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What is a Custom PCB Prototype

2020-08-18

The Basic Concept of Custom PCB Prototype

Once you have created a working design that is perfect in all attributes and features, it is important to move to the next stage. This is about developing the right electronics suitable for a specific product. Once the design is perfectly in place and has been approved by the end users, the next step is to translate the design onto the desired PCBs. There are a number of ways by which it is possible to make a Custom Design Prototype that can later be used for mass scale PCB production. They could range from techniques that are specific to prototypes or it could be the same technologies that is used for electronic manufacturing but usually that happens in a much larger scale. We will look at some other ways of customizing and creating prototype PCBs and we are sure it will be interesting and informative to those who are on the lookout for such solutions that are customer-specific and need-specific rather than being used for large scale readymade prototyping purposes.

CNC Machining for Creation of Prototype PCBs

Using CNC machining is perhaps one of the first technologies that is useful for creating the right prototyping and this form of CNC machining still continues to be used. However, there are more advanced methods of machining that are being used but it would be worthwhile to have a basic understanding about the fascinating world of CNC machining.

CNC machining though being replaced by other modern means of machining, does come with its own advantages. It could be useful for the purpose of milling traces and also holes that happen in copper-plated blank boards. These are then used to create the required prototype PCBs. However, the technology that is used for milling PCB continues to be the same that is used for milling parts of plastic, metal, wood, etc. However, the CNC machines are not the same as other modern machines that are being used. These milling machines have specific designs that make use of the tiny and small mills that are required for the purpose of making minute and intricate traces. Additionally, small diameter holes can also be creating using these milling CNC machines. These are extremely useful for the purpose of creating PCBs.

The biggest benefit of using CNC milling machines is the speed with which they can help in creating a PCB PROTOTYPE. It is possible to create a PCB mill in a couple of few hours. However, this would depend on various factors including the size of the proposed prototype PCB. There are some prototype PCBs that are quite large in size and have quite a few complexities. They may take a few days only after which the prototype PCB is ready for shipping and delivery.

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What Are the Downsides of CNC Machining for Prototypes

However, when it comes to quality there is no denying the fact that PCB milling may not be able to offer the same quality that most other modern and traditional manufactured PCBs can offer. When it comes to high quality, it has been proved time and again that the high end and sophisticated PCB mills are more suited. This is because they make use of small sized end mills. They come with the capability of replicating various trace widths that are normally available and required in PCB manufacturing. In most PCB mills that use CNC machining, it is likely that the boards or the final prototypes will most certainly have larger traces. That is perhaps the reason why PCB mills using CNC machining are not recommended for the fine-pitch SMD components.

There is also one more disadvantage of using milling PCBs for creating prototypes. They do not have the capacity to create a solder mask. Solder masks are basically coatings that are applied over most PCBs. They cover each and every area of the PCBs leaving only the contact points that is required for attaching components. Those who have PCB will find that they are green in color over the surface. This coloring is caused by solder masking. It also prevents the solder from sticking to the various parts of the board, particularly in those areas where solder is not supposed to be applied. The actually means that PCBs that are milled are not so easy to solder because they could create solder bridges and the same may lead to short circuits.

Using Advanced Circuits to Create Bare Bones PCB

We will talk about the next step and will look at bare bones PCB that is done using advanced circuits. This is basically done using a chemical etching method for producing prototypes. This is the process that is used for all types of PCB production. This method also reduces time by doing way with the application of solder mask or silkscreen as it also is referred to. It also does not go in through internal cut outs as far as PCBs are concerned. The Bare Bones approach is therefore considered to be extremely fast and many of them offer just a single days’ turnaround time when compared to a few days or even a week in case of CNC machining for the purpose of creating PCB PROTOTYPE.

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Advantages It Offer

The biggest advantage is the faster delivery time as far as Advanced Circuits option is concerned. When you have huge volumes and big numbers of PCB prototypes to handle, there is no doubt that the Advanced Circuits option is much better because of obvious reasons. Speed is important to improve and hasten the product development cycles and there will not be long delays as far as prototype iterations are concerned.

This method also offer the advantage of allowing the end users to come out with smaller trace widths and also footprints that require fine pitch components.

However, there is no doubt that Bare Bones PCB prototyping has the disadvantage of solder masks. This makes soldering quite difficult and this at the end of the day could lead to higher risk of electrical failures. There have been instances of formation of solder bridges, accidentally.

The Final Word

The above are the two main types when it comes to making the right PCB PROTOTYPE. There are also some other methods that could be tried out. The above two have their own pros and cons and at the end of the day, the users are the best persons to decide as to which the best option is taking into account exact requirements and needs.

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