Transforming the black box of PCB manufacturing to a white box experience leads to faster turnaround times, higher efficiency and better quality PCBs for a Flight Vehicle Manufacturer
PCB designers are generally aware of the impact of board quality and turnaround time on the product development cycle. However, for most contract manufacturers (CMs), the actual PCB manufacturing process typically involves a black box approach that makes it challenging for designers to understand how various decisions impact design manufacturability and limits the level of insight the CM can have about design intent.
As a result, designers do not fully grasp how board manufacturability can be affected by decisions like component placement, clearances between components, traces, drill holes and board edges, silkscreen fonts and layout, number and type of layers, drill hole sizes and locations and other board layout choices.
Additionally, designers may not be privy to minor tweaks that the CM must make to move the PCB manufacturing process forward.
This gap in knowledge and communication can result in designers not understanding how boards are made; how design decisions impact quotes; and what design changes are needed to ensure that the design adheres to the layout specifications based on the CM’s equipment capabilities. Furthermore, this limited understanding may lead engineers to have weeks of downtime on a project before discovering board quality issues or being able to test boards for functionality and performance.
“I do not think there is any better CM for prototypes in the industry."
—Lead Engineer, Tempo Flight Vehicle Manufacturer Client
The Story of One Client's Need for a New Approach
After working with various CMs and experiencing numerous problems that typically accompany the traditional black box approach to PCB manufacturing, a U.S.-based flight vehicle manufacturer (hereafter referred to as FV Manufacturer for the purpose of anonymity) was unsatisfied with the level of service. It was common to wait a week to receive a quote and board delivery could take three to four weeks. Inconsistency and delays wreaked havoc on project schedules and correcting board errors presented a larger problem altogether. When errors occurred, the CMs seemed almost disinterested in resolving the issue.
After repeatedly encountering such difficulties, FV Manufacturer searched for a CM capable of providing better quality service. Coincidentally, the Lead Engineer of FV Manufacturer heard about Tempo Automation from a colleague and contacted them after doing some research. This led to an initial order to “test the waters.”
Tempo's Unique Approach & Commitment Alleviates Client's Apprehension
Tempo's high level of dedication to client relationships was obvious from the start and has continued to be stellar. Compared to other CMs that FV Manufacturer had worked with, Tempo’s customer service is “fantastic.” As the Lead Engineer confided, anytime FV Manufacturer’s team has a question or needs assistance, the Tempo team is available, patient and prepared to work hard to “make sure that [he understands].” In fact, Tempo’s engineers often take the initiative and reach out to ensure that FV Manufacturer’s design intent and preferences are incorporated into the PCB manufacturing process. This diligence has made it apparent to FV Manufacturer that unlike their previous CMs, Tempo does anything necessary to satisfy a customer. Even more impressive to FV Manufacturer’s Lead Engineer, who has many years of PCB design and development experience, was how quickly Tempo was able to fabricate and assemble boards.
In describing Tempo's ability to consistently deliver their boards in about five days or less, he states, “It is unfathomable that the manufacturing process can be done that fast.” The initial engagement with Tempo has grown into an ongoing relationship with 37 orders (and counting). FV Manufacturer now considers Tempo to be entrenched in its development cycle scheduling as a failsafe.
Tempo's White Box Approach to PCB Manufacturing
Unlike most other CMs, Tempo employs a white box approach to PCB manufacturing instead of the traditional black box. Instead of keeping OEMs in the dark about what happens after designs are sent to a CM, Tempo aims to create a “symbiotic” relationship between the designer and manufacturer. In this relationship, the designer can tailor the PCB design to the specific capabilities and processes employed by the CM.
Meanwhile, the CM is able to incorporate the design intent and furnish the designer with specific DFM requirements that, when adhered to, optimize the PCB manufacturing process. Tempo’s white box approach strives to make the PCB manufacturing steps transparent to the designer. By developing a greater understanding of the manufacturing process and stressing the importance of accurate DFM, designers can send higher quality designs to the CM.
Design improvement, in this case, translates to a more efficient process with less upfront back-and-forth. It also ensures synchronization between specific design requirements and CM capabilities, ultimately leading to shorter times to develop accurate quotes. Having fulfilled this objective with Tempo, the Lead Engineer states, “Now, I know enough about DFM so it typically is not necessary to spend any upfront time correcting [the] design before manufacture.” This approach is optimized when the designer-CM relationship begins on day one of design.
Based on FV Manufacturer’s experience, Tempo provides several advantages that previous CMs did not provide. These benefits include speed, high reliability and superb quality of delivered boards. Tempo’s reliable turnaround time has now become the status quo for FV Manufacturer, which now experiences a design process with less constraints since the collaboration began. Due to Tempo’s reliability, efficiency and quick turnaround time, FV Manufacturer now has the flexibility to wait for mechanical and software design teams to complete their work before ordering boards. And after design, the process is much smoother than working with any other CM.
Due to Tempo’s reliability, efficiency and quick turnaround time, FV Manufacturer now has the flexibility to wait for mechanical and software design teams to complete their work before ordering boards. And after design, the process is much smoother than working with any other CM.
Although FV Manufacturer doesn’t typically quantify ROI with CM turnaround time, the Lead Engineer stipulates that the ease, smoothness and speed of Tempo’s process make the need for a dedicated procurement person obsolete. In their case, an engineer would typically be responsible for interacting with CMs and since working with Tempo, they have saved as much as 40 man-hours per order. Over the course of a year, FV manufacturer has placed 37 orders, saving approximately $142,000, which nearly equates to the salary of a full-time, experienced engineer.
A great example of Tempo’s positive impact occurred when FV Manufacturer faced a massive problem as the fabrication and assembly house they were working with failed to deliver. Not satisfying the order wasn’t an option, so FV Manufacturer dropped the other CM and chose to work solely with Tempo. Tempo swooped in to quickly and efficiently solve the problem by completing the boards in three days. This was a complete game changer for FV Manufacturer!
These results are directly attributable to Tempo’s white box approach to PCB manufacturing where the company and the CM are partners and the design and manufacturing process is open and transparent, unlike the black box approach that is counterproductive and far less efficient. When asked if he would recommend Tempo Automation, FV Manufacturer’s Lead Engineer emphatically indicated that he has and would continue to recommend Tempo to industry colleagues.
Obviously impressed with how “[Tempo makes] the process easier,” he enthusiastically professed, “I do not think there is any better CM for prototypes in the industry.”
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