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Contract Electronic Manufacturing Services: A Complete Guide on Design, Prototyping and Manufacturing of an innovative electronic product
Do you have any brilliant product idea, yet you do not know how to do it?
Creating a new product is all thrilling, exciting and confusing. First and foremost, you must understand the essentials in order to come up with the product. There are a lot of things that are to be considered before, during, and after manufacturing. To manufacture doesn’t only mean that you have to come up with a product, but it is more than that.
Electronic products play a pivotal role in everyone’s life every single day – from personal to business and so much more. This guide is created in the hopes of clearing up what electronics manufacturing and electronic manufacturing services really is. Furthermore, this talks about the process of manufacturing and everything in between.
Take a look and widen your horizon in the world of electronics manufacturing.
Terms used in Electronics Manufacturing
Electronic Product Design and Development
Make a Prototype of Electronics
Manufacturing and Production for Electronics
Conclusion and How Circuitsify Can Help
Chapter 1. Terms used in Electronics Manufacturing
1.1 Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS)
Electronic manufacturing services, EMS for short, refer to the services offered by companies which design, manufacture, test, distribute, provide return or repair services of electronic components. Often times–since lots of companies like Apple like to outsource electronics manufacturing where the production is contract based –EMS is also referred as electronic contract manufacturing services.
An EMS provider is a contract electronics manufacturer in the electronic industry which does not only produce OEM products, but it offers value-added services as well. These value-added services include manufacture design, design support, order configuration, management of supply chain, elements of repair, and outbound logistics.
Electronics manufacturing companies vary in size. Huge electronics manufacturer belongs to Tier 1. Companies belonging on Tier 1 are multi-billion dollar businesses and they produce some of the best products in the world. Think of Foxconn, as an electronics manufacturer who work exclusively for Apple, it produces all Apple products in the market–your iphones, ipads and Mac Books.
1.2 Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM)
OEM companies or service providers focus on product development and innovation which means that they design their own product and own the right of the product. With such case, new products coming from them rarely enter the market. OEM companies mostly outsource the components of the products that they make to their OEM partner. When it comes to the assembly of equipment, OEM equipment take a longer time to set it up, but is faster to run.
In electronics manufacturing, original equipment manufacturing or OEM refers to the production of goods by companies which are used as components in the products made by other companies. Companies who buy products from original equipment manufacturers are known as value-added reseller or VAR.
Moreover, this is a type of contract with the purpose of guaranteeing foreign companies who are subcontracting their manufacturing that the products are manufactured in compliance with commercial and technical requirements, and the manufacturer itself is complying with the confidentiality and intellectual property rights of the importing or buying company. Again in the previous example, Foxconn is one leading OEM electronics manufacturer where Apple outsource electronics manufacturing to Foxconn’s factories in Asia.
1.3 Original Design Manufacturing(ODM)
Original Design Manufacturing or ODM is somewhat similar to contract electronic manufacturing services, but ODM has its own IP for the product itself. Original Design Manufacturing is the process of designing and producing a product which is specified, branded and is sold by another company. In a simpler term, a company produces components of a certain product which will be maximized by another company. Once the company purchases the design or the product, the manufacturing company will no longer have any right with the product that is sold.
1.4 Printed Circuit Board (PCB)
A printed circuit board refers to the base which supports electronic or electrical components with the use of conductive tracks, pads, and other components which are attached from one or more layers of sheet of copper which is laminated in or between sheet layers of a non-conductive substrate. PCB manufacturing that includes both PCB fabrication and PCB assembly is usually used in electronic products as the major part of electronic manufacturing services.
1.5 Bill of Materials (BOM)
Bill of Materials, which is also referred as product structure, is the list and quantity of raw materials, components, assemblies, and parts which are needed in the manufacturing and completion of the end product in the process of electronics manufacturing. This can be the means of communication between electronics manufacturer and their customers, which is often tied to a product order which when issued may reserve components in the in-stock bill of materials and component requisitions that are not in stock. Products can be defined by BOM as design, order, maintained, or manufactured.
1.6 Design For Manufacturing (DFM)
Design For Manufacturing is a technique which eases the assortment of parts which makes up the final product after assembly. It is focused on reducing the complexities in the electronics manufacturing operations, in as much as it aims to reduce the overall production cost. The process includes the selection and review of raw materials, dimensional and requirements, and final packaging. Design For Manufacturing is done by simplifying, optimizing, and refining the design of the product.
