of printed circuit boards and issues can be addressed before full deployment to mass production. At this stage, further optimization can still be done on the tooling and the board layout.

Finally, in mass production, the batch size becomes relatively larger and thus the timeline is also longer than the prior phases. It is important that you choose a supplier that can guarantee smooth logistics processes and effective planning systems to meet your deadline.

PCB prototyping

Myth 2: Key factors in finding a quick turn PCB supplier

It is not difficult to find several quick turn PCB assembly suppliers in China nowadays. What is more important though is to find a quick turn PCB assembly supplier that you can rely on. Listed below are the significant attributes that you need to look for in a reliable PCB supplier:

Technical Capability and Expertise: It will be tough to communicate technical issues to a partner who does not have sufficient expertise to translate your concerns into specific solutions. Each PCB fabrication line will have a corresponding set of tolerances and capabilities that are key points even as early as the design phase. For example, there is a design rule that prevails in considering the expansion of solder masks. This type of rule defines the distance between the solder pads ’borders and the solder mask’s borders. Design for Manufacturability, also commonly called in the electronics and semiconductor industry as DFM, is an essential deliverable in product design and development. This helps ensure that the PCB is manufacturable, and the design is robust enough and fail-safe. Executing DFM at the early stage helps reduce cycle time and minimizes cost by optimizing and verifying the design.

Quality: The quick turn PCB fabricator should consider high standards of quality. This means that the produced unit should conform to the established criteria and pass all the inspections and testing. The service provider should have a quality management system in compliance with ISO standards. The PCB and materials used should also be certified by IPC and UL (Underwriters Laboratories) which are certifying bodies for electronic components that ensure safety, performance, and reliability of the parts.

On-Time Delivery: Who would want a supplier that always delivers your products late? Delivering later than the agreed timeline is one of the nuisances in any PCB project. It destroys the trust and incurs further costs. A supplier who can produce and deliver the part per the quoted timing is a trustworthy one. Many PCB fabrication companies make available their estimated lead time in their marketing brochures and websites.

Cost: Last but not the least, is cost. The cost of printed circuit boards is influenced by the number of layers, design, via design, complexity of processes and material choice. A supplier that is also cost-competitive has a high chance of being selected. You must understand the material, process, packaging, and other costs associated with the unit price of your quick turn PCB. Understanding these cost factors will help you negotiate with your supplier.

Myth 3: Pros and cons of quick turn PCB fabrication

pros and cons of quick turn PCB fabrication

Let’s itemize the advantages of choosing quick turn PCB fabrication:

  • Enjoy significant cost savings by rapid turnaround times and avoiding manufacturing delays.
  • Avoid fabrication defects by detecting them early in the design development process.
  • Allow for adjustments in the initial stages before high-volume manufacturing. This can be done through constant checks and consistent customer feedback.

All the said advantages do not mean that you will not encounter challenges along the way. Assessments and deep dive evaluations should be performed to overcome the challenges. Here are some of the known challenges in quick turn PCB fabrication:

  • Considering the material cost and ensuring availability is very important to ensure that the project timeline will always be satisfied.
  • Requirement for advanced manufacturing techniques is to be studied.
  • Maintaining the highest quality without neglecting the cost is another challenge in quick turn PCB fabrication.

Having said all the benefits and challenges, you must know your objectives and priorities to conclude and choose the best direction for your PCB project.

Myth 4: “You will spend more on quick turn PCB fabrication.”

Maybe it is partially right since you must pay higher unit price for quick turn printed circuit boards, but the overall costs and benefits can far outweigh the cons. Cost is highly influenced by the design complexity and choice of materials. For instance, blind vias incur a higher price that its alternative thru-hole counterpart. Note that in quick turn PCB fabrication, time-to-market is reduced which means early Return on Investment (ROI) and cost savings. Having this capability will also further attract customers and users. There are various practices to trim down the cost:

  • Try to minimize the board size and area. Obviously, bigger board sizes mean higher costs.
  • Use standard board shape. Some quick turn PCB fabricators will ask for additional charges for irregular shapes of boards. If PCB shape is not detrimental to its application, better to resort to rectangular or square shapes.
  • Simplify and avoid intricate holes, widths and spacings. Printing tiny copper traces, and drilling small holes require very precise machinery that implies higher expenses. Let us take the example of annular ring width. The annular ring is the minimum distance between the hole’s border and the pad’s border. If the annular ring is outside the standard specifications of the PCB fabrication company, then the cost will be higher.

