Electronic projects are incomplete without PCB (Printed Circuit Boards). Those working on innovative electronics projects by means of research or any open-source technology shall need a PCB prototype before proceeding to product manufacturing.
This article revolves around PCB prototype, and everything an electronics engineer or electronics enthusiast should know about.
What’s a PCB prototype?
The initial phases of an electronics project include product design, development, and testing of the required functionalities. Once an electronics project is developed, it’s time for testing. That’s when a PCB prototype is needed.
On a PCB prototype, one can assemble all the electronic parts, hardwire them, and test the initial prototype for errors and functionality. Once the prototype or the sample passes all the validity and verification tests, the product is marked fit for bulk production and safe for use. The PCB prototype is used to test whether or not the product design idea is a practically possible fit for use.
Types of prototype boards
1. Solderless breadboards
Solderless breadboards allow the assembly of all the electronic components in a design idea and connect them through PCB jumpers. There are no soldered connections in this protoboard. As a result, altering, adding, or removing any electronic component becomes easy and fast. Moreover, it allows rapid testing due to the reduced time needed to assemble the components.
Breadboards have small holes in a matrix format that are used to assemble the components. These holes have a metal coating that allows conduction. The boards are made of plastic back, while some breadboards may also be made of wood.
2. Soldered protoboard
A soldered breadboard, otherwise called a soldered protoboard, resembles a solderless breadboard in look and appearance. However, this one can withstand soldering. It means that one can assemble the electronic components and solder them to achieve tight connections. These are usually made of wood or silicon instead of plastic.
3. Wire wrap boards
Wire wrap boards require soldering of the components. The upper face has all the components that are soldered and connected using wires from the bottom face. These resemble soldered breadboards, but these offer better reliability. As a result, novice enthusiasts can test their design ideas safely using a wire wrap board. A wire wrap board is, however, less popular and has a limited supply in most retail markets.
4. Etched circuit boards
These are the most challenging to use. Using an etched circuit board requires printing a PCB and etching it on a hard surface (circuit board) made of wood, silicon, etc. Furthermore, these boards also require etching them with special chemicals to create an insulated coating on the top to protect the circuit board. Therefore, etched circuit boards are best suited only for advanced users.
PCB prototype advantages and disadvantages
PCB prototype advantages
1. Reduces time and effort
Using prototyping helps quickly assemble the components and test out the design idea to verify its suitability. For example, solderless breadboards allow connecting all the components using jumper cables, therefore, reducing time and effort. Alteration is also quick and effortless during the prototyping stage.
2. Assists manufacturing
Manufacturers working on innovative ideas need to verify if their design is valid and practically possible. Since prototyping solves the verification purpose, it also assists manufacturing, as testing is a predecessor phase of manufacturing.
PCB prototype disadvantages
1. Possible loose connections
Using poor-quality jumpers can lead to loose connections, therefore, fouling the entire assembly. Testers need to manually test for any loose connections and fasten them.
2. Fails to compatible wth certain designs
PCB prototyping may not support circuit designs with high-voltage components. Furthermore, any complicated designs may be difficult to implement on a prototyping board.
PCB Prototypes Vs. Solderless Breadboards
While a PCB prototype and solderless breadboards are two terms that can be used interchangeably, still below are a few key differences between both.
- PCB prototypes support more complicated designs than solderless breadboard.
- PCB prototyping boards can be made of wood, silicon, or other durable materials, while solderless breadboards are usually made of plastic.
- PCB prototyping boards are a bit costlier than solderless breadboards.
- PCB prototyping may require soldered components, while that’s not needed in solderless breadboards.
PCB prototype applications
- They’re used for ustomizing circuit design ideas and testing them.
- A PCB prototype helps detect errors and ensure that the final product is flawless.
- PCB prototyping gives a visual and realistic model of a design idea that’s been in a person’s mind and/or in a soft copy.
PCB prototype process steps
Develop a design, which includes a circuit diagram that one wants to implement. Design a PCB prototype on paper or on software such as Matlab. Then create a schematic design that includes details needed for the engineers and other testers, such as components used, material, and expected functionalities from the circuit.
Routing describes how each component is connected to the other on a PCB prototype.
3. Layers alignment
PCB prototyping may need different layers to create a board. If applicable, create all the layers and stack them for proper alignment. Drill the holes as needed.
Chemicals are used to etch the circuit board (adding an insulated layer) that protects conductors on the board from outer interference and possible short circuits.
After PCB etching, the tester is all good to proceed to the testing phase and test for required functionalities.
PCB prototype common errors and solutions
• Designs often have faults, such as incorrect connections or the use of incorrect components. A secondary designer can easily detect these problems easily.
• Many times designers do not save the designs as templates. As a result, when the design is modified, there’s no record of the initial design. Always save copies of designs before making changes to them.
Factors for selecting the right PCB prototype manufacturer
1. Look for the materials that a manufacturer uses in its board.
2. Check for how long the manufacturer has been in the industry. An experienced manufacturer is often considered good.
3. Go for a manufacturer that allows low to medium-order quantities. Any manufacturer that accepts low-order quantities means that it’s open to all types of customers.
By the end of this article, PCB prototyping was elaborated on in detail. After reading this article, the next step is to buy a PCB prototype board. When it comes to purchasing a PCB prototype board, one reliable solution is IBE Electronics. It offers quality products and has been in the industry for a very long time.