A PCB (printed circuit board) prototype is a model or sample of what the final PCB will look and function like. PCB prototyping is an essential process that comes prior to mass production and the subsequent launch of new PCBs into the market. This process ascertains whether a suggested PCB design will perform as expected thereby revealing any possible flaws and thus enabling the designers to make any necessary changes. Any other improvements or alternatives the designers may think of are also introduced at this stage. The mass production of any new product leave alone PCBs cannot just simply commence without the prototyping stage.
Prototyping will not necessarily reveal any flaws as at times the design is perfect. PCB prototyping in this case will be used confirm and re-ascertain that the PCBs performance is consistent. The manufacturer or the customers can then give their opinion about the PCB along with other suggestions/improvements they may have. The PCB designers should always be prepared for any possible outcomes and thus any reworking at this stage should further not be considered as an extra cost. Bypassing prototyping and engaging in the mass production of a PCB only for it to fail it will certainly be catastrophic in terms of wasted effort, time and money.
The following are the generalized stages in PCB prototyping. The first is called the breadboard test or proof of principle. This checks if the logic behind the PCB is achievable. Next is examining the size (preferable dimensions) aspects of the anticipated PCB. After this stage a visual model is generated and if approved the final stage which is function and appearance is started. Whatever is achieved at this juncture is the closest to what the actual PCB will look like. Typically, in prototyping for PCBs, the simulation of current flow in the board and the condition of the circuitry are the two most important processes. It is only until the simulated system works as required that actual components and materials are implemented for the final model or prototype.
The production of prototypes is a process limited by time - it should take the least time possible to pave way for the actual manufacture. Companies offering PCB prototyping services are also likely to be involved in manufacture. As such, these companies strive to develop good/perfect prototypes. Advancement in technology and more so computerization has expedited the processes of prototyping and manufacturing PCBs and made them as error-free as possible. Accordingly, It is wise to choose a PCB company which has the latest technology, a capability which will ensure that the error margin is almost zero, the use of harmful chemicals is avoided, and PCB sizes are kept as small as possible but just as they are as required for modern electronic devices.
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