When to Use PCB Prototype Service and When to Switch to Standard Production Service

Developing a new PCB based solution can be a time consuming and laborious process. Reducing the time and cost associated with the development process can greatly improve your next project's chance of success. In this article we will discuss the advantages of beginning your design verification with prototype PCBs and then the advantages of shifting to standard grade PCBs once you have validated your design.

PCB Prototype Service vs. PCB Standard Production

PCBCart offers both prototype service and standard PCB production. While you will usually eventually use both services, there is an appropriate time for each. The difference is simple. With the prototype service, we take your design and quickly build a small batch of boards using basic materials, which we then ship to you in just a few days. The idea is just to give you a sense of whether your design works or not and worth it to do a full production run. You can test the boards to locate any design flaws before you make a big investment in PCB fabrication based on that design.


In standard PCB production, we are actually making the boards you will use in your applications. This will take a bit longer since we may be using different materials and more complex fabrication processes (e.g. multi-layer designs), but it will usually still be as fast or faster than other PCB fabrication services. You will normally make a larger run of these, since you will actually be using these boards for your market applications.


If you are working from an existing design you have used before, you may want to jump directly to the standard PCB production service. Since design flaws are much less likely, it could save you some time to get the standard boards you need right away. If you are testing a new design, we highly recommend you engage our PCB prototype service. You will lose little time and be able to verify that your design works before standard production, which could save you considerable time and money if you do uncover design flaws.

Get Your Next PCB Design off the Ground with PCB Prototype Service

When you are just starting the development of a new product our rapid PCB prototyping service can help you get your new design from concept to production in record time. When developing a new product, quickly iterating through new versions of your design is of the utmost importance. Rapidly testing and correcting designs is what will allow you to hone in on a finished product as quickly as possible. Additionally, it is also well known that making large engineering changes to a design is best done in the early phases of product development. PCB Prototyping service can allow you to locate just such design change requirements early in the development cycle. Spot design errors in low quantity prototype production runs of your PCB board before ramping up production volume. Hence, it allows you to refine your next design quickly at an affordable cost.


As the saying goes, "time is money" and waiting on long lead time PCBs can doom a project to failure. That is why we offer quick-turn PCB prototype service, which builds your proto boards in as few as 2 working days. Additionally, this service is well suited to low volume production runs with a minimum order quantity of only five boards.


Although our prototype PCBs do not have as high of production tolerances as standard circuit boards, they allow you to get a very good idea of how well your final production version work. Having an accurate view of how your final design will turn out is of great importance to ensuring that your design is successful. Our prototyping service provides you with a nearly identical product to that of a high volume standard production run, albeit at slightly lower manufacturing tolerances. Despite the lower production tolerances, we support track widths down to 4mils and track spacing down to 4mils, 5mils minimum annular rings and minimum drill sizes down to 0.2mm (8mils). Additionally, we can manufacture PCB up to 16 layers in layer count and 500x500 mm in size, covering most PCB applications. Reviewing these capabilities, it is apparent that our prototyping service will allow you to test and verify demanding tight tolerance designs at a lower cost, with shorter turnaround times than what you would encounter with standard PCB services.


When developing surface mount based solutions, it's also of great utility to order solder stencils for prototype assembly purposes. You need to test your circuit design and make sure it is good for huge production.


PCB Prototype Advantages:
• Opportunity to do a small test run of your PCB design
• Fast turnaround on your order
• Identify any design flaws fast
• You can change the design without having wasted an entire standard production run


PCB Prototype Disadvantages:
• The boards’ tolerances are not as high as standard circuit boards
• You will need to wait until you receive and test the prototype boards before formally ordering your standard production run • Limited board materials
• Limited number of layers for your boards


For more information on the advantages of using our prototype pcb services, find out more about Prototype PCB Benefits.

Transitioning to Standard PCB Service Once You Have a Finalized Design

Once you have an optimized prototype design in hand, we can help you take the next step with a high volume production run of standard PCBs using our Standard PCB service, which has tighter production tolerances than prototype service. It supports track widths down to 3mils and track spacing down to 3mils, 3mils minimum annular rings and minimum drill sizes down to 6mils and even includes free DFM analysis. We're capable to print advanced circuit boards in dimensions up to 600x700 mm, allowing you to implement even the largest PCB designs. In the event that you have a very demanding design or large design, our Standard PCB service will allow you to meet the challenge.


Included in the standard PCB service is our Design for Manufacture analysis of all standard PCBs to insure that your PCB design will turn out as expected. We will look for all issues that could potentially side track your PCB, including potential acid traps, missing solder mask between fine pitch device pins and other design rule violations. This value-added service is applied to insure the success of your PCB projects.


When you are ready to transition a design from the prototype phase to the production phase our Standard PCBs are the solution. We can provide you with greater costs savings when ordering in higher volumes and provide you with a tighter tolerance product. Our standard PCB service is your solution for PCB production order.


Standard PCB Production Advantages:
• No need to wait to receive and test prototypes — you can get your boards into your applications much faster
• Can order complex boards — different substrate materials, many layers, etc.
• Can order a large production run — save money with a bulk rate on larger orders


Standard PCB Production Disadvantages:
• If you discover a flaw in your design, the entire production run could go to waste
• No opportunity to tweak and improve design before production
• Error correctingCorrecting errors could prove to be much more costly and time-consuming than using PCB prototype service first.

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