Custom electronics manufacturing has come a long way and there are modern product development processes now in place taking advantage of advanced technology and extensive knowledge of the industry. These electronic product development processes are quite complex by nature. In fact, they can be considered as overwhelming most especially for small electronic businesses and entrepreneurs due to limited finances and resources.
Aside from money being a factor in electronics outsourcing, another big factor is time due to the fact, manufacturing electronic devices cannot simply be created overnight. There are different processes involved in custom electronics manufacturing and all of these processes rely on one another which makes the entire process time-consuming. Plus, there are mishaps and substandard results along the way which may push the manufacturing process a little further. Smaller quantities and many more different products are seen as the future, also in electronics manufacturing.
Lead time in OEM electronics is very crucial most especially for small electronics businesses. They cannot allow to let time slip by and let their money sleep on the products waiting to be released on to the market. They have to be efficient in all of the custom electronics manufacturing processes and sub-processes to make sure they get to see the financial returns of their investment fast.
However, modern day electronics outsourcing acknowledges these factors and companies have simplified processes and sub-processes to make sure everyone can keep up to the demand of their respective markets regardless of their business size. This move allowed small electronic businesses to compete with major electronic companies because of better production efficiency and greatly reduced lead times for wholesale electronics processes. Here is a list of how some of these processes were simplified for better lead time results.
Creating the Circuit Schematic Design
We already know that the backbone of any electronic product is the Printed Circuit Board (PCB). However, the first major process before we move on to the PCB design is to create the circuit schematic. The circuit schematic design will serve as the blueprint to which the PCB will be patterned on to. When creating a circuit schematic design, the first part includes selection of the electrical components needed for your electronic product.
Once the electrical components are chosen and are in place, you may also have to run simulations and do some breadboarding. However, these processes are only used rarely for modern day electronic devices.
This process used to take a lot of time most especially with electrical component selection since there a lot of variations to choose from. Fortunately, there are custom electronics design software available these days which could speed up this process and you can create your circuit schematic design just after a few hours of being in front of your computer.
Creating the PCB Layout
By using the same electronic design software mentioned above, you can also create the PCB layout out of it. Most of the work involved with PCB layouting gets automated by the software but there are other aspects of the process which needs manual routing for better performance. The software matches the PCB with the schematic design including all wire widths, spacing, component placing etc. However, you need to manually check as mistakes sometimes do happen most especially with power and RF circuits.
Make sure you already have contacted your PCB manufacturer for the specs of their board so your work in here will not be left for naught. PCB layouting will only take a couple of hours but expect 1 to 2 weeks before the prototype circuit board to arrive from your manufacturer. Still, you were able to save a day or two out of this process due to the custom electronics design software. Doing the prototypes in China has many advantages, also because getting different parts is super easy.
Debugging and Evaluation of the Prototype
The first PCB prototype will always have issues and problems which has to be fixed. It is very rare wherein the first PCB prototype is already good to go once you get it from the PCB manufacturer. This is why evaluation and debugging process are in place to make sure everything is according to the plan. Debugging process is difficult to forecast when it comes to your lead time because you cannot simply fix when the problem is not yet identified.
This process will take a lot of back and forth until the final prototype is produced. Normally, it takes a month until problems get resolved and the final PCB prototype gets produced. If lucky enough wherein there are no problems met along the way then a couple of days should be enough for the evaluation and debugging process.
Programming the Micro-controller
All electronic devices have microcontrollers which serves as the brains of these products. They are programmed in the “C” or assembly computer language depending on how the product is expected to perform. Most of the time, the person in charge of designing the circuit is the one who will program the microcontroller but most white label electronics and private label electronics companies these days hire a software specialist in charge of programming the microcontroller.
Division of labor will make the work more efficient and specializations and expertise are more focused. Normally, it only takes hours to program the microcontroller of a simple circuit but complex circuit diagrams may take 2 to 3 days.
3D Model Creation
Industrial design engineers are usually hired for the 3D model creation task. Since most of the electronic designs are already in place, this task is more focused on the aesthetics and functionality of the electronic product. Electronics sourcing is not only about functionality but also incorporates style in their product designs to set them from the rest of electronic products out there.
Industrial design engineers are knowledgeable with injection molding technology which is the primary technology used for massive manufacturing. When it comes to low volume custom electronics manufacturing, 3D printing is done and graphic designers can take care of this task for OEM electronics companies out there for a cheaper price. Again, depending on the complexity of the design, the former takes a couple of days to finish while the latter will only take a few hours.