The Global Electronics Manufacturing industry market is on track to grow by $118.49 billion during the forecast period of 2020-2024. From medical devices, to factories, to automobiles, and aircraft, nearly every product and system we use in our daily lives are incorporating electronics. By 2023 the software used by the manufacturers of electronics-based products is predicted to be almost 50% cloud-based. In other words, the electronics industry is simultaneously experiencing a boom, and a major shift in the way products are manufactured.
For decades, the industry has approached electronics and specifically Printed Circuit Board (PCB) production with a complete focus on design FOR manufacturing. This is still largely the case today. The problem with this approach is that it no longer can meet customer demands and expectations. More products than ever before are becoming “smart and connected,” stressing an already fragile supply chain and the connections between those designing PCBs and those who have to actually produce them. The supply chain crisis has not only severely impacted industries of every spectrum but has also shined a glaring light on major flaws in how the industry works. This has been particularly significant in the electronics industry.
WHY DESIGN FOR MANUFACTURING DOESN’T WORK ANYMORE
With the traditional design FOR manufacturing process, engineers, designers, procurement professionals, and manufacturing personnel work in separate, serially linked activities to get products designed and manufactured. Typically, an electrical engineer starts things off by specifying the logical design of an electronic circuit. A PCB designer then creates the board’s physical layout and places all of the components. Once the PCB layout is complete, the circuit, bill of materials, and board specification is exported as a package of files. Each of these files is then imported into manufacturing software, where it is translated into that software’s format. Unfortunately, there’s almost always some sort of translation loss or error, in which design details and manufacturing instructions may be changed in ways that weren’t intended.
Sometimes this leads to the wrong PCB being manufactured, or in the best case, design and manufacturing teams ask and answer questions via a series of phone calls, faxes, and emails. This “back and forth” to resolve uncertainty typically takes at least a week or two before a design can be manufactured. And if any communication is missed, incorrect, or something is left out, it means another modification cycle or sometimes, even a complete redesign. As crazy as it sounds, this is the reality of the current electronics design FOR manufacturing process.
To make matters even worse, this doesn’t include the new reality with current supply chain challenges: An engineer can design a circuit with a specific part in mind, only to find out later that the part is difficult or impossible to procure due to intense competition for limited supplies. Out-dated communication methods and data formats that are completely incompatible along with zero information about supply availability have revealed a very slow and ineffective design FOR manufacturing process that leads to costly and repeated changes to designs for engineers and manufacturers.
THE COVID-19 EFFECT
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the current supply chain crisis and has changed the electronics manufacturing business forever.
The pandemic forced teams in every industry all over the world to figure out ways to work remotely. This created additional design and manufacturing issues for the electronics industry in terms of stakeholders communicating with each other while working in remote locations. While this wasn’t unique to the electronics industry, the combination of new and existing challenges that exist in the electronics design and manufacturing domain has been particularly difficult. As a result, our industry is under intense pressure to find new ways to communicate and work more collaboratively.
It has become more and more apparent that cloud technology is the solution to many of the problems and inefficiencies that impact the electronics industry’s manufacturing processes. It can make collaboration seamless—across the functional domains of design, supply chain, and manufacturing—and highly efficient.
The traditional approach to manufacturing has always been design FOR manufacturing, which unfortunately encompasses all of the problems and communication issues weighing down the electronics design to manufacturing processes today. But by taking a different, more collaborative approach—design WITH manufacturing—we are able to leverage digital and cloud technology to transform the entire product development process.
COLLABORATIVE DESIGN IS THE SOLUTION
Engineers, designers, procurement pros, and manufacturers need tools to help them work more collaboratively and to provide access to real-time information and predictive insights. They need their software to be aware of, and connected to all of the tools, data, workflows, and requirements of their colleagues working in each of these functional domains. With cloud technology, all of this can be done, resulting in huge increases in efficiency and productivity.
For example, imagine if you could access real-time parts and pricing updates in the design software so that you knew what parts were available before you design them in. Imagine also being able to see manufacturing costs as you design, and being able to place an order to create their printed circuit boards within your design tools. Imagine being able to share not only your data but your intent with your colleagues who have done the logical design, the buyers who will procure the bill of materials, and your manufacturing partners. You would be able to collaborate with them simply and easily to resolve uncertainties as the design evolves rather than after it is complete, saving all of you the time, effort, and frustration associated with the repetitive “back and forth” that takes place today.
This kind of seamless collaboration would erase the boundaries that exist today between design and manufacturing teams and transform the process of PCB design and realization. Leveraging cloud technology, we can connect the full value chain for electronics using a platform approach that would be analogous to what Uber has done in transportation. We would know at all times what the status of design work is, what questions need to be addressed, what pricing to anticipate, and where our PCB is in the manufacturing process. In other words, we would have confidence—even certainty—in our ability to deliver electronics based products that are produced on time, within budget, and that work as intended.
This is what you could call the design WITH manufacturing” experience. And fortunately, some of the innovators of our industry including Altium (Figure 1), MacroFab, and Octopart are already working together to develop and deliver it.
AN INDUSTRY IMPERATIVE
Design WITH manufacturing isn’t just a “nice to have” vision for the future—it’s an absolute requirement for the electronics industry. If we don’t adapt and modernize our tools, processes, and ways of working together, we will all lose out. Advancements in consumer products, medical devices, industrial equipment, transportation, and nearly everything else we rely upon in society today will slow. We simply won’t be able to meet the growing demand for smarter, more connected products and systems. The time is now for the electronics industry to commit to rapid and continuous innovation by continuing to find ways to improve the way we work together.
Altium | www.altium.com
PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • JUNE 2022 #383 – Get a PDF of the issueSponsor this Article