Economics of development and production of electronic devices Volume 3
In the first and second parts, we covered the functional characteristics of the device, technical and economic analysis, as well as the development of the electrical schematic and PCB layout. In the final part, we will focus on prototyping, testing, certification and, last but not least, the start of mass production and product launch.
We have designed the PCB, and so we are now in the process of developing the device to the prototype production phase. In this step we need to specify the production of the PCB and then fit it with components. If the product has custom mechanical parts, then we also need to manufacture them so that we can test the product including the mechanical parts.
We assume that most development companies are not equipped with the technology to manufacture PCBs, and will therefore need to outsource their manufacture to a specialist partner company. PCB production can be outsourced to companies both in the Czech Republic and abroad, especially in Southeast Asia.
Outsourcing PCB production: in the Czech Republic or abroad?
Both approaches have their pros and cons. If you don't have much experience in outsourcing PCB production and prefer simple communication and speed of delivery, then choose one of the domestic companies. The advantage is also the possibility of a personal visit, inspection of the technology and individual arrangement.
If you already have some experience and are not afraid of sometimes a little complicated communication, then feel free to outsource the production to one of the proven Asian companies. They can often impress with both price and speed of delivery.
When producing a PCB prototype, we are generally interested in quality and speed of delivery. Therefore, we always recommend outsourcing prototype production to proven companies that consistently ensure high quality production. This avoids defects caused by poor quality PCB manufacturing. The price aspect does not play a primary role in the case of prototype production. On the other hand, with each additional hardware revision, the total cost of prototype production increases.
Mounting of the prototype PCB
You can also have a partner company assemble the prototype PCB. However, if you have the right equipment and enough experience, you can also do the assembly yourself. It also depends on the complexity of the board or the number and type of electronic components.
If you prototype PCB units per year and have basic equipment in the form of a manual soldering station, then it is certainly worth outsourcing and automatic machine assembly or semi-automatic assembly to a specialist company. If we calculate honestly, then manual fitting will be comparable in cost to machine fitting, with the difference that machine fitting is much more reliable and of higher quality.
The exception is simple PCBs with low component density, which can also be assembled reliably and efficiently by hand. If we prototype dozens of PCBs per year, it can be advantageous, especially in terms of time flexibility and production deadlines, to purchase equipment for semi-automatic PCB assembly and train personnel to assemble the prototypes in-house.
The equipment for semi-automatic assembly includes at least a digital paste dispenser, a semi-automatic assembly system and a reflow soldering furnace. Deciding on the mounting method therefore always depends primarily on your current capabilities and abilities. It should be remembered that poor quality fitting can cause a number of difficulties later on during testing, which can lead to the destruction of the prototype. In this case, the direct financial loss is compounded by delays in development deadlines.
Testing and Certification
The final phase of electronic device development is testing and certification. For testing to be effective, a plan and methodology for each test must be established in advance. Testing without preparation increases the risk that some defects or non-conformities with the specification will not be detected in time or even not detected at all.
Internal prototype testing
During internal testing (especially for the first prototype), discrepancies with the specification and functional characteristics may be found, which may lead to the need to redesign the device. This means that we have to go through all the previous phases again. This is also where we can see whether we have been precise in the previous phases. That is, whether we have created a good specification and functional characteristic list, whether we have selected the right components and whether we have designed the PCB in accordance with the design needs.
The key is to carry out testing so that any deficiencies can be identified and corrected before the product is placed on the market. Remedying at this stage is always cheaper than if products have to be withdrawn from the market, either for servicing or for complete replacement with a new product. It should also be said that a project should always allow for two or three hardware revisions, during which the product's shortcomings are gradually debugged. We cannot therefore assume that we will be able to get the first prototype on the market right away. Such planning of project economics would certainly be doomed to failure.
If the relevant general legal provisions require it for the product or if the customer himself requests it, we proceed to certification by accredited laboratories at the end of the testing.
In the case of low-voltage electronic equipment, the law requires the manufacturer to assess the conformity of the equipment in accordance with Government Regulation No. 118/2016 Coll. Conformity is then most often assessed according to the selected harmonised standard that is the most appropriate for the product in terms of its content and classification.
