The Future of Manufacturing is CoDevelopment
Staff posted on March 25, 2020 |
Why continuously shared design and manufacturing data help electronics engineers innovate faster.
By Malcolm Knapp, director of product marketing, Tempo Automation

The manufacturing industry has seen few changes since the 1980s. This means that the engineering cycle—from design to manufacturing—still takes months or even years to complete, as it did over 30 years ago, which can stifle engineers’ creativity and their ability to innovate.

In Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) manufacturing, the working relationship between engineers and a CM can be transactional at best, or like navigating a storm of challenges at worst. A relationship is possible, however, and a world where both are connected throughout the whole process—from the Design for Manufacturing (DFM) review process, quoting, processing, sourcing and factory operations, through the delivery of finished PCBs—can be a reality.

Transactional Manufacturing – What are the limitations and challenges?

In the transactional relationship, it is like there is a brick wall between designers and manufacturers -- after the design is completed, a monolithic manufacturing package is tossed over the wall, and sometime later, a board is tossed back. Then the whole process starts all over again, from scratch, with no additional information or insight to show for it, leaving engineers back at square one.   

Transactional manufacturing, even when done well, is fundamentally limited – to understand those fundamental limitations, we must look at the tasks associated with PCBA manufacturing.

The designing and manufacturing process for prototype electronics is often referred to as the DBT, or Design, Build, Test cycle. The Build phase is when the board is manufactured. The most important task is fabrication and assembly of the PCB, but it is just one of many tasks that must be completed for a successful build. These other tasks are related to processing data and include data validation, DFx, production planning, sourcing, configuration management, and CAM generation.

In the standard transactional model, data is shared from the designer and the manufacturer begins only when the design is finalized. This puts all the tasks described above on the critical path. This leads to four fundamental issues.

The first is task compression. Since production takes up the majority of the time all the data processing tasks are compressed into the minimum durations possible. This increases the possibility of errors and omissions, especially if the tasks are done manually

The second issue is delays – the transactional manufacturing model increases the risk of delays, especially for complex boards. If any issue comes up during data processing and validation tasks, the project is behind schedule before the production has even begun.

The third is design lock-in -- if DFM issues are discovered by the manufacturer it is often too late to change the design. Engineers and designers are left with second-best solutions like post-production rework of the PCBA, which impact the quality of the final prototype electronics.

The fourth issue is that there is no single source of truth because designer and manufacturer data is always separated. This means that both sides are working with incomplete and potentially conflicting data. This makes build configuration management and version control difficult in this system.

All of these issues underline key weaknesses in the standard transactional model for prototype manufacturing. With a build process that sees the first interaction between the designer and manufacturer beginning after the design is finished, inefficiencies and opportunities for errors arise.

Transactional manufacturing can be inflexible and unreliable, and lead to lower-quality boards that can’t reach their full potential. A better alternative would involve the sharing of design and manufacturing information from manufacturers, to engineers, much earlier in the design and build process with CoDevelopment.

Better manufacturing for PCBA with CoDevelopment

You may know CoDevelopment by other names, Agile Hardware Development or Agile Electronics Development, for example, but the principle is that continuously shared design and manufacturing data leads to better results. Instead of barriers between designers and CMs, there is transparency. Instead of periodic transmission of data, often at inopportune times, there is a continuous sharing of data. CoDevelopment leads to a better coordinated, more efficient PCBA manufacturing process that will yield better results for engineers and their teams.

CoDevelopment drastically opens up the relationship and line of communication between CM and engineer. In CoDevelopment, the design process overlaps with the manufacturing process and allows engineers to work synergistically with their CM throughout the build process. It also gives them the opportunity to make critical edits to their design before the board even goes to assembly production.  

In CoDevelopment, there is less schedule risk because data processing and issue resolution are tasks that are taken off of the critical path and happen in parallel with the PCBA design phase. This means that if issues come up, they can be addressed without time pressure and they do not delay the build -- compare this to transactional manufacturing where there is a day-for-day delay if issues are found.  

There is also less design risk, because in CoDevelopment, there are multiple opportunities for data feedback from manufacturing back into the design process. The feedback cycle becomes dynamic, and issues that come up can be immediately rolled into the design. This leads to less revisions overall, because there is no longer the need to completely re-spin the board to correct issues, which can drive time and cost.

There is also minimal data risk with CoDevelopment, as it generates a single data set that merges both design and manufacturing information which supports proper build configuration control. As design iterations are made during the PCBA process, the data gleaned from testing and re-spinning boards is compiled into a single source of data that can then be used as the input for all of the other processes in the DBT cycle. And drawing from the same data leads to greater process control and higher quality boards.  

Conclusion – What does CoDevelopment look like in practice?

With new manufacturing processes that leverage IIoT networks and software automation, smart factories are revolutionizing the traditionally slow PCBA manufacturing cycle and enabling CoDevelopment.

For example, end-to-end software automation in a smart factory can create a “digital thread” that automates the flow of information from the engineer’s design to the machines and the people on the connected factory floor. This supports CoDevelopment, allowing engineers to communicate directly with the manufacturer throughout the build process, and working with them synergistically to complete the DBT cycle with quality, speed, and accuracy in the PCB assembly.

In a fully developed CoDevelopment system, interaction can start as early as when the first board outline is created, or a single component is specified, and continues until the board makes its way through production. Both designers and manufacturers draw from a single source of truth guaranteeing the correct design configuration is built. Seamless ECO processing allows in-process course correction during manufacture and all of the previous ephemeral communication would be captured and stored in the production log. Engineers are in turn provided important insight and a virtual presence on the factory floor during the PCBA process.

CoDevelopment is the shortest path to reality for complex products.

Many industries, including aerospace, medical technology, industrial and semiconductor, and automotive, are competing to go-to-market faster than ever before. By choosing a CM that supports CoDevelopment through a software-driven smart factory, manufacturers are able to solve many problems of the traditional PCBA manufacturing processes that often plague engineers.

CoDevelopment supports a world where high fidelity leads to high efficiency, engineers get their boards back faster and with more analytical data, and higher quality, and where more innovative products go to market faster.

About Author:  

Malcolm Knapp joined Tempo Automation in 2018. Prior to joining Tempo, he worked for over ten years in product development as an electrical engineer and product manager. Malcolm was also founder of The Engineer Accelerator, providing professional development courses and on boarding training to hardware engineers.

About Tempo Automation: 

Tempo Automation is a manufacturer of printed circuit board assemblies using software automation for quick-turn prototyping and low-volume production. Tempo has developed and deployed proprietary factory automation software in its San Francisco-based smart factory.

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