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In this issue, we discuss some of the challenges, pitfalls and mitigations to consider when designing non-standard board geometries. We share strategies for designing odd-shaped PCBs, including manufacturing trade-offs and considerations required for different segments and perspectives.
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Fresh PCB Concepts
By Team NCAB
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Fresh PCB Concepts: Fostering Loyal Relationships with PCB Design Engineers
Not to diminish the work of engineers from the past, but today’s PCB design engineers have much more technology to learn about than engineers of the past. To make matters worse, technological advancements are moving faster than ever, which puts more strain on design engineers to stay updated. Additionally, PCB designers have more options than ever. While this can, at times, be wonderful, it can also be overwhelming and daunting. In this landscape of new and complex challenges, nurturing a solid and enduring relationship with PCB design engineers becomes increasingly important and substantial.
There’s no secret to creating a loyal relationship with a PCB designer, but it does require some teamwork.
During our time in the PCB manufacturing industry, we have had the opportunity to build relationships with PCB designers from all walks of life, who all share common needs. From this, we know that just selling PCBs that meet specifications and timely deliveries is not sufficient to create this relationship. Instead, loyal relationships with PCB design engineers can be fostered by considering the following ideas, which are often overlooked amidst the daily grind of our industry.
Maximizing Reliability Across the Board
In the PCB industry, reliability is the most sought-after goal. Throughout our careers, the PCB design engineers we have worked with not only look for a reliable product, but also for reliable delivery. In scenarios where time-to-market is limited, even minor setbacks can trigger significant problems.
To mitigate such issues, PCB design engineers typically choose a factory that already knows their product and, therefore, can deliver the finished product on time and accurately to the specification. To consistently do this, the whole factory must work as a team. While one late or inaccurate PCB may not seem like much, it can halt the overall product delivery. From our experience, engineers prefer not to work with companies that frequently hold up their projects.
Many PCB design engineers we meet are interested in improving PCB design, as well as price and delivery time. Including additional personnel from various departments at the board fabricator can demonstrate the depth of expertise within your company. Bringing this expertise to the customer’s product development cycle can not only improve reliability and manufacturability but it develops mutual trust in the working relationship. By taking on this multifaceted or cross-functional approach, you can better provide the customer with more comprehensive support and value.
In addition to reliable production and delivery, PCB design engineers want consistent products. When we were new in this industry, we paid little attention to the seemingly insignificant aesthetics of a batch of boards. We thought that since most PCBs are enclosed, no one would see them; we couldn’t have been more mistaken. With extensive experience gained in assisting PCB designers with design troubleshooting, the value of producing consistent products has become very clear. Failures are inevitable in this line of work; when designers troubleshoot, they engage in a process of elimination. If the PCBs are not consistent, it complicates the troubleshooting process. Producing consistent circuit boards ensures our customers have a reliable partner in their professional journeys, and further builds trust between customer and supplier.
Taking on a Mentorship Role
As a design progresses, design engineers can sometimes require customer support to provide expert advice regarding their designs. The PCB design process has many moving parts and constraints; at times, designers need a quick solution to finalize the PCB design and data. When we meet a new design engineer for the first time, it’s typically because they had a problem that needed to be fixed yesterday. While it’s not an ideal situation to start a working relationship, it’s a chance to establish a trustworthy professional relationship with the customer by providing them with a solution to their problem. During this initial meeting, the aim is always to understand the customer’s needs and project requirements.
It helps to know some background and experience level for our customer contact. For example, when NCAB sends a data package to a factory, the CAM staff will reply with questions—sometimes, rightfully so, with a lot of questions. Some designers, through no fault of their own, lack the factory knowledge required to answer these questions, and yet, the factory needs this information to ensure an accurate product. This is where understanding the customer’s expertise is critical to acting as an intermediary between the customer and the factory. With this knowledge, we can tailor the support based on the customer’s needs.
Added Value: Showcase Your Knowledge and Competence
Another goal during the initial meeting is determining whether the new customer wants educational resources. Providing educational presentations to PCB design engineers not only fosters trust and mutual understanding, but it showcases the value you can provide. If your company does not have a staff member capable of delivering educational presentations, you may consider leveraging one of your front-end engineers knowledgeable with the process at hand. Our experience has been that PCB design engineers love to learn. Basic presentations on such topics as PCB manufacturing and PCB cost drivers go a long way in building a trustworthy relationship. Other subjects—new technologies, for example—may call for more tailored presentations, allowing you to distinguish yourself from other manufacturing facilities. Help your customers see you as a PCB authority, and they will know who to call for expert advice.
All relationships must be built on transparent communication. PCB design and manufacturing relationships are no different. When the PCB is being tooled up at the factory, many questions arise. While some are simple, others require changes the designer needs to know about. If we know the designer well, we can make certain decisions on their behalf to keep the PCB moving at the factory. However, major decisions must be made by the designer. Then, when we send questions to the customer, most have already been answered. For the more difficult questions, we may offer several solutions, or just one. The point is that we always communicate the outcome of each option to the customer. One quick way to destroy a trustworthy relationship with a customer is to modify the design without transparent communication. Though it’s not supposed to occur in our industry, it still does and it’s important to acknowledge this. After the PCB has been delivered, reach out for feedback and provide what’s requested.
Fostering loyal relationships with PCB design engineers is no different than any other relationship. The more support we can provide them, the more value we add to the relationship. Delivering reliable and consistent circuit boards should be the most important goal. However, if the boards are consistently late, your relationship with the customer will wane and fade away. If transparent communication is not an integral part of your approach, you risk losing valuable customers. Finally, educate and mentor PCB design engineers. Going the extra mile is always appreciated by design engineers. This requires effort, but as someone wiser than us once said, “The extra effort is worth it.”
This column originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of PCB007 Magazine.
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