The manufacturer may also choose a method of conformity assessment other than by means of a harmonised standard, in which case, however, it must sufficiently demonstrate that the equipment meets the legislative requirements. If for a particular product the legislation does not require testing in an accredited laboratory, it is fully sufficient if the manufacturer can demonstrate that the equipment complies. For reasons of certainty, the customer may request the test by an accredited laboratory. However, the tests are very expensive and the cost is the same in case of success or failure.
Pre-tests according to standards
If you encounter a non-conformance with the standard during accredited testing of a third prototype, you will be forced to redesign the product. It is therefore advisable to carry out so-called pre-tests against the relevant standards from the first prototype as part of internal testing.
Many accredited and non-accredited laboratories allow such assisted pre-tests. Thanks to pre-tests, we are able to address non-conformities with the standard from the very beginning of development. We then proceed to accredited testing only when the equipment passes all pre-tests.
However, product testing is not only governed by legal provisions. The product can be tested and tested to any standard as required by the customer. It is always the case that the compliance of a product with any standard should be verified during development, not at the very end.
Preparation for mass production
Successful testing of the device brings us to the stage where the development is complete and all that is left is to prepare the documentation for mass production of the device.
It is always the case that we need to make series production as good as possible and as cheap as possible. However, if we were to start working on the mass production preparation only at this stage of the project, we would probably conclude that the equipment is not ready for mass production. A costly redesign with all phases of development, including testing, would follow.
Preparing for mass production from analysis
It is necessary to work on the preparation for mass production from the analysis of the equipment and especially during the development of the equipment. In the course of the individual development reviews, we can focus on the shortcomings in terms of mass production and prepare the equipment so that it is ready for mass production at the same time as final testing. The aim of the qualitative preparation for series production is primarily:
● minimizing the number of production operations,
● minimization of manual operations,
● maximising automatic machine operations.
If manual operations are necessary, we try to minimize the workload of the operator.
Installation must be as simple as possible
Already when designing the concept of the device in the analysis, we try to keep in mind that the installation of the device should be as simple as possible. We design the equipment to minimize the number of mechanical parts, circuit boards and the amount of fasteners.
We decide where to route the wiring harnesses and where to place the connectors. We consider what mechanical and electrical fixtures we will need in the manufacturing process. Last but not least, we consider how we will upload software and production data to the device. In the next phase of development, we then ensure that the SMD and THT components can be fully automated through appropriate PCB design.
Using test points on the PCB, called test points, we prepare for the possibility of automatic or semi-automatic product testing. We verify the individual production processes during prototyping and adjust them based on feedback from our own production or from an external manufacturer. After testing and certification of the final product revision, the remaining work should then consist of preparing the final production documentation. This includes the BOM, drawings and work instructions.
Placing the product on the market
By securing mass production, we have reached the end of the entire process of developing and manufacturing the electronic device. Now all that remains is to bring the product to market and deliver it to customers. In the three parts of this article, we have briefly summarized the economics of developing and manufacturing electronic devices. However, this area is very broad. Many topics and details could not be covered in detail due to the size of the article and can be dealt with separately in the future.
This three-part article does not contain a complete listing of material and manufacturing items and totals that would facilitate the calculation of the development and production of any electronic device. In short, each device is unique and otherwise complex. The purpose of our series of articles was primarily to highlight the fact that if you want to successfully bring a new electronic device to market without suffering significant economic loss, you must evaluate carefully.
● what device you want to develop - according to the list of functional features,
● what you need to do it.
You also need to understand the different development phases and manufacturing processes that the device goes through during development and production. If you want to optimize the costs of the different development phases in your project costing, you must always be guided by the functional characteristics. You must also consider which areas can be optimised and which cannot.
Last but not least, you must carefully and honestly consider whether you have sufficient material, production and personnel resources to compete with the product in the market in the long term. If you are not able to provide long-term mass production, service and technical support after the market launch, you will surely soon lose the favour of your customers.
Do you have an idea for a new electronic device that you would like to bring to market, but are concerned about the entire development and design process? Contact ASN Plus and let us know your thoughts and ideas. We will guide you through the process, alert you to potential pitfalls and take the necessary steps if you wish. We've helped bring a number of electronic products to market, and we'd be happy to lend a helping hand to you.
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