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Mastering the Art of Communication with Manufacturers

Design with manufacturing (DWM) emphasizes the important aspect of the true intent of design for manufacturing (DFM). The intent of DFM is to consider the manufacturing process during the entire printed circuit design process starting at the earliest stages of the design cycle, when the project first begins, and continuing to the end of the product lifecycle.

As mentioned in the May issue of Design007 Magazine, design is performed, at times, in a vacuum. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Whenever circumstances allow, design should be performed by communicating with all stakeholders throughout the design process,
hence the emphasis on the word with in DWM. Communication can occur through personal correspondence such as email and voice conversations or through more formal design meetings—in person or through videoconferencing. No matter which means of communication you prefer, it’s important to communicate early and often with stakeholders involved in the downstream processes as you bring your
project to realization.

There’s No ‘I’ in Team

Unlike the word “team,” there is an “I” in design with manufacturing, but that doesn’t make it a singular process. Rather, DWM requires involvement of a cross-functional team with the designer as the key stakeholder who communicates regularly with the team throughout the design process. This communication includes receiving feedback early from other stakeholders and implementing any improvements they suggest.

The higher-level structure of DWM takes effort but yields superior results because it helps the designer avoid delays while lowering manufacturing costs and maintaining a high-quality finished product. For example, deadlines are more likely to be met by communicating early with the assembly team on bill of materials component availability. For
those designers using revision control, communicating early can help avoid the costly process of rolling a revision for minor last-minute
design changes. Communicating with the fabrication team before beginning assembly can help lower manufacturing costs and turn times
by discovering cost reduction opportunities, such as combining similar drill sizes.

DWM seeks to unify all stakeholders of the circuit board design and development process, including the designer, fabricator, and assembler. For components with specific requirements, DWM may also include involving the component manufacturer. The final complete data package sent to the assembler includes drawings, specifications, requirements, ratings, a bill of materials, Gerber, and drill data, etc.

DWM thus requires contributions and feedback from members of the team most familiar with the different documents of the data package. The designer should review preliminary Gerber and drill data with the fabricator to ensure the design is manufacturable. They should also discuss the bill of materials with the assembler to make certain that all components are available for purchase. Each document of the data package should be reviewed by an expert in the corresponding process.

Designers embracing DWM should take advantage of the latest in technology. While the hand-drawn graphics of circuit board design are far in the past, some methods for integrating separate documents into the data package can be archaic at times. If you are still sending your data package in a compressed file through email, get creative about how you can improve that process. Think about how you are sharing other important files within your organization—can you use those same meth-
ods for your data package? Think of ways you can incorporate the cloud into your process.

Workplace-specific messaging programs are modern tools you can integrate into your workflow as you communicate with fabrica-
tion and assembly teams through a workspace. List-making applications are powerful resources used to assign and manage tasks, and track their status. What resources do you use in other aspects of your work that you can apply to data package management and distribution?

Counting the Advantages

The advantage of consistent collaboration with all stakeholders in the manufacturing process is that, as a designer, you can improveyour design efficiency over time by building up a knowledge base of the processes involved in circuit board fabrication and assembly. Coordinating with fabricators and assemblers may seem overwhelming and time consuming at first but give it some time. As you become
familiar with the nuances of fabrication and assembly you will find yourself becoming more independent as you instinctively integrate their feedback into your daily workflow. In the long term, coordination will, in fact, reduce your workload and open more time for you to spend on other tasks.

If you don’t know who exactly will be fabricating and assembling your design, try to gather a list of potential partners. You could then work with those partners to pool their different requirements and capabilities. Once this data is gathered and combined, you can choose the most stringent requirements for each different category. This approach allows
you to design a circuit board that will meet all potential partners’ requirements, thus avoiding delays. If your circumstance does not allow
you to compile a list of potential manufacturing and assembly partners, start somewhere by collaborating with the partners of your choice
and go from there.

Design with manufacturing goes above and beyond design for manufacturing by integrating all key stakeholders on a project into a
collaborative team. When using DWM, each document of the design package is reviewed by a relative team member who is an expert in
the relevant field throughout the design process. Integrating modernized team approaches to your team workflow can help make DWM more efficient than ever. If successfully applying DWM sounds overwhelming or seems unlikely to you, give it a try by starting small.
There is a good chance it will improve data package uptake.

This article was originally published in the June 2022 issue of Design007 and is reprinted with permission.