Electronics prototyping is always an intimidating concept for most entrepreneurs most especially if they have zero background with electronics and micro-controller programming. The terms alone sound so technical which adds up to the intimidation factor of electronics prototyping. However, your electronic design ideas will never come to life unless you brave it out and face the complex world of electronics prototyping or by creating a PCB prototype. Even the famous iPhone started out as a very basic and only functional prototype.
There are lots of skills involved in electronics prototyping such as soldering, circuitry, programming, wiring etc. You do not really have to be on expert level with these skills but you should at least brush the surface and let your electronics engineer do the rest for you. You need to have basic knowledge in electronics and not want to dive into electronics business head first with zero knowledge or skills.
Nothing is difficult as long as you’re interest is in it. If you are really onto creating electronic products as your business, then building functional electronic prototypes should be a welcome knowledge. It is not actually that hard as it may seem. It’s much like drawing your design but this time you’re dealing with electrical components and hardware.
Stages of Electronics Prototyping
Electronic prototype development can basically be divided into two stages: PCB prototyping and electronic product prototyping. PCB prototyping is more focused on the electronics aspect of the product while the final electronic product prototyping focuses more on the functionality and design of the end product including the plastic case.
1. PCB Prototyping
PCB prototyping is a lengthy process since it involves a lot of sub-processes; from design conception, circuit layout up to the PCB integration. It will also involve work with a third-party which is the PCB manufacturer. First off, you cannot create a prototype board if you do not have a design in mind. Start with a concept and develop the design so your electronics engineer will know what to achieve out of the PCB design and gather the right electronic components and topology needed for your electronic product.
Once the design is ready, the electronics engineer will now map out a circuit design before laying it out on the potential printed circuit board. Circuit and PCB integration is done to make sure they are both compatible and you need to contact the PCB manufacturer regarding their PCB specifications for this. Once the PCB layout design is done, it will take a week or two for the manufacturer to deliver your first PCB prototype.
Expect a few modifications and corrections which has to be made after receiving the first PCB prototype. It may require a second or third serving before the final PCB prototype will be made perfectly by your PCB manufacturer. You’ll be lucky enough to have everything perfect on your prototype board on the first try. It is often a good start to look at China for your development since product development companies there are highly flexible.
2. Product Prototyping (Exterior Design)
Once the PCB prototype is ready, you can now move on to work on the actual product design as the electronic schematics are now done. PCB prototyping is simply a sub-process of the actual electronic product prototyping process. This stage focuses on the exterior design of the product along with the mold which holds the PCB. Functionality, aesthetics and design are the primary focal points of electronic product prototyping and makes sure the end product is desirable in the market.
PCB prototyping may sound so technical due to the electronics knowledge involved but the electronic product prototyping process is more crucial because it covers the entire prototyping process and does not only cover electronics. Electronic companies have different preferences with electronic prototype development as there are others who settle with 3D models while there are companies who really dig actual product prototypes such as mold injection. Depending on the company’s budget and size either will serve right in electronic prototype development.
Intervention of Modern Technology
Advanced technology has made it easier for small electronics entrepreneurs to invest in electronic prototyping since there are already software and computer programs out there who can simplify the task for them. What used to be a daunting task is now achievable by regular people due to modern day technology. Electronic prototyping is no longer limited to major electronic giants as small businesses can now do it on their own with the help of technology and cheap PCB prototype services out there. Mass production with a smooth assembly line is the goal.