Chapter 2. Electronic Product Design and Development
Organized electronic manufacturing services usually follow certain steps in the design and development of electronic components and electronic assemblies. A well executed design and development phase will bring out an outstanding electronic product. The stages in the design and development cycle of electronic products are as follows:
The first step in all production is conceptualization. Conceptualization is the stage where ideas are formed into a commercially successful product. The idea could be a new one or a variation of an existing product. A Technical Level Map or TLM is usually created in order to analyze and compare different products. The characteristics of the combination of functional-technical products are defined and selected in order to ensure that the created electronic device will be commercially successful.
Electronics manufacturer at this stage will prepare a detailed requirement that has product concept design along with a full description of the features and functions of the product. Business plan of the selected business model will also be selected at this stage.
Furthermore, this stage in electronic manufacturing services will also require the creation of the project draft, preparation of requirements specifications, specifications draft, and the realization of possible uses of the product.
These things are generally known as the proof of concept. In here, the prices will also be specified by the electronics manufacturer. NDAs will also be signed. After which, the base electronic components will be selected and the temporarily calculation of the Bill of Materials will be taken into account, altogether with the cost of manufacturing per batch.
2.2 Industrial and Mechanical Design of an Electronic Product
This stage during the electronic manufacturing services aims the creation of design and project documentation package for the created electronic product. Normally, this is to design the look of the product. 3D Modeling is recommended for making prototype since only in manufacturing the inject mold will be used to manufacture plastic case/box.
In this state, the gap between what is and what is possible is bridged. This entails the process of designing and developing an electronic component through electronic manufacturing services wherein the outcome will be sold through the process of production manufacturing. Moreover, it usually involves concerns about cost, quality, feasibility, reliability, performance, user features, serviceability, and intended life span in the attempt of producing an end product which is attractive to the target market, in as much as it attempts to successfully contribute to the business of the company who intends to make the product available in the market, especially when it is for a high volume production.
This stage also includes the design, development, and transitioning to electronics manufacturing. It also encompasses the concept and mechanical development of the product. When the initial design and development is completed, the transition of high volume production is seen as a part of product engineering.
2.3 Circuit Design
The circuit design stage has a wide coverage, but a single person can accomplish it if it is simple. A complicated or complex design will require a team of designers to work on it.
Circuit Design is defined as the process of working out the physical form of an electronic circuit. Its result is the instructions on how the physical electronic circuit of the product will be constructed during the electronics manufacturing process. It is usually in the form of blueprints which contains the size, shape, use, connector, and the artwork for printed circuit board manufacturing. Circuit designs usually involve the following steps.
2.3.1 Design the circuit schematic
Electronic manufacturing services offered come with circuit schematic design. Electronics manufacturers must have the ability to read and create schematics. In the process of circuit design, a schematic diagram is the representation of the elements of a system using abstract, graphic symbols rather than realistic pictures. A schematic usually omits all details that are not relevant to the information the schematic is intended to convey, and may add unrealistic elements that aid comprehension. In an electronic circuit diagram, the layout of the symbols may not resemble the layout of the circuit.
Abstraction is very important when illustrating the circuit. A napkin schematic is suited for high level concepts while a schematic for simulation needs a clear detail about power supplies, signal sources, component values and so much more. Research on the most affordable components and the best topology is the very first step in designing a schematic circuit. Schematic circuit design may require the use of electronics design software if electronic manufacturing services are not availed.
The schematic diagram shows how every component of the electronic product connects together. The schematic diagram is very sensible and a simple mistake can completely make the whole product dysfunctional. Most of the time, each module in the system block diagram will need a separate sub-circuit. These sub-circuits will be connected together form the full schematic circuit design. In order to create a schematic diagram which is free from any error, a special electronic design software is used in the electronic manufacturing services offered.
2.3.2 Design the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Layout
Printed circuit board is a board which has lines and pads which connect various points together and allows signals and power to be routed between physical devices. The PCB layout is very sensible to power and RF circuits. Mistakes are also common in here. PCBs can either be single-sided, double-sided, or multilayer.
