The PCB Norsemen: From Wooden Huts to Homemade Go-karts—It All Starts With Design!

DidrikBech_Elmatica_Jun2019.JPGWhen we were kids, we valued the possibility to design, create, and build—the ambition to create something special over hours spent drawing or building things. The quest for making a wooden go-kart that would make you the coolest kid in the street. Sometimes, the design fits the purpose. Other times, there might not even be a plan—just pure luck to succeed, or even better, win the heart of the most popular girl with your homemade vehicle.

As adults, the situation is slightly different. For some of us, the ability to design and create withers. Some keep this creativity and create fantastic products. As technology accelerates and the toolbox develops, it opens up a whole new set of tools and inventiveness.

An Important Foundation

For printed circuits, we gave up building the coolest go-kart a long time ago, but the story is the same; it all has to start with design. PCBs are the foundation for the product—the one thing connecting the bits and pieces. If poorly designed, it might cause unnecessary challenges for the EMS putting it all together and prevent the product from working optimally.

As a broker of printed circuits—the link between designers and manufacturers—we often see that early involvement and commitment between all the involved parties in a product development process diminishes the risk for mistakes and misunderstandings. Several times, we have seen the unfortunate result of inadequate planning and execution in the early phase of the product development process. Early involvement of an experienced partner in the design phase can save you from costly mistakes. With a knowledgeable partner onboard who’s not reluctant to share their know-how or ask the challenging questions, you can be on the secure side when planning.

Five Tips to Start Your Product Development Design

What tips should you provide when designing a new product? Here are five for you to consider.

1. Ask the Right Questions

When starting a product development process, you need to ask all of the important questions—why, how, where, what, when? What is possible, cost-effective, legal, and smart? Find the best solution for the heart of your electrical product—the PCB!

2. Do Your Research

When the concept is set, research and analysis begin. Involve an experienced partner to help you identify challenges, growth potential, and compliance.

3. Do Not Skip Steps

If PCB design is not your strength, involve someone with the skills. This will save you from costly mistakes. The same goes for the choice of the manufacturer.

4. Know Where You Produce

Make sure to have a trusted partner for production, offering transparency, documentation, and audited manufacturers.

JohnSteinarJohnsen_ElmaticaJun2019.JPG5. Do Not Forget Documentation

When your product is ready for launch, use a partner with a global delivery platform and experience. You do not want your product to face trouble on the finishing line.

Product Development Process

At Elmatica, we have split the product development process into six steps from idea generation to launch. We have supported the development of thousands of products throughout the years. Even if the process is more or less the same in 2018 compared to 1971 when we started, some things have changed. Outsourcing part of the supply chain is more frequent, and the products have increased in complexity. What is the result of this? The involvement of the right competence and knowledge in every step is more important than ever.

Designing PCBs Is an Art

Often, we see a design that is not feasible or possible to produce. Sometimes, the improvements needed are either time-consuming or difficult. You just need to know what to look for and how to solve it. Designing PCB is a bit like art; there are holes, pads, and wires that need to connect. While the painting might end up on the wall inspiring many, the perfect PCB drawing might end up saving you lots of challenges later in the process. However, an artist might not always start with a set purpose for their design, but a PCB designer aims to fill a very specific one with strict schematics as the base. Because we all know that PCBs are not shelf goods.

As with anything else in life, PCB design follows the same rules: The more you know before you start, the better. What environment will the printed circuit be in? Will it fit into a box? Will tall components need to be laid down flat to fit? Will flex-rigid be the best solution? Will this affect the cost of the PCB or the final product? How many PCBs are ideal to fit into one panel? Can a different design optimize panel utilization?

Important “Dos” to Remember

No matter where your product will end up, the better you plan and design, the better the end product will be. What we often preach when it comes to PCB designing is the following points:

• Consider early cost planning, which might prevent unnecessary surprises later

• Involve the supplier as early as possible, and make sure the right capabilities are available

• Do you possess the needed PCB knowledge? If not, involve a partner who does

• Consider risk vs. cost and reliability, as this can affect both choices of technology and capability

The following statement says it all: “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little.” Of course, it’s unnecessary to pay too much. But if a higher cost is equal to better reliability, transparency, and security, then paying too little is just the beginning of the trouble that might come. Because when it comes to PCB design or design in general, there are always some parameters to follow and adapt the design. You need to have important discussions and answer crucial questions, such as:

• Hardware design: What mm and tolerance requirements are there?

• Environment restrictions: Are there any?

• PCB technology: Which one is best suited for the product?

• Material restrictions: What is needed, and what environment will the product and PCB face?

• Reliability level: What is expected and mandatory?

• Test and qualification: How, when, and by whom?

• Standards and regulations: What standards does the product apply for, and are there any regulations that you need to handle?

Planks, Blocks, and Legos: Designers Evolve

Childhood in the ‘60s and ‘70s encouraged designing through planks, blocks, Legos, or whatever else we found by stacking, assembling, disassembling, sorting, or molding. We pushed the boundaries we had and developed design skills and thinking. Whether Josse’s incredible PCB design skills and knowledge started with him designing a treetop hut, we will not say for sure, but it all started with the design. We have learned that even if designing has evolved since then, the tools to facilitate it have been through an even steeper inventiveness.