The above recommendations do not affect the cost only, but also the timeline of fabrication. The simpler, the cheaper and the shorter the timeline.

Myth 5: “Quick turn PCB supplier can do all the work so everything can be sped up.”

faster quick turn PCB fabrication

Relying all the decision-making to your supplier is a bad idea. Although the supplier is most likely the industry expert, you must collaborate closely so that all your requirements are understood to eliminate revisions and redesigns. Consultations should be done openly to prevent unanticipated interruptions brought about by design failures, sudden decisions to change materials or introducing tighter electrical test requirements. Providing faster feedback from all responsible teams will help meet the desired timeline. Ideas, goals, and tasks must be in sync and aligned. A quick turn PCB supplier should have the expertise to predict and anticipate where potential delays could arise.

Myth 6: “You can skip design verification or prototyping to compress the timeline.”

Product design and development require prototyping and should never be skipped. Doing shortcuts and proceeding to mass production without enough product validation will only result in quality issues, stoppages and worse, product recalls. As previously mentioned, quick turn prototyping can be finished in as fast as 24 hours where you can have an immediate insight if the design works and is manufacturable. Though prototyping requires resources, cost, and time, it is a mandatory step in PCB manufacturing. Skipping this important step will lead to issues in the downstream processes. Even if you meet the timeline at the early stage of your project, the delay will only be passed on to the latter processes. Below are the major steps or milestones in prototyping printed circuit boards:

  • Specify and quantify the preliminary bill of materials (BOM).
  • Accomplish the final schematic capture and final BOM.
  • Finalize the board layout and procure the required parts.
  • Complete the fabrication and assembly.
  • Troubleshoot the prototype and final test.
  • Document all the processes and necessary changes.

These steps are measured by their results and per cent completions. The end goal of design projects and prototyping is to make a product that meets the intended performance at an appropriate risk, schedule, and cost.

Myth 7: “In Quick turn PCB fabrication, quality is poor.”

No, definitely not. Time and quality can both be satisfied in quick turn PCB fabrication. Quick Turn PCBs undergo automatic visual inspection techniques and testing to optimize quality. Risk assessments are also present in every product stage, from design freeze to product and process validation and final in mass production. Risk assessments help engineers to establish corrective and preventive measures to reduce and eliminate defect occurrences. Quality should be a primary consideration. Once the quality is neglected, fixes, repairs and recalls can exhaust a lot of time, effort, and cost for both the customer and the PCB fabrication company. Here are some of the factors to consider in ensuring a quality PCB:

  • A quality PCB meets the visual and functional criteria. This means that the PCB undergoes AOI (Automated Optical Inspection) to ensure visual and dimensional quality and testing through In-Circuit or Flying Probe testing. Meeting the criteria ensures that the PCB will be able to perform its functions as intended.
  • A quality PCB undergoes processes with high production yields and stability. A PCB fabrication company with low fabrication yield means that a process has issues which can be related to the machine, set-up problems or wrong parameter settings.
  • A quality PCB has a robust design with a set of materials suited for its application. As iterated in this section, a quality mindset should be present in every design stage which means even during the design process and material selection, quality and reliability checks have both been performed.

Myth 8: “Customization and quick turn PCB assembly cannot go together.”

quick turn PCB fabrication machine

This is a false statement. You don’t need to think of standard components and processes to fulfil quick turn PCB fabrication. You have the flexibility to change the type of materials like the substrate, finishes and the stack-ups. Various quick turn PCB fabrication suppliers can cater for customization and quick turn PCB as part of their core competency. You just need to submit your custom printed circuit board design and specifications to them by attaching the Gerber files and the supplier can provide back a custom quote and lead time.

If, despite this article, you still have some doubts and clarifications about quick turn PCB assembly, you can always contact your preferred quick turn PCB fabrication service provider. You can maximize the benefits of quick turn PCB fabrication by partnering with a reliable supplier.

Additional Resources:

    Request for Quote