In the middle of the PCB is fiberglass or FR4 which makes the PCB rigid and thick. Next to it is a thin copper foil laminated to the board with the use of heat and adhesive. On top of the copper foil is a solder mask. Solder mask is green in color and insulates the copper traces from accidental contact with other metal, solder, or conductive bits. The outermost layer is a silkscreen which adds letters, numbers, and symbols to the PCB. These letters, numbers, and symbols allow easier PCB assembly.
Generally speaking, a smaller product whose components are tightly packed together will take longer time to create the PCB layout. But it is even more time co aiming and more critical if the electronic product routes large amount of power or if it offers wireless connectivity.
Once the PCB layout is complete, the electronics manufacturer will match the PCB and the schematic which makes it essential to maintain all specifications from the PCB provider before starting to layout the PCB.
2.4 Evaluate and Debug the Prototype
Prototype is the early product sample which is released to test the electronic component. It is used to evaluate of a new design of an electronic product made out of electronic manufacturing services in order enhance its precision and accuracy. It ensures that the specifications are real and the product is working.
In this stage, a first batch of prototype will be released. Once these prototypes come back to the electronics manufacturer, it will be then evaluated. If in case a problem is found, the prototypes will be debugged. It is very rare that the first prototypes will have no problem at all. More often than not, there is always an issue about it. Debugging a new circuit is not easy, but it is much every difficult to tell when will the debugging process be completed especially when the problem is uncertain.
2.5 Program the Microcontroller
Microcontrollers are considered as the brain of the product. Most microcontrollers are programmed by a technician in a computer language called “C” during the electronic manufacturing services. The assembly language is used if there is a need for the program to be very fast and efficient. At times, the technicians in the electronic manufacturing companies who designed the circuit will also be the one responsible in programming the electronic product, but commonly, a software specialist do the job. In the hopes of providing complete service to clients, electronics manufacturer employ software specialist else well.
Chapter 3. Prototyping for Electronics
Prototyping is a very important part in the processing of designing the product. For each time a prototype is created, the electronic product should improve. Prototyping will verify the operability of the product and will eliminate possible errors during the product design stage. The prototypes can either be used to sell the product to target the target market or prepare for the device certification test.
The process of prototyping from electronic manufacturing services includes purchasing the components, putting and assembling PCBs in the production stage, checking the device case for an easier assembly, and arranging device cases according on how close they are to the final variant. After PCB assembly, a first launch will be performed. After which, the operating system and boot loader will be ported. The device components will be assembled which will be followed with a thorough integrated testing.
With the Prototype result, the elaboration of the product’s functional requirement is possible and necessary changes can be done in order to improve the product. All of these things are provided by electronic manufacturing services. Prototypes are required in order to prove that the concept design is right before manufacture. Both quantity and type of prototype is determined by the complexity of the design. In making a prototype for electronic devices, the full turnkey electronic manufacturing services are usually needed, which include PCB fabrication and assembly at the circuit level, and the electronic enclosure manufacturing and system integration. The plastic case and the PCB have to be prototyped separately due to their nature difference and later two parts will be integrated into a fully functioning prototype.
In prototyping a product, it is recommended that it should start from the simplest and most cost-effective version, and little by little, each iteration should move closer to a production-quality type. It is also best to separate the prototypes of the product in order to have the feel on the functionality of the product. This is a practice done by most electronics manufacturer. This is an inclusion of the electronic manufacturing services provided.
Creating electronic prototype involves to two steps. In the first step, a bare board is produced. The circuit design software used by the electronic manufacturers will enable the PCB layout to be formatted with Gerber wherein each PCB later has one file. For OEM projects, these Gerber files are usually provided by the customers with the prototype for their partnered electronics manufacturers for small volume or high volume test. In contrast, the ODM project requires the electronic manufacturing services provider to design their own Gerber files.
The second step is soldering all the electronic components onto the board. Technicians from the electronic manufacturing services can do this by coordinating every component placed on the board with the help of the design software used.
Chapter 4. Manufacturing and Production for Electronics
Manufacturing is the creation and assembly of components and finished products using labor or machines, tool, chemical and biological processing or formulation. In the field of electronic manufacturing service, the service provider works hand in hand with the manufacturer especially for high volume production of products. Industrial production is the most common wherein raw materials are made into finished goods which will probably be sold to other manufacturers who produce more complex products or it could be sold to wholesalers as well.