A good example is a previous column Jan Pedersen wrote about how the unfinished printed circuit was tested before computer-based 3D simulations were a possibility. How did they do it? Simple! They took a piece of paper, scissors, and started to cut the paper into the shape of the flexible PCB to be designed. Next, they glued this to samples of the rigid PCB and started to simulate the application. Not only did they examine how it fit into the application, but they also checked the manual assembly process and found areas where the paper was torn. Then, the model was improved, and the process started again until the sample hit perfection. It was rough, honest, handcrafted work.

As for Josse’s treetop hut, Didrik’s wooden go-kart, or Jan’s paper models, we all want our design to hit perfection each time. However, to make that happen, we know that working thoroughly in the beginning. Involving the right parties to the table and setting the right parameters is a good start. As we say at Elmatica: What is your product or design challenge, and how can we assist you?

John Steinar "Josse" Johnsen and Jan Pedersen are senior technical advisors and Didrik Bech is CEO at Elmatica.

This article was originally published in the June 2019 issue of PCB007 Magazine.

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2019

The PCB Norsemen: From Wooden Huts to Homemade Go-karts—It All Starts With Design!

07-08-2019

Whether building the coolest go-kart or the most sophisticated electronic hardware, the story is the same: It starts with design. And for designers and manufacturers, early involvement and commitment between all the involved parties in a product development process diminishes the risk for mistakes and misunderstandings.

View Story

What Is Reliability Without Traceability?

06-27-2019

High reliability and compliance are hot topics at conferences all over the world. If you are a supplier to industries like defense, automotive, medical, and aerospace/space, high-reliability and regulatory compliance are strict demands for electronic device manufacturers. This column discusses how high-reliability demands enforce the need for traceability, and at what level the traceability should be.

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The PCB Norsemen: Merging the Best of Both Worlds—Young Superheroes and Knowledgeable Wizards!

05-29-2019

Companies that dare be true to themselves, trust their employees, and provide direction, freedom, and responsibility to their most important asset—namely, their employees—are more likely to succeed. However, we can all rattle behind these positive words and agree with these statements. The real question is, “How do you actually create and sustain an environment that motivates and attracts people—especially millennials—in the wave of Industry 4.0?"

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The PCB Norsemen: My Flexible Story—Flex Circuit Development Through the Decades

04-30-2019

Senior Technical Advisor Jan Pedersen is celebrating 26 years at Elmatica. In this column, he shares his thoughts from his long experience in this exciting industry, and talks about those things that have changed a lot in the past few decades, and the others that haven't.

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A PCB Broker’s Guide Through the Galaxy of Automation

04-05-2019

A smart factory is defined by its ability to harness manufacturing data flowing throughout the enterprise and then convert that data into intelligent information that can be used to create improvements in productivity, efficiency, savings, yields, automation, enabled traceability, compliance, and reduced risk of errors and rework. All of these items are crucial factors when manufacturing printed circuits.

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The PCB Norsemen: Technology’s Future Comes Together—A Great Slogan for Us All!

02-13-2019

“Technology’s Future Comes Together” was the theme of this year's IPC APEX EXPO, which is quite suitable during these changing times. I guess we all need to come together, especially the automotive industry.

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The PCB Norsemen: PCB Standards for Medical Device Applications—A Hard Nut to Crack!

02-04-2019

With digitalization, AI, and IoT, the traceability and transparency to how a PCB is produced will be even more important. We must rule out the PCBs that follow the standards to the ones that do not. The day will come when you or someone you know might need a medical device, and you want to make sure it does its job correctly.

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2018

Digital Specs for Automated Manufacturing: Find the Missing Link!

11-29-2018

Automation and connected smart factories are the new manufacturing trend. Industry 4.0 and the Internet of things (IoT) continue to enter PCB manufacturing. However, if we continue down the same path with specifications and requirements written on electronic papers and unintelligent production files, human interpretation is still crucial to avoid mistakes. CircuitData could solve this problem because having one language for automated smart factories is the future!

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PCB Norsemen: The Solution to the UL Challenge—Industrial Awareness

08-28-2018

Writes Jan Pedersen: The solder-limit subject has been a "hot potato" for a quite some time, with many discussions around the new requirement from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) that UL’s Emma Hudson brought to attention in early 2018.

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The PCB Norsemen: Lean Challenges—Standard vs. Non-Standard Products

08-06-2018

Writes Didrick Bech: People tend to treat standard and non-standard products in the same way; however, they represent two parallel product segments and consequently different challenges for your Lean manufacturing process, especially in relation to production and logistical operations. When you fail to differentiate the processing of standard and non-standard products, not only is the Lean manufacturing process disrupted, but you also introduce a variety of production, financial and logistical challenges.

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The Velocity of Technology— What Does It Really Mean?

07-02-2018

PCB Norseman, Jan Pedersen: Driving a car is probably one of the areas where the user comes in direct touch with the technology development. And we understand the speed when we see how fast we get new versions of smartphones and other gadgets. But in what direction are we going?

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2017

Industry 4.0, AI and CircuitData

11-14-2017

PCB Norseman, Andreas Lydersen: As automation works its way onto the shop floors, it still struggles to replace humans in the supporting roles, such as designers, purchasers, brokers, and back-office staff. Where automation on the shop floor replaces humans in doing repetitive manual tasks, the supporting roles (at least some of them) require intelligence to understand and utilise information.

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