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Cost Effective Electronics Production: Simulation's Role in Success

Rainbow of colorized pixels rising from right to left



In terms of time, the 18th century rests just a heartbeat away. The 1700s started the first industrial revolution and “The Age of Enlightenment.”  Innovation spurred breakthrough inventions such as steam engines, pianos, sextants, hot air balloons, looms, flush toilets, gas turbines, ball bearings, and smallpox vaccinations that opened new doors to exploration, comfort, enjoyment, and improved health. Scientific reasoning moved to the mainstream.

But why even think about things that happened 300 years ago? The same enthusiasm that drove innovation then spurs new ways of looking at everything now. For us, the design and production of printed circuit boards—continues to change and improve. New technologies have already begun to shift the already-automated practices for manufacturing PCBs to new methods. 3D printing and optical traps take us to the near-future cost effective assembly of electronic components.

The Rise of the Machines and More and Yet More Machines

If you have the opportunity, visit a PCB manufacturing facility. While we work with moving PCB concepts through the design, testing, and documentation processes, our work serves as only the beginning of a series of precise interactions that involve engineers, technicians, and robots.

After engineers review the design files and technicians transfer the print design to clear film and then to the photoresist process, the sheer number and types of robots that assist with producing PCBs boggles the mind. Let’s take a quick look at the different robotic actions involved with everything from cutting copper blanks to shipping the PCB out the door..

  • Cut the copper plated FR-4 fiberglass to the proper size and smooth the edges

  • Expose the photoresist film on the copper blank to ultraviolet light

  • Develop, strip, wash, and the PCB

  • Apply a protective layer

  • Scan the boards with light, use inspection cameras, and compare the board with the original design

  • Roughen the board to prepare for pre-preg

  • Apply pre-preg

  • Construct the inner layer of multi-layer PCBs

  • Drill the PCB

  • Electroplate vias

  • Apply the solder mask

  • Create the outer layers of the PCB

  • Dry and remove the solder mask

  • Apply liquid solder and use Hot Air Surface Leveling (HASL) to achieve good solder adhesion

  • Apply the silkscreen

  • Use computer-controlled mini-probes to test the electrical connections of all path combinations

  • Package and ship the PCB

Whew!  Now, we can take our collective breaths. But…our foray into robotic processes is not over. Populating the board with components and placing the PCB in an enclosure requires another combination of pretty cool equipment.

Cost Effective Electronics Production: Money, Money, Money

Where has all the wonderful innovation taken us? Our capability to produce even more complex rigid, rigid-flex, and flex designs and the consumer and industrial expectations for more functionality, higher quality, and customization require added precision and more expense. Every design faces short time-to-market pressures, strict compliance requirements, and supply chain challenges.

We can split the cost of transferring a concept to production into development, scaling, and manufacturing. Development costs move our project from engineering concept to prototype. Those costs include production of the blank PCB and soldering the components onto the board. In part, the size, the number of layers, and the number of through-hole and blind vias impact the prototype cost. The total number of components, the minimum pin pitch, the use of leadless components such as Ball Grid Arrays (BGA), and the use of double-side boards add to the prototype cost.

Scaling costs cover moving from the prototype stage to a real mass-manufactured product stage and includes setup, FCC, UL, RoHS, and other certification, and intellectual property expenses. Manufacturing costs consider the actual cost per unit to manufacture the unit. From there, we add the retail package design and development costs.

Here’s an eye-opener.  Most complex electronic products have total development, scaling, and manufacturing costs that range into millions of dollars.


 PSpice circuit parameter modeling run

PSpice can find the component values automatically based on your circuit goals.


Simulation Software to the Rescue

18th century innovation and invention continue to impact our lives. In the same way, advanced PCB design software has allowed us to respond to expectations and find cost-effective methods for quickly moving concepts to production. Using the design software reduces prototyping costs because of the integration of functionality.

New PCB design applications integrate electrical and mechanical design through the use of 3D technologies. Cost savings occur through your ability to manipulate a PCB populated with components within a proposed enclosure. Mechanical analysis simulates and predicts the assembly-level quality of components and sub-assemblies. With this ability, you can overcome component height and other geometric limitations that affect the fit of the board and the enclosure.

PCB design software also allows you to test the electrical functionality of your board and assess the performance of a digital twin. You can use PSpice and other tools to verify connectivity and perform test and reliability checks. In addition, design toolsets allow you to select the best routing options for minimizing electromagnetic interference (EMI) and for solving issues with differential pairs before the board moves to the prototype stage. Other tools within the PCB design software suites ease the process of selecting components and using component libraries for your design. For example, information found in the component libraries may show that the selection of a higher cost 0402 capacitor may result in board space savings while improving reliability.

Your design software also produces the accurate Bill-of-Materials (BOM), output files and documentation that ensure project success. Rather than risk a disconnect caused by poor communication, high level documentation coupled with simulation tools prevents manufacturers from complaining that the PCB requires more work before moving to production.  PCB design software also includes the capability to translate your design into the languages used by the factory. Having this capability mitigates the risk that redesign must occur because of the misinterpretation of documentation by engineers residing in a different country.

Each of these tools lessen—or sometimes eliminate—costs that can occur later in the development and scaling stages.  Your use of high-quality design software pushes the production process by ensuring just-in-time delivery of materials, eliminating work-in-progress costs, and improving access to the correct components.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Innovation in additive technologies such as 3D printing may improve mass production techniques while achieving cost effective electronic production. Aerosol Jet conformal printing technologies allow the high-volume production of antenna patterns, sensors, EMI shielding, active components, and passive components onto injection-molded smartphones, tablet computers, and automotive products.

Conformal printing maintains the device form factor while printing ceramics, dielectrics, inks, plastics, and conductive metals onto the three-dimensional surface. With the conformal printing technology in place, rapid customization can occur and change the placement of components for the purpose of reducing the device size.


Optoelectronic sensors utilized on a table

Optoelectronics can and will continue to be useful in industrial production


Another technology—called optical traps and optoelectronic tweezers formed from thousands of optical traps—uses light and freeze-drying to mass produce electronic components and may replace much of the current automated manufacturing equipment. Consisting of a layer of silicon, the optical tweezers hold and move small objects in liquid.

The properties of the silicon change electrical conductivity when exposed to light and allow an electric field to form in the exposed areas. In effect, the process uses patterns of light to simultaneously guide objects through a freeze-dried medium for the assembly of discrete components. Researchers intend to use the optical production processes to create high-energy capacitors that can replace the batteries used in mobile devices.

Utilizing proper analysis tools in your circuit designs and layout can increase the accuracy and reduce the cost with ease. PSpice Simulator is capable of not only providing the mixed-signal simulations you need, but also utilizes analysis to maximize manufacturing yield and reduce component cost.

If you’re looking to learn more about how Cadence has the solution for you, talk to us and our team of experts.