The manufacturing steps follow certain steps in order to come up with a final electronic product out of the raw materials. Manufacturing begins with the product design and the specifications of materials from which the product is made. These materials will then be modified in order for it to be transformed into the required part. Electronic manufacturing services are still involved in this stage. The most common types of manufacturing used in the electronics industry are make to stock or MTS, make to order or MTO, and make to assemble or MTA.
Production on the other hand is broader than manufacturing. Production refers to the processes and techniques involved in converting the raw materials into a finished product. The aim of this stage is the industrial production of the product which is ready to be sold to the end user. Electronics manufacturer at this stage, supervise both manufacturing and production for quality control.
4.1 Electronic component sourcing and purchasing
The overall outcome of the product greatly depends on the quality of the materials used by selecting the right component from the right supplier. It is even better if you go for the electronics manufacturer that can cater all your needs in order for you to save time. In selection a prospective supplier, a strong and well built process is of convenience.
Having a stable supply chain in place is very important in the manufacturing and production stage of any electronic product, whether you are manufacturing on your own or you are outsourcing from a electronics manufacturer. There is a great number of different supplier types available for use. The following are the supplier types available.
- Direct with the manufacturer
Electronic manufacturer usually design, manufacture, and brand their own product. They have the responsibility of releasing new technology to the market. It is also their responsibility to phase out products whose demand is declining. Electronics manufacturer usually market their products in two ways. They either directly sell it to the end user or through authorized distributors. The best way to purchase electronic components or products is by directly dealing with the supplier, but doing so is hard, not unless your company or business is known in the field.
- Authorized Distributors
When it comes to purchasing, directly buying electronic components from authorized distributors is the most common means of obtaining what is needed. It is usually recommended when it comes to the key components, such as microcontrollers or microprocessors for electronic manufacturing services. Most of the important part are usually branded, and getting them through authorized distributors guarantees the authenticity of the part. This is very critical for electronics manufacturing, since the process or control is the backbone of the entire PCB. There is a strict supply agreement which bounds the manufacturer and distributor which contains all the necessary information or details.
- Catalog Suppliers
Catalog suppliers are of great popularity in the electronic manufacturing services when it comes to electronic component procurement throughout the years. These suppliers rely on OEM engineering and purchasing staffs who browse their catalogs to look for components every time they have a new design on hand. Catalog suppliers hold a wide range of product lines which is available for next day delivery. Catalog suppliers play a big and pivot role in the electronic manufacturing services up until now.
Brokers are independent suppliers which are not in any way connected with a particular franchise. They neither belong to manufacturers, authorized distributors nor catalog suppliers. They are the run-to of electronics manufacturer who are having a hard time finding rare and obsolete electronic parts. The risk of purchasing to them is higher, but it can’t be avoided, especially when older technologies are needed.
A supplier is a person who delivers a product or a service ordered by a customer. Choosing a supplier greatly depends on the sourcing group in accordance with the design and other functional teams. Choosing a supplier is quite easy. It includes researching the market to find the right supplier, gathering supplier information, contracting terms and negotiations, and financial terms.
Products that are developed through electronic manufacturing services will provide the client with a finished product whose procurement is operated and parts are assembled. Working with electronic manufacturing services will save the client from managing the procurement of parts and raw materials.
It is very important that clients are given access to different information such as supply chain and source during the manufacturing phase. Electronic manufacturing services offered during this stage include sourcing a reliable supplier, negotiating and contracting with the supplier, verifying material and component authenticity, accounting and bookkeeping, perform local currency payment, and coordinating and managing transit and logistic.
No matter what level the supply chain is, there are always efficiencies in streamlining raw material procurement. By linking the demand with the supply, and by value-stream mapping actual raw materials used in part production, outsourcing electronic manufacturing services can provide a dynamic snapshot of your sourcing strengths and weakness, and can help you forecast consolidated material requirements. Transformational collaboration takes place when this information is shared with contract electronic manufacturing services and raw material sources.
