How Rapid Prototyping has revolutionized PCB Designing?


The process of implementing ideas into concrete forms from written materials to digitalized forms by design teams is referred to as prototyping. With this process, one can improve and confirm their designs so that the right products are released. There are various ways of prototyping: rapid, competitive, parallel, and iterative. A good example of prototyping is the development of new of a robot. Prototyping is the transformation of a concept into reality.


On the other hand, the revolution PCBCBs designs have been enhanced by rapid prototyping. In a world full of competition in manufacturing electronics, speed is of the essence! The faster a company develops a concept stage to product, the more success is likely.

Rapid PCB prototyping

These are the methods of creating a prototype of a product quickly. The final product can be verified by these methods. A manufacturing approach is required in addition, unlike the subtractive approach which requires considerable rework. 3D printing technology enables the creation of product replicas by the addition of material layers. This is done by designers. STL file is converted from CAD file format which can be used printing 3D and hence prototyping.

Types of prototyping

  • When it comes to prototyping thee major techniques are used. The most popular is additive manufacturing which is closely related to 3-dimensional printing. When you start with a block of material, trim or cut and grind the material until you form your product is called subtractive manufacturin Starting with a liquid material or semi-solid material and forcing it to the required shape after solidification is called compressive manufacturing. When dimensional accuracy is critical, computer numerical control (CNC) rapid prototyping is usually the best option for simple or metal parts.
  • Additive manufacturing is popular because it is generally easy and it saves on cost. Its flexibility allows one to make adjustments throughout the process because aspects of the prototype can be added or subtracted until the final product is achieved. Another type of 3D printing is the stereolithographic apparatus (SLA); it is used for complex designs, the concept of models, and cosmetic prototypes. Stereo-lithography can make parts with designs and intricate angels with an excellent surface finish unlike the other types of additive manufacturing. Another type of additive manufacturing is selective laser sintering (SLS); this uses a nylon-based powder that is fused by a laser to form the final product. This process can be repeated until the product is created. The difference between stereolithographic apparatus (SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS) is that selective laser sintering (SLS) can stand up to test better than stereolithographic apparatus (SLA) while stereolithographic apparatus (SLA) can produce a perfect finish compared to selective laser sintering (SLS).

Advantages of the rapid prototyping process

  • Test of products

Verification of a product is of major importance in 3D PCB prototypes. Errors and expensive mistakes can be detected and necessary steps can be taken in time. Designers enjoy greater freedom to break manufacturing rules which are intrinsic in PCB manufacturing due to reduced development time.

  • Cost economization

Optimization of cost is a result of technology. The affordability of 3D printers has enabled startups who are having limited budgets. One can improve the product before final production due to the quick realization of the product.

  • Diversity in working materials

The addition of materials will increase the layers and the doubling prevents the board from limiting the circuits. Essential materials necessary for production are used in 3D circuit board manufacturing.

  • Speed

Compound designs will consume a long time and extra cost but the speed can be improved. Development can reduce from weeks to minutes.

Steps Used When Prototyping

  • Design

The first step is coming up with a design. There are different software that can create different designs.

  • Schematic design

This includes important information that engineers and manufacturers will use in the process of production. All the requirements of production are included here.

  • Bill of materials

All the materials and a list of gadgets necessary for production are detailed in this section.

  • Routing design

The procedure is important since this is what will be used to connect the PCB. Factors such as signal noise, power level, and signal noise among others should always be considered.

  • Checks –The design should be checked on regular performance issues. Evaluation should be made before moving to the fabrication phase
  • Photo creation- This is done by use of a printer known as Plotter for every layer and solder mask of the board
  • Print of inner layers

In this stage, the copper is up to the substrate material. It’s hardened using UV light.

  • Layers alignment-This is done to multiple layers and ensures accuracy in registration holes. It’s difficult to perform correction of inner layers once they are combined.

  • Layer fusion –The step of fusing the layer involves two stages that are: bonding and layer-up. The prepreg layer is placed over an aligned basin, the substrate layer is then stacked, more prepreg, copper sheet, and aluminum foil. These layers are fixed into pins on a steel table. The process of heating the stack is controlled by a bonding press computer. To get a PCB we remove the pressure plate and the pins.
  • Holes drilling –Holes are drilled into the stack which will be used to add components. The drills are controlled by a computer that uses air-driven spindles with 150,000 revolutions per minute. The process can take a while despite the drill moving quickly.
  • Plating the copper -Depositing a layer of copper is done using a chemical bath about one micron thick on the surface of a panel and the interior walls of the holes. This process is precisely controlled by computers.

  • Imaging the outer layer -Another layer of photoresist is applied to the panel to image the outer layers with the PCB design. This process is creating an inversion of the inner layers and is similar to the one used earlier.
  • Plating copper and tin -Another round of copper plating is done. The photoresist layer confirms that the desired parts of the boards are deposited with copper. The board is then platted using tin which protects the copper during the next stage.
  • Final etching -Any excess copper is removed by a chemical solution, while the tin guards the copper that creates the conductive surfaces. Once this is done, the conductive connections are confirmed.
  • Application of solder mask –The panel is then cleaned and an epoxy solder mask is applied. UV light is passed on the board, this hardens the film. Unhardened or covered parts are then removed.

  • Application of surface finish –More plating is then deposited, in most cases silver or gold is used. To ensure the pads are uniform we use hot air leveling. The surface is then finished.
  • Applying silkscreen –This is done using ink-jet writing which conveys critical information about the board to the surface of the PCB.
  • Cutting –Once the final electrical test is conducted to confirm the board functions as expected, the board is separated from the larger panel using either a v-groove or a router. The boards can easily be popped out of the panel.
  • Sourcing –For the preparation of the PCB assembly prototype stage, the source of all the components is required.
  • Assembly –The next step is printed circuit board assembly, PCBA – in which the required components are placed on the board.
  • Solder paste stenciling –Solder paste is applied to the board, this mixes with flux which helps the solder to melt thus bonding with the surface of the PCB. Stainless steel is placed over the PCB to ensure that the solder paste only applies to the areas where components will be in the finished PCB. It is evenly spread to the open areas. The stencil is then removed thus the solder paste is left in desired locations.
  • Pick and place -A pick and place machine is used to place surface mount components on the PCB. The non-connector components are placed on top of the soldering paste in preprogrammed areas.
  • Reflow soldering –The solder paste is solidified in this process, where the surface mounts are attached to the board. The PCB is placed on a conveyor belt that moves the board through a reflow oven. A series of heaters that slowly heat the board is placed in the oven. The temperature is reduced gradually when cooling and solidification take place and permanently attach the surface mount components to the board.
  • Inspection and quality control –There are various ways of conducting an inspection such as manual checks, automatic optical inspection, and x-ray inspection. This is done to ensure there are no errors or risks.
  • Conducting a functionality test-This stimulates the normal operating conditions that will be exposed to the PCB. This is the last step.


A new twist to the traditional prototype as the design process has been added by the recent coming of the latest rapid prototyping, computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and computer, computer-aided design (CAD), and computer-aided engineering (CAE) technologies. The transformation is from prototype design to a rapid prototype design process. Engineers are now able to perform complex finite element analysis (FEA) calculations on their results; they can also test any structural or thermal problems and even simulate how plastic may flow through an injection molding tool during production with the help of new generation tools. Physical prototypes play a major role in product development as they are a means of revealing scale and realism in a way that paper drawings, and even computer 3D models, cannot. The translation of three-dimensional representations from two-dimensional is an important stage in product development.

The reliability of a physical product can be effectively achieved by a three-dimensional physical model. There is always a huge difference in perception between a user seeing a traditional Computer-aided design model only and then seeing a real physical working model.

Rapid prototyping accelerates the design process

Designers have been using rapid prototyping as a tool for over a decade, there has been an improvement in the technologies behind it. Traditional modeling techniques however have been replaced by these technologies in the final stages of product development to manufacturing. The earlier design process affects the potential for 3D modeling greatly where the superior designs are embraced while those which hinder development are laid down.

Product development can be greatly accelerated if rapid prototyping is properly used, this may lead to high quality and defect-free products. The conceptual modelers, 3D printers, and desktop modelers known as regeneration of rapid prototyping tools, fortunately, are much faster than the earlier versions. The engineers use them in office environments.

Tightening up the front end

Engineers can shorten the design cycle by the use of rapid prototyping; a prototype that would have taken a week without it can be made in 2 hours. Time-saving is of the essence on a percentage basis, but the week saved is inadequate comparing it to the 12-month development cycle save time, the process of product development will need to be updated by the managers and engineers to reflect the strength of next-generation rapid prototyping tools. Examining the lowest parts with an eye will assist in applying rapid prototyping ability to radically accelerate these activities. Most time is spent on approving the concept; companies need to save time at this stage.

Delayed decision making

Earlier stages consume a lot of time in deciding what action to take because relevant parties may not have a common base of communication. At a time the identity of the relevant parties remains unknown.

Lack of common decision-making channel

Those involved in an important decision such as marketers, manufacturing staff, or engineers might not have the same access to product information.

Poor communication

Investigation of the design process has too many or few possibilities of being investigated. It was recently found by a sensor company that the different sectors of its design team, which differ in geographical location, were each undertaking ideas deftly incompatible with other firms. The different branches grew apart for several months, it shocked two of the three groups when they were forced to redesign so that they would be compatible with the third.

Lack of consensus

Disagreement may occur among those involved in the design process on the way to follow. Most developers design strong ideas about a product to be considered. They are then constrained to debating relevant benefits based on computer-aided design drawings and 2D projections. A third party which in this case is the customer cannot be brought into the discussion to settle the argument because they usually don’t know drawings or projections. The process is then left for personal opinion; this may lead to the end of the project.

Rework and changes in the direction

Critical errors mostly end up unnoticed in digital models for weeks and can appear in the final stages of production. This may lead to reworking the whole project.

Difference making with the prototypes

Evaluation of tree-dimensional design is equally performed by the designers, managers, marketers, and manufacturing staff. All the different teams can touch, see and handle the model just like the esteemed customer will. Some companies go the extra mile by including the end-users in the process; use prototypes. Disciplines, spanning distances, and clarifying communication are done by the prototypes.

Rapid typing advice –

This is done to shorten and improve product development. Some of the suggestions, for helping other firms change their model styles or maybe improve them to take advantage of the rapid prototyping are found here.

Revolution of PCB design

Revolution is necessary when it comes to printed circuit boards. Designing tools must keep pace with the fast-changing technology; revolutionary is highly embraced by the PCB designer tools. PCB designers experience extremely difficult signal integrity challenges, thanks to innovations such as the multi-gigabit serial data-streaming technologies like serializes/deserializes (SERDES). Designers are likely to struggle to meet their timing requirements if their toolset is not up to speed.

With the ongoing trend towards the higher pin, all of the above can be combined to create an environment where PCB designers must have the right tools for the task at hand. There are different challenges facing PCB designers and they are handled differently by the design tools. They include:

Need For Speed

  • Engineering is required in extremely high signal speeds drive throughout the board design process. Modern processors need modern buses and those buses carry very fast signals. A good example of a simulation tool that can handle the high-speed challenge is Cadence