The PCB Norsemen: A Path to Successful PCB Fabrication

Didrik_Bech.jpgIn the PCB fabrication process, there can be multiple actors involved, ranging from designers to developers, project leaders, salespeople, business developers, accounting personnel, government officials, and industry associations. How can you ensure that all these actors are cooperating to maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative effects of the pillars of PCB fabrication? It might sound like an insurmountable task, but there is a path that can increase your chances of success.

PCB Fabrication Pillars

The First Pillar: Technology
PCB capability and production can be challenging. If you stumble in this phase, you might end up with costly mistakes and delays later in the process, so keep your focus and consider the following questions:

  • What are the demands for the product?
  • What technology is feasible for your demands and design? 
  • Will the design require flexible, rigid, or rigid-flex printed circuits? 
  • What PCB laminates are suitable, considering whether the product needs reliability for harsh environments?

The Second and Third Pillars: Labor and Cost
Choosing the right internal team, as well as partners and manufacturers, is vital and constitutes your labor force. HMS and routines must be fulfilled and monitored. As the world goes greener, so is the demand for greener production, and environmental certifications. You don’t want surprises in your production after release, and you need the right labor force with the knowledge and experience necessary to succeed. There are several examples where well-known market leaders in all industries faced bad PR cases when child labor was identified, or products were withdrawn from the market due to safety or regulatory concerns, or unsafe or unfair labor conditions. These elements can be detrimental for a product or company, and the costs can be shattering.

The Fourth Pillar: Sales
The fourth pillar is no less important. Your product is ready for launch and global distribution, but do you have the right partners to succeed and ramp up or adapt to new market demands? Do you have the necessary insurance or a solid relationship with your logistic partners offering the necessary priority you need? COVID-19 has shown us how brittle a supply chain can be, and we have all learned many lessons; have you taken those into consideration?

The Fifth Pillar: Cybersecurity
The fifth pillar of PCB production should be cybersecurity. Protecting your data and intellectual property rights is a core necessity to allow you to keep your competitors at bay and give you room to further develop your products. Are you working with partners with the necessary equipment and procedures to protect your data?

Six Steps to Success
Understanding the pillars of PCB fabrication without setting it into a proper context may not allow you to fully understand its challenges and opportunities. I see this context by laying a path from the start to the end of the product development process (PDP). It’s essential to recognize at which step along the path you should involve the right actors based on the knowledge and expertise that the process requires is essential.

Unfortunately, actors are often brought in too late or at the wrong stage of the PDP, resulting in slower development, increased costs, and a suboptimal product. It is vital that the project leader for every new idea institutes a clear plan, path, timeline, and goals, as well as what to do if you are successful or unsuccessful.

Here are six steps to success, from concept and idea generation to product launch and distribution.

elmatica_idea_250.jpg1. Concept and Idea Generation
An idea itself will not end up as a product. When starting a PDP, you need to ask all the important questions. What is possible, cost-effective, legal, smart, and most optimal for your electrical product? What technological solution should you select, and at what price? At this stage, there is a tendency not to involve actors, such as procurement, sales, and accounting. These actors have unique knowledge regarding what technology the market actually is requesting (sales), cost-and-benefit analyses of technological solutions (procurement), and the actual profitability of the potential solution (accounting).

elmatica_vision.jpg
2. Research and Analysis

When the concept is set, research and analysis can begin. Ensure that you have all the actors to help you. The analysis is a key strength during any PDP, and this stage is often underestimated. Resources are spent on a product that the market either did not request (sales) or are labor-intensive and expensive (procurement and accounting). Spend time developing a comprehensive cost, sales, and market analysis. Know your market, and then you will know your product.

elmatica_design.jpg3. Design
When all parameters are set, and the analysis is complete, you are ready to start designing. Avoiding costly mistakes in your design and knowing at an early stage whether the design is optimal or not will ensure that the right manufacturer is selected for your design. Procurement and third-party actors are key during this stage to ensure that the right partners are selected. The costs can vary greatly if you select the wrong manufacturing entity at this stage, as they might lack the optimal technical capability, capacity, or experience with the product you are designing.
Many entities say, “Yes, we can,” but do you really know? How can you really find out? My advice is simple: Make sure you have the right knowledge and experience internally or through third-party entities to secure your design and manufacturing selection.

elmatica_production.jpg4. Prototype
Building your prototype is one of the most exciting phases during your PDP. Are all parameters covered, and will you meet the deadline? Are the manufacturing entities qualified and audited, and what is their experience with your type of products?
Working diligently in this phase will save you lots of trouble and costs. Select the right manufacturer from the beginning based on the expected sales volume of your product, compliance in relation to environmental standards (IPC, UL, automotive, medical, defense, ROSH, REACH, and numerous others). The cost of requalification is not only expensive and time-consuming, but it can determine whether you are actually allowed to access a market or deliver a bid.

elmatica_assy.jpg5. Production
When volume production kicks in, you want to make sure you are in good hands. Document your production and audit the manufacturer to secure your delivery. From here on, it is the supply chain management, combined with the market demand for your product, which will determine if your product can be a success.
Seamless production and being able to actively receive feedback from the market to improve your product will allow you to offer a good solution and create the trust that is vital to give your product a good reputation. Thus, your sales and market apparatus is key during this stage in combination with your designers and developers.

elmatica_shipping.jpg6. Launch
Your product is ready for launch and global distribution. Your global delivery platform and experience with documentation, regulations, and compliance should now be set. Having involved all the right actors at the right stage should now ensure that the pillars of PCB production are either stacked in your favor or reduced as much as possible. Get ready and launch.

Five Tips for Improved Product Development

  1. Ask the Right Questions: Ask necessary why, how, where, what, and when questions.
  2. Do Your Research: Involve an experienced partner to identify challenges, growth potential, and compliance.
  3. Do Not Skip Steps When Designing: If PCB design is not your strength, involve someone with the right skills. This will save you from making costly mistakes. The same applies to your choice of manufacturer.
  4. Know Where You Produce: Make sure to have a trusted partner for production who offers transparency, documentation, and audited manufacturers.
  5. Do Not Forget Documentation: Do not step into the “I forgot documentation” trap. When your product is ready for launch, use a partner with a global delivery platform and experience with documentation, regulations, and compliance. You do not want your product to face trouble at the finishing line. A great idea is not equivalent to a viable one.

Conclusion
There are a lot of technologies to consider, designs to create, costs to be calculated, manufacturers to be selected, and sales quotas to be met. Numerous times, I have seen the unfortunate result of inadequate planning and execution in the early phase of the PDP. Thus, I strongly recommend structuring and spending more time during the first three stages of this process (idea, research and analysis, and design). This will ensure that your PCB manufacturing aspects are in line, handled, and optimized for your future sales. And remember that even though an idea might be great, it does not mean that it is technologically viable, labor optimized at an acceptable market cost, or able to bring in the required sales revenue.

This column originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of PCB007 Magazine.

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2020

The PCB Norsemen: A Path to Successful PCB Fabrication

09-28-2020

In the PCB fabrication process, there can be multiple actors involved. How can you ensure that all these actors are cooperating to maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative effects of the pillars of PCB fabrication? It might sound like an insurmountable task, but Didrik Bech shares a path that can increase your chances of success.

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The PCB Norsemen: Leadership Styles for Success

08-18-2020

Leadership is the foundation of a successful business. Elmatica CEO Didrik Bech looks deeper into the various styles of leadership and shares his experiences and opinions.

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PCB Norsemen: The Importance of Quality Management

06-19-2020

Most companies have a quality management system, but the important factor is not if you have one; it's about how that system is implemented in your company's values, strategies, and goals. Didrik Bech explains how you can use your QMS as a competitive advantage and shares five top reasons for having one.

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The PCB Norsemen: It’s All About Being Prepared

05-15-2020

COVID-19, known globally by now, and buzzwords like social distancing, isolation, home office, antibac, and lockdowns, are humming in every ear. Raymond Goh explores how this will impact the electronics industry and how to respond. Humans tend to stick to habits. Will the same happen to PCB production?

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The PCB Norsemen: Can Better Guidelines on Cosmetic Failures ‘Save’ Functioning PCBs?

05-05-2020

Every year, fully functional PCBs are scrapped due to cosmetic “failures” that are not approved. Is this right, or do we need to make an even more precise set of rules on how to handle this? Jan Pedersen shares his thoughts on the issue.

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The PCB Norsemen: What Are the True Benefits of Going Digital?

04-06-2020

2019 might have been the year when the trend word digitalization really kicked off and transitioned from being a buzzword to aligning with keywords and concepts as AI and IoT. Didrick Bech explores the future of digitization, which is already here.

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The PCB Norsemen: Automotive Standard Elevates the Excellence of Electronics

01-19-2020

IPC-6012DA (currently in WAM1) was the first automotive standard for printed boards; it also needs to expand to cover all types of rigid printed boards. To meet the PCB needs in the automotive industry of today and tomorrow, we have started to collect information and identify the types of printed boards not covered by the existing standard. One finding in the research is printed boards used for LED headlights and taillights, which have two requirements not covered; these are described as metal-core printed boards and high-power printed boards.

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The PCB Norsemen: New Trends in the PCB Industry at productronica 2019

01-02-2020

Working with PCB technology and standardization as I do, it is always interesting to see the new trends and where the PCB industry is moving. Changes tend to happen at a slow pace; still, I visited productronica this year for dedicated meetings and expected to learn about new processes and production equipment. What hit me was the different manufacturing focus between Asia and Europe. 5G applications and smartphones—both making an impact in the news as a high focus in Asia, where most of the production is placed—were hardly mentioned at productronica 2019. However, I picked up on other new trends in the PCB industry.

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2019

The Laminate Market: What Will the Future Bring?

11-04-2019

PCBs have been manufactured more or less the same way since we entered the industry in 1972, but the circumstances surrounding the boards have changed. The PCB Norsemen have addressed the copper situation several times in our columns as well as the component crisis affecting the PCB industry. Now, we’re experiencing external factors—such as Brexit and the trade restrictions between China and the U.S.—that are affecting the industry and causing delays due to raw material demand and prioritization by huge market players.

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The PCB Norsemen: Avoid Failures in PCB Production With Compliance Control

08-08-2019

Failures and reliability in the printed circuit industry are usually considered in the context of quality claims and non-conformity. This is a logical approach; however, there is a new context where these aspects are under close scrutiny, namely compliance—especially in the defense industry. Failing to understand import and export compliance for every country you deliver to and from will, at some point, result in challenges in your supply chain with potentially severe ramifications.

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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 diminish the risk for mistakes and misunderstandings.

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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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