Sharing the material demand profile with raw material sources lessens the risk which is brought by raw material suppliers and at the same time, it enables them to be more responsible. Furthermore, it also increases the ability of contract manufacturing services to control pricing and ensure availability. Sharing such information also help electronics manufacturer to avoid guessing which materials are to be purchased and what the specifications of the materials are. It ensures that the person from electronic manufacturing services will purchase the right number of right materials at the right time.
Ideally, there should also be an agreement between the purchaser and supplier which should be strictly followed. In the agreement, contract electronic manufacturing services should be allowed to purchase off the agreements.
4.2 PCB Fabrication
Printed Circuit Boards or PCBs are the backbone of all major electronics. They exists in almost all computational electronics, be it a simple or complex one. PCBs are the reason why electronics are brought to life by directing the electricity flow through a network of copper paths. The role of each PCB is determined by the complex system of copper routes. The process of PCB fabrication is described in details as follows.
- Design and Output
The design and output of the PCB should be compatible. Before designing, the designer should inform the contract electronics manufacturer on what PCB design software is used to avoid any discrepancy.
When the design of the PCB is approved, the design will be exported in a format that is supported by the electronics manufacturer. The commonly used program is named Gerber which performs oversight algorithms on the design in order to ensure the absence of undetected errors. The plan elements are also checked. After checking, the PCB file will be forwarded to the PC Board Houses for reproduction.
- File to Film
When the schematic file is completed and a DFM checked by the electronic manufacturing services, the PCB printing begins. A special printer called plotter is used in order to make photo films of the PCBs. Technicians of electronics manufacturer will use the films to image the PCBs. Every PCBs and solder masks layer have their own clear and black film sheet. Four sheets are needed in a two layer PCB and each film should perfectly correspond with one another to map out the PCB alignment. Registration holes should be punched through all films in order to achieve perfect alignment of all films.
- Inner Layer Printing
This step is a preparation in making an actual PCB. A basic PCB is made out of a laminate board which serves as an ideal body for receiving the copper that structures the PCB. In here, the copper is whittled away for the design films to come out. The copper-sided laminate is cleaned and passed into a decontaminated environment so that the circuit isn’t shorted or it won’t remain open. UV light is passed through the parts of the film that are clear which hardens the photo resist of the copper underneath.
- Removing the Excess Copper
A powerful chemical removes the Copper away while leaving the needed copper intact to the board. Some boards need a larger amount of copper solvent while other requires less. After removing the unwanted copper, the hardened resist protecting the preferred copper is washed away.
- Layer Alignment and Optical Inspection
The layers require alignment punches using an optical punch in order to ensure they all line up. Correcting an inner error once the lineup is complete is impossible. To confirm that an error doesn’t exist, an automatic optical inspection is performed. If an inconsistency is detected, a comparison is displayed on a monitor for the technician of the electronics manufacturer to assess. If no error is detected, the PCB moves into the final stage of production.
- Layer Up and Bond
The shape of the circuit board takes place at this phase. The layers are fused together and must be snugly fitted to prevent shifting during the alignment. The technician of electronics manufacturer starts by putting a prepared layer on the alignment basin. After several layers, an aluminum foil and copper press plate is aligned which makes the board ready for pressing.
The stock board is holed with an x-ray locator to identify the proper drill target spots. Before drilling, a board is placed by the electronic manufacturing services technician to ensure a clean bore. Every movement of the drill is controlled by the computer.
- Plating and Copper Deposition
In here, the layers are fused together using chemical deposition wherein a small amount of copper is deposited on the surface of the panel.
- Solder Mask Application
Before solder Mask application, the panels are cleaned and covered with an epoxy solder mask ink. A blast of UV light is passed through the board where the covered portions remain unhardened and is removed.
All important information about the PCB is printed at this stage and the PCB undergoes through the final coating and curing stage.
4.3 PCB Assembly (PCBA)
Printed Circuit Board Assembly or PCBA is the process of soldering electronic components to a printed circuit board. When electronic components are soldered onto the board, it becomes PCBA. Assembling a PCB is different from manufacturing one. The process of PCBA always starts with the most basic unit of PCB which is consists of different layers which is mostly substrate, copper, solder mask, and silkscreen which are tightly pressed together. Generally speaking, there are three types of mounting technology in a PCB Assembly – surface mount technology, thru-hole technology, and mixed technology.
