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Essential Design Tools for Lean Manufacturing

The lean manufacturing concept

For many centuries being overweight was considered attractive and a symbol of wealth and power. These views were held around the world like with the Irish in Europe, in China until the Quing dynasty, and in the Americas. With a greater understanding of anatomy and improvements in science and technology came a rethinking of this concept. Today, by contrast, many emphasize the need for a good body mass index (BMI), or being lean and healthy.

The concept of being streamlined and efficient is a philosophy that drives much of electronics manufacturing today. In the manufacturing sector, this philosophy has been transformed into an actionable process known as lean manufacturing. The objectives of lean manufacturing are to eliminate or reduce waste and thus minimize cost.

Although the processes most directly affected by a lean manufacturing approach are performed by your PCB manufacturer, there are ways that you can contribute to its effectiveness. Let’s first see exactly what lean manufacturing is from a designer’s perspective and then define the essential design tools for lean manufacturing.

What is Lean Manufacturing?

When you mention the world lean, the first thought that comes to mind for many is reducing the number of employees. In fact, a good lean manufacturing approach values employees and seeks to make their jobs easier whereas redundant activities or multiple employees doing the same or similar tasks is considered waste. The key element of a lean strategy is based on value-proposition, which can be simply defined as anything that adds value to your product or service.


A hand on a chalkboard posing the question “How do you add value?”

The most important question for lean manufacturing

For a lean PCB manufacturing operation, value can be added by making the best use of people, process, and technology.

People, Process, and Technology

Although, lean principles can be expressed in terms of various steps, the core tenets are as follows:


Getting the most from people:

It has been said that a happy employee is more productive. Well, this is true. Employees are most valuable when they take ownership of their work. With that mindset, their individual success and the overall success of the product or service are interdependent.

Streamlining processes:

Streamlining or simplifying the process is another important aspect of lean manufacturing. This is accomplished by normalization. For example, working on a single board at a time is more efficient than making repetitive changes to produce different designs.

Using the right technology:

The competitive nature of the PCB industry requires that your boards are of high-quality and reliable for their operational lifecycles. Therefore, you should select a contract manufacturer (CM) that utilizes the best equipment and techniques for fabrication and PCB assembly.


Although this overview does not delve into each specific action that can be taken to implement a lean manufacturing strategy, it does provide us with an understanding of the intent for our PCB’s manufacturing. With this better understanding of what lean manufacturing is, let’s see how design decisions impact PCB manufacturing and what tools can enable us to best contribute to the process.

Essential Design Tools for Lean Manufacturing

The decisions that you make during design determine how your board will be made and whether it can be made at all. When your selections negatively impact PCB manufacture by requiring excessive back and forth with the CM to either make design changes or for clarification the development of your boards loses efficiency and may add costs. The best way to avoid this and aid the process is by following good design for manufacturing (DFM) guidelines and using the right design tools.

PCB design packages are not created equal. Most board design programs are capable of creating a manufacturable PCB layout. Yet, only select design platforms are developed to allow you to easily incorporate strategies, such as lean manufacturing. In order for your design to be an asset to your CM’s lean manufacturing process, your design tool should have the following functionality and capabilities.


Essential Design Tools for Lean Manufacturing

Design Tool


Benefit for Lean Manufacturing

DRC Import

Ability to import CM equipment tolerances for board parameters

Minimizes or eliminates back and forth and redesigns.

Thermal Analysis

Ability to analyze the board’s thermal signature

Ensures the board will not fail when exposed to heat

PDN Analysis

Ability to analyze board's power distribution network

Minimizes iteration cycles for functionality testing

Multiple Format File Export

Ability to create design files in multiple formats

Ensures that design can be exported in the best format for CM


Of course, with different design software you’ll find different names and applications of these tools. With Cadence, our IPC-2581 format vastly simplifies your file export process and easy-to-use constraint import or set-up trivializes tolerances. Using a PCB design software package that has the functionality and capabilities listed above will go a long way toward assisting your CM in instituting the best lean manufacturing for your PCB’s manufacture.  

OrCAD, a comprehensive industry standard for PCB design, by Cadence includes all the functionality and capability you need to partner with your CM to produce high-quality, reliable boards including the essential tools for lean manufacturing. To explore these capabilities for yourself, get a free trial here.


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