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Elements Ensuring Your First-Time Success in New Product Introduction (NPI) during Electronic Manufacturing

When it comes to electronic manufacturing process, successful launching of new products into market involves phases with both challenges and complexities each of which is closely associated with another. It's common to see, however, that a great idea fails to be smoothly converted into a product just due to insufficient focus on one or some steps, which especially makes sense when, for example, product concept fails to be fully validated or even becomes degrading or a validated product hasn't been optimized in terms of cost-effective electronics manufacturing and assembly.

New Product Introduction (NPI) starts with an exciting idea that transformed into a final electronic product after going through delicate design, electronic manufacturing and assembly, rigorous inspection and testing. The new product should be fundamentally compatible with below requirement:
• It should be as functional as what is called for by the initial idea;
• It should be exposed to the market at a rushing speed.

The above two items are basic elements ensuring your success of new product and both of them depends on capability and reliability of your Contract Manufacturer (CM) and assembler.

This article uncovers leading elements that can guarantee your success in NPI during electronic manufacturing process, involving DFM/DFA check, components availability, electronic manufacturing/assembly capabilities, inspection and test, first article inspection and approval and service quality.

Element#1: DFM/DFA Check

Once your idea is converted into design files, you've kicked off the NPI process and your electronic manufacturing starts off. Different from pure thinking, design files are more practical and logical since the final product will be manufactured and assembled based on the generated file packages, including:
Gerber files
• Schematics
NC drill files
Bill of Material (BOM)
• CAD drawings
• Assembly instructions etc.

The furthest distance in electronics manufacturing services is between a design engineer and an electronic manufacturing/assembly engineer, which provides sufficient necessity for DFM/DFA check. An excellent design for electronic manufacturing/assembly check helps some potential issues to be exposed prior to stepping onto production line so that your time and money loss will be reduced.

Apart from DFM/DFA check capability and items, check efficiency has to be taken into consideration as well since it determines product's time to market. DFM/DFA check efficiency improvement derives from efforts in two aspects: your design file preparation and manufacturer/assembler's check capability.

Your supplied design files should be as complete as possible. For example, a DFM engineer once told me that she had been busy generating coordinate files all day since their customers seldom provided them. Later, when customers are required to do so, her DFM check efficiency dramatically rises. When it comes to electronics manufacturer/assembler's check capability, DFM/DFA check tools matter a lot. Up to now, DFM/DFA check provided by most electronic manufacturing services suppliers is manually implemented. Nevertheless, some advanced EMS providers depend on automatic DFM/DFA system, dramatically increasing check efficiency. PCBCart depends on Valor DFM/DFA system for cost reduction and high efficiency.

Element#2: Components Availability

In the process of electronic manufacturing, components play a key role in electrical functionality and connection implementation. Therefore, a manufacturer's or assembler's capability to manage components directly affects the success of NPI.

To be compatible with optimal performance of electronics manufacturing, components management should primarily contain three aspects: component procurement, component inspection and component storage. Component procurement is always regarded as a critical standard of evaluating an assembler's capability. Long-standing and stable cooperation with authorized component distributors or manufacturers must be guaranteed so that high component availability can be ensured with competitive prices. Moreover, the purchasing staff should fully respect their customers' selections when specific component distributors are designated by customers.

Even if components are purchased from the most reliable component distributors or manufacturers, they should be carefully inspected prior to their real applications in electronic manufacturing. After all, electronic component quality control can never 100% be done each time, which adds much significance to component inspection that plays a role as an extra shield protecting components from low-quality possibility.

In spite of tiny figure of components, they require rigorous environment and storage condition. Temperature and humidity are quite essential to the implementation of component performance and functionality. Sometimes, for the sake of low cost, a large number of components are purchased but they fail to be used up in one-time assembly so that the rest of components need to be temporarily stored in the warehouse of assembler, which adds more significance to strict component storage condition.

Element#3: Electronic Manufacturing/Assembly Capability

Manufacturing and assembly capability is the key element driving us to pick up an electronic manufacturing services provider. However, it's always a tough job to obtain a genuine understanding on their electronic manufacturing or assembly capabilities unless you practically get involved with services provided by them, which thereafter indicates the significance of prototype. Nevertheless, the quality of prototype is lower than that of volume productions and authentic judgment is difficult to be achieved or some reliable manufacturers or assemblers will possibly be missed.

But, the truth is even though you've been aware that the quality of prototype differs from that of volume productions. The practical quality can never be estimated until products fall into your hands or your customers' hands. As a result, the optimal solution lies in the fact that you have to pick up a manufacturer or assembler with equivalent quality on both prototype and volume productions. It's not easy, but safe.

Then let's come to some aspects you should focus on when you try evaluating your electronic manufacturing partner.

• Electronic Manufacturing Capability

In terms of electronics manufacturing, PCB fabrication capability accounts for the bulk, taking the center stage. PCB manufacturing process is such a complicated process consisting of numerous electronic manufacturing steps each of which contributes to the final performance of finished products.

As for PCB fabrication capability, the following items should be emphasized:

1. Quality Grade. Which quality grade to conform to is a direct tool evaluating the quality of PCB boards because regulations compatible with concerning quality grade determine and affect all electronic manufacturing details. Generally speaking, PCB fabrication by reliable PCB manufacturers sticks to Standard IPC 2.

2. Layer Count. This aspect is always neglected in electronic manufacturing because it tends to be taken for granted. A truly trustworthy manufacturer should be capable of producing boards whose layers range from 1 to multiple. Apart from single or double-sided PCBs that are most widely applied, other layer numbers should be available as well, especially for those whose products call for high density and miniaturization.

