As globalization expands and businesses focus more on the optimization of cost and time, manufacturing is increasingly outsourced. This is especially true of electronics manufacturing, which was the first industry to embrace outsourcing. Primary drivers were suboptimal utilization of companies’ manufacturing facilities and the need to address the global market. As large companies such as Cisco, IBM, and Juniper embraced outsourcing, the trend slowly spread to small and medium-sized companies. With the emergence of Asia-centric manufacturing locations in China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, and India, almost 90% of electronics manufacturing is now outsourced.
This article explains why a manufacturing partner needs to be involved early in the design phase to enable the product to be successful with regard to optimizing cost and time. While a complete outsourcing program for both design and manufacturing can lead to an efficient design, the outsourcing program must be fairly mature for the product company to use it successfully. In addition, when the product involves critical Intellectual Property, it is prudent to hold the design in-house but to outsource the manufacturing. It is in this situation that early involvement of the manufacturing partner can be very advantageous for product development. This article shows where and how the manufacturing partner can help in product development to save time and cost.
Outsourcing any activity requires healthy interaction and constant communication. To a large extent outsourcing also require sensitivity. Complete outsourcing of a product is successful only if the product development team really understands the outsourcing process.
This article describes the life cycle of a typical product and identifies the phases and activities in which a manufacturing partner can collaborate earlier, during the design phase, to speed up product development.
With an ever-increasing awareness of the need for environmental protection, it is now extremely important that every new product meet the plethora of environmental-friendly standards. Engineers face the challenges of not only making their new product designs meet environmental standards, but also making existing products meet these standards.
1. Raw materials used in the product
Making a product environmentally friendly, or meeting global environmental standards, has to happen by design and during the design phase. The design process should address the above four items that typically impact the product’s environmental friendliness or its compliance to environmental standards. It is extremely important for designers to be aware of the need to meet environmental standards. Addressing these challenges requires tight coupling with the manufacturing process as well as the involvement of the manufacturing partner, and that is one reason why Early Manufacturing Partner Involvement (EMPI) is crucial.
Product life cycle
Most PLCs are based on the product companies’ requirements as well as the development process. Product owners customize their activities according to their needs.
On the right side of Figure 2 are the activities that correspond approximately to the different phases. PLC support is typically an activity that starts after the product reaches the market.
It is important to understand the flow of the different processes throughout the product life cycle that involve both development and manufacturing. In the development of an electronic product, the process starts with the concept phase as shown on the left side of Figure 3, and progresses to the right side of Figure 3, ending with the disposal of the product at the end of its life.
Activities under each of the phases in Figure 3 are shown in different colors. The deep blue boxes represent typical manufacturing-centric activities, and executing them simultaneously with the design phase reduces time. This is where Early Manufacturing Partner Involvement(EMPI) helps. One of the biggest advantages of identifying the manufacturing partner early in the product design phase is the ability to leverage the manufacturing partner’s experience and resources.
However, as the development progresses, the responsibility of the design team lessens gradually while the manufacturer’s ownership grows. This transition is smooth only if the manufacturing partner is involved early in the design. This clearly shows the advantage of EMPI.
Six Elements of early manufacturing Partner Involvement
PCB layout is a key element of Early Manufacturing
Partner Involvement (EMPI). Many designers don’t factor in the details of the PCB layout
into product design. When they design, the physical sizes of the PCBs are factored in
with the assumption that the rest will be addressed by PCB manufacturing. However, this approach
is not sufficient for creating a successful product. It is necessary to understand PCB
fabrication and the customized processes that each PCB fabricator uses to optimize PCB
real estate usage, which requires additional work. One of the key aspects of large volume
production that most designers don’t address is that PCBs are panelized, with multiple
PCBs in one large standard PCB size. Unless this paneling issue is factored into PCB
design, the cost may not be optimal. A manufacturing partner involved early in the design phase
can anticipate this problem and help optimize cost.
Another important aspect of PCB design is the Design For
x (where x stands for Assembly, Manufacturing, Testing, Compliance, and so on):
Design for Assembly (DFA)
These PCB design guidelines are applicable in the PCB layout stage and usually proprietary to the manufacturing partner.
In the design phase, the manufacturing partner can help analyze the test coverage of a PCB and recommend how to achieve close to 100% test coverage. This is vital because the test equipment used on the manufacturing line may be different for different partners, and also differ in capability. Factoring this into the PCB design helps reduce re-working. Missing this step invariably results in a
re-spin of all the PCBs.
Design for Compliance (DFC)
2. PCB Assembly
Design for Manufacturing (DFM)
While DFA addresses the PCB, DFM is for the overall product, covering electronics as well as mechanical items. Guidelines for DFM are provided by the manufacturing partner and fall into several different categories – everything from the way the product is assembled to the design of packaging as well as the actual product packaging.
3. Supply Chain & Component Engineering
Involving the manufacturing partner early in the game ensures that when the product is in high-volume production, availability of components won’t become an issue. An added advantage is the low price that manufacturing partners get due to scaling up the volume.
Many designers think their jobs are done after they’ve selected parts for the design. However, unless the component engineering process is subjected to rigorous scrutiny to ensure component availability, cost, lead time, and other aspects, the design will face problems. Ideally, component engineering should be done at the same time as the design stage. This process eliminates non availability,” a chronic problem due to obsolescence and long lead- times.
Similar to component engineering, vendor development is also a key activity for custom-made parts as well as ODM parts (such as PSUs, display systems, and so on). Vendor development is key for custom parts, especially in mechanical items and for ensuring that vendors supply consistent quality during the product’s life. Most OEMs and manufacturing partners have established vendor development processes to qualify their vendors before approving them as suppliers.
4. Test Engineering
Some of the important activities in which EMPI adds value in test engineering are as follows:
Key to a product success is test strategy planning. Test strategy depends on the volume of the product. However it is important to understand that when the product is launched, the volumes are always lower. If the test engineering costs are not high, then the right test strategy should be one that will be used for the final volume. However, if the test engineering costs are high, a hybrid strategy combining low-cost functional testers and in-circuit testers can be used.
In-circuit testers are special testers that test the components soldered in the PCB. These testers typically need dedicated jigs for each of the PCB versions, and when the PCB is changed, the test jig has to be changed. In-circuit testers test only the components and their interconnectivity, in advance of additional testing of the product’s functionality. However, in-circuit testers guarantee near 100% test coverage, so it is the preferred test strategy.
Functional Testers (FCT)
This strategy allows them to conserve cost by differing the investment in the in-circuit testers and allowing the product to stabilize first. Once the product stabilizes and volumes increase, investing in in-circuit testers becomes a better option. Above all, final products invariably need a full product functional tester.
Calibration stations allow the proper calibration of the
product so that when they do measurements, they work accurately. Traditionally
calibration in a product was through discrete passive parts like resisters,
capacitors, and inductors, and the process of calibration was always manual. However, as the
technology improved with programmable analog parts, the calibration can now be
done automatically. Dedicated calibration stations are set up and developed by the
designers to calibrate the product against standards so that they measure consistently, and
determine that if there is any variation (error), it will be well within the limits.
Calibration is typically applicable for T&M products.
Due to the complex design of integrated circuits (ICs) and the emergence of device vendors providing the basic reference circuit, product design has now become more of an engineering exercise – the design is mostly engineering the product to meet the manufacturing and standards compliance requirements. In areas such as consumer electronics and networking equipment, most of the product owners now focus on the software rather than spending time developing the hardware. Under these circumstances, most of them have fairly large software teams with a minimal hardware team. Involving the manufacturing partner early in the design phase enables these product companies to quickly roll out the product. Some of the areas where the manufacturing partner can help are as follows:
Before investing in tools for a product that needs
expensive tooling, rapid prototyping can help reveal the intricacies of the design and ensure
that the product is manufacture- worthy and easy to produce. This is applicable mostly to
mechanical items, but when new user interfaces are designed, this technique is used
to validate usability.
Electronic Packaging involves the complete packaging of the product and includes activities such as sheet metal design, plastics design, and even the product shipment packaging. The activities include complete tooling development as well as vendor development for the supply of custom parts. Since parts are typically custom designed and need a fair amount of vendor development, it helps to involve the manufacturing partner early.
Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) tools for predicting the temperature of a product
at different sections of the product, and includes designing the thermal aspects such
as heat sinks and fans to control the temperature of the system. Typical tools are
Icepak and Flowtherm.
Similar to thermal design, EMC/EMI design involves the simulation of radiation using tools, and includes designing the product in accordance with the results. Most of the PCB CAD tools support EMC/EMI simulation at the PCB level for correcting the design.
6. Product Support, Test and Repair, and Logistics
Manufacture Yield Management
Alternate Component Identification
Test Efficiency Improvement
Field Failure Analysis
Test and Repair, and Logistics
SA Srinivasa Moorthy, vice president, Design Engineering and Head, India Design Center