4.3.1 THD (Thru-Hole Device)
Thru-hole technology is accomplished by collaborating manual and automation procedure. It involves three steps as well – components placement, inspection and rectification, and wave soldering. Components placement is manually done by the technician of electronics manufacturer. Components are quickly and precisely placed in their corresponding positions. Inspection and rectification involves checking out if the components are accurately placed and rectified if an error exists. Wave soldering is the process by which the board is passed through a wave of liquid solder with a temperature of 500° Fahrenheit.
4.3.2 SMT (Surface-Mount Technology)
Surface mount technology is best suited to small sized components and integrated circuits. Surface mount technology features a totally automatic mounting PCB Assembly process. Surface Mount Technology follows three steps in general. The first step is the solder paste printing wherein a solder paste is applied on the board through a solder paste printer. It is very important that the solder paste used is of quality and is applied properly in order to avoid applying it again. The second step is components mounting through components reel in the machine. The last step is the reflow soldering where the board is passed through a 23-foot, 500° Fahrenheit furnace to liquefy the solder paste in order for the SMD components to firmly stick to the board.
4.3.3 Mixed Technology (SMT/THD)
Most boards are a combination of both Thru-Hole and SMD components which means that Thru-Hole technology and surface mount technology collaborate with one another to cover up electronic products which are complex, complicated, and have small PCB in nature.
Testing is the process of measuring the properties of performance of an electronic product. It seems to ensure that consumers totally understand what the product is. Electronic product testing is usually accomplished by a technician of electronics manufacturer to determine or verify if the specifications, regulations or contracts are met and to validate suitability for end use. It ensures that the product operates as expected as well as to find out product durability and safety.
4.4.1 In-Circuit Test (ICT)
In-Circuit test is a form of white box testing where an electrical probe tests a populated printed circuit board to find out the assembly was correctly fabricated. It gives access to the circuit nodes and measures the performance of the components regardless of any other component attached to it. Resistance, capacitance, operation of analogue components, and operational amplifiers are measured as well. This test ensures that the components are correctly placed and rightly measured to avoid any risk or damage in the end product. It is consists of a number of elements which include In-Circuit tester, fixture, and software. It is expensive in nature and is commonly used on high volume production lines.
4.4.2 Functional Testing
As the term implies, function test is done to check the entire intended function of the PCB. It is typically the last phase of production line and is often referred as the final quality control test. This ensures that the specifications are carried out by the electronics manufacturer and other parties involved. The process involves simulating the environment where the product is expected to operate in order to check any functionality issue of the product. This provides the information whether the product has passed or failed for mass production and is ready for shipping.
4.5 Box Building Assembly
The full turnkey electronics manufacturing services includes the production at circuit level, which is the PCB fabrication and assembly, and the enclosure, which is case fabrication and assembly. In electronics manufacturing,the assembly works involved in an electromechanical assembly for the enclosure is also called box building. The process of box build is project specific and has a varying degree of complexity. The most common box build assembly process includes installation of sub-assemblies and other components, routing of wire harnesses, and fabrication of enclosures. The most common box assembly services that electronics manufacturer provide include system level assembly, product assembly, leveling, packaging, testing, repair, and so much more. Providing the electronics manufacturers all the necessary details will help modeling a box build assembly process easier.
Chapter 5. Conclusion and How Circuitsify Can Help
The advent of information technology has changed how we live. The electronics manufacturing industry is a very broad field which includes different sectors and processing which only will be best performed by an experienced electronics manufacturer. Here at Circuitsify we provide world class electronic manufacturing services that start with product development, prototyping and all the way to mass production. Based in Los Angles California and with off-shore manufacturing facilities in “Hardware Silicon Valley”—Shenzhen China, we as a leading original design electronics manufacturer build innovative electronic products on behalf of our customers, serving a wide range of industries. For product development, we offer services in embedded system design, circuit design, software development, and industrial design that bring your concepts to life. Transitioning from concept to mass production, our prototyping services with quick turnaround PCB prototype and case building by 3D printing technologies is a good match for those who need a functional sample to test their ideas and revise the design before go on for high-volume manufacturing. By taking fully the advantages of our presence in China, as one of the leading international electronics manufacturing companies we offer competitive price when it comes to electronic manufacturing services in high volumes. Got a brilliant idea or project, please feel free to contact us.