3. Substrate Material. Substrate material determines board's temperature and strength withstandability. Manufacturers should be able to deal with different substrate materials including standard FR4, Rogers, Teflon etc.

4. Copper Weight. Copper weight can be further categorized into outer layer copper weight and inner layer copper weight that should be respectively calculated and emphasized. Since copper weight is directly associated with board thickness, it has to be carefully figured out.

5. Minimum Tracing/Spacing. Tracing/Spacing is a delicate element reflecting manufacturer's electronic manufacturing capability since it is associated with board size and density level. For PCB designers, they should be fully aware of minimum tracing/spacing so that they can optimize their PCB design files in terms of functionality and size.

6. Solder Mask. Solder mask is more than just colors. Advanced solder mask, peelable solder mask or carbon mask for example, can be used to evaluate the capabilities of your partner's electronic manufacturing capabilities.

7. Surface Finish. Various surface finishes are available for their own advantages and disadvantages on performance, cost and applications. Plus, RoHS compatibility matters for products that are required to be environmental-friendly.

8. Other Items. Other items are mainly associated with some advanced electronic manufacturing capabilities such as blind/buried vias, via in pad, gold fingers, edge plating, countersink/counterbore hole etc. As far as via or hole parameters are concerned, most attention should be paid to via diameter because it straightly reflects whether manufacturer's capability can meet your design demands.

• Assembly Capability

As PCB boards are fabricated, component assembly is then embraced with its core role in promoting smooth electrical connection. For end customers of electronic products, the look may be more important than any other element, but it's common sense that the core competitiveness lies in the internal electrical connection between components and mother board.

As for PCB assembly capability, the following items should be emphasized:

1. Quality Grade. Similar to PCB manufacturing, to go for high quality of assembled boards, high quality grade should be followed as well. It's optimal to know more about it before signing a contract with an assembler.

2. Assembly Types. Assembly types are the backbone of an assembly manufacturer involved in professional electronics manufacturing, directly indicating her assembly level. Up to now, two leading assembly types are available: PTH and SMT. The former is applied for through hole components assembly while the latter for surface mount components assembly. When it comes to complicated conditions, both technologies are simultaneously required and are used on both sides. Once assembly sequence is irrationally arranged or inappropriate soldering temperature is set, defects or failure will possibly be caused. Thus, your contract assembler should be able to maintain high-level assembly capability.

3. Assembly Accuracy. Assembly accuracy is another key element evaluating assembler's electronic manufacturing capabilities. Since miniaturization has become one of the key development trends in the field of electronics, assembly density and accuracy start playing an increasingly significant role that should be taken into first batch of considerations. The minimum component that can be dealt with, 01005 for example, the minimum pitch of BGA and WLCSP should be known and confirmed in advance.

4. Component Packages. Various types of component packages are available to make up for distinct functions. Not all assemblers are capable of dealing with all component packages so it's necessary to get assured that your required component packages like QFN, BGA, CSP etc. can be assembled in your future assembly factory.

Element#4: Inspection and Test

To be aware that your products have been manufactured in accordance with original design, inspection and test are of much necessity. When it comes to PCB board test, custom electrical test, such as bed of nails or flying probe, is usually required. When it comes to PCB assembly test, however, AOI or AXI is always needed. During PCBA process, AOI usually comes in two ways: on-line and off-line. For high quality of NPI and electronic manufacturing, whether both types are available in the assembler should be informed.

Element#5: First Article Inspection

First article inspection is one of crucial steps before mass electronic manufacturing. The product available for first article inspection and approval can be totally regarded as a dress rehearsal before its formal performance on market stage.

To make the best of the functionality of first article inspection, you have to ensure that your CM or assembler is able to provide first article inspection service and contains dedicated inspection lists to conform to. Then you should establish your own inspection lists and requirement to compensate for your specific demands such as extreme environments your products have to stand or environment-friendly concerns.

Element#6: Speed and Response

This element mainly refers to quality of service provided by assemblers. PCB manufacturing and assembly is not so easy as Lego that just goes through a conversion from an idea to real building. However, it is such a high-tech and professional process that the whole process needs times of confirmations between manufacturers and their customers. Furthermore, efficiency is extremely vital for a new product entry into market. As a result, how to minimize confirmations and maximize speed of NPI during electronic manufacturing process are the two targets for both parties.

Smooth communication is the basis of long-term cooperation. As far as that is concerned, language usually matters, which is especially true for off-shore manufacturing. Nevertheless, the language barrier is being broken by the wide application of English around the world.

Every electronic manufacturing provider swears their focus on customers. Response is an obvious lie detector. Just try submitting your demands or inquiries and see how soon they'll reply you. Then you can tell yourself.

PCBCart: Your Reliable Provider of Electronics Manufacturing Services

Since 2005, PCBCart has been making efforts to provide world-wide companies top-quality electronics manufacturing and assembly services. Focusing on high technology and dedicated services, PCBCart enables to provide one-stop PCB solutions from PCB Fabrication, Component Procurement and PCB Assembly with many value-added services including Prototype, Expedited Assembly, First Article Inspection etc. Click below button to request a FREE quote for your Electronics Manufacturing requirement.

Request for FREE Electronics Manufacturing Quote

Helpful Resources
Requirements on Design Files to Ensure Efficient Electronics Manufacturing
How to Get Precise Quote for Your Electronics Manufacturing Requirements
Some Handy Methods in Evaluating Electronics Manufacturers' Capabilities

Written by PCBCart's editor Dora, this article is originally published on Design007 Magazine, 2018 Feb Issue.

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