Dumbing Down Prototypes

Earlier this week I talked to a designer who works for one of the large set-top box manufacturers. While some of their designs are punch and crunch, single-sided phenolic boards, he told me that in some cases they have to “dumb down” their more complex designs to get prototypes made in North America. Either the technology is not available in the US or the costs are so prohibitive that it is becoming a real problem. At PCB West I heard Happy Holden talk about the U.S. losing ground in manufacturing technology. This makes me wonder if North America will soon lose out on the prototype market as well.

For solid reasons companies usually have their prototypes made close to home and then go off shore for production. Well, the whole logic behind prototypes is to test both the electrical and physical design. But if designers have to dumb down the prototype design and then rely on off shore manufacturers to produce the boards in current technology, then I see that as a real problem.

What about you? Where do you go to manufacture designs that require HDI or other technology centric fabrication?

5 thoughts on “Dumbing Down Prototypes

  1. Maybe he just has the wrong prototype partners. Take a look at the Beagleboard. 0.4mm BGAs, plated vias in pads, package on package… The boards are fabbed in North America. Screaming Circuits can buid the prototypes and CircuitCo builds in higher volumes – both companies are here in North America. And, the Beagleboard isn’t the most complex thing we build here at Screaming Circuits. Not by a long shot.

  2. I agree with Duane.

    I think what you’ve exposed is a common disconnect between designers and procurement professionals, but even the market segment – set top boxes – may have something to do with this one. Don’t DirectTV and Comcast give that stuff away for free?

    All of us in sales who’ve had to straddle this disconnect at our customers; to facilitate communication between departments with differing agendas under the same roof, have seen this kind of illogical, ill-informed kind of talk time and time again.

    More likely, in the case of your guy, his purchasing people are trying to manipulate the cost of the board internally by restricting the designer’s options without clearly communicating the procurement issues upstream to engineering management.

  3. Agree with prior posts..

    I see disconnect between designers and many other disciplines ..
    Even when teams include members from all disciplines involved.

    People are being lazy. (or worse – devious or incompetent).
    They can’t stay focused during meetings addressing ALL the issues.. they all become bored. Leaving it up to the team leader to address the details.
    If success happens, it is because the team leader already had knowledge across all the disciplines…
    And if that is the case .. why have a team?
    Train the Engineer in the other areas, and let him walk the design through the entire process!
    This would reduce … communications costs, blame game and time.

    Of course this lack of knowledge and laziness applies to management that “farms out” much of it’s product development and production.
    The capital equipment and skill set needs for production for even modest volume and high density production – much much better than from 1995-2005.. and world’s apart from options prior to 1995.

    Like PCs… the production equipment is cheaper, does more and is more reliable than ever before.

    in 95.. $850K got a line that can place 1-3k components/hr (line….pick and place, screen printer, furnace , cleaning equip)

    in 2000.. $700K got a line that can place 7-10K components/hr

    in 2009.. $500K got a line that can place 10-20K components/hr..

    $500K = $10,000/ month on 5 yr lease
    And with a bit of effort likely can cut that cost in half.
    and likely will address modest production volumes.

    basically, similar cost to of 1 more engineer.
    and you get rid of a lot of problems.

    assuming you can get an engineer to take responsibility for the whole thing…
    not all of em will ….

  4. Excellent topic and comments. This is really exposing a layer of insight that I didn’t expect. I’d LOVE to hear more insights like these from informed insiders. Sounds like we’re getting to the root cause.

  5. While there are shops that can build HDI… those defending capability currently may be doing so out of pride. HDI in Japan is ‘true’ hdi…and years ahead of std high end capability in North America (always has been). While select companies can drive product out and/or smaller firms hand carry product…as a whole a 14 layer with microvia does not an HDI part make. When Scientific Atlanta (or whatever their name is now) decides they want parts they realize the pain of suffering with incompetent fabricators… We do some HDI but mostly hi-rel/aero work where HDI is just gaining prominence…but it is a far cry from the build-up densities desired by a company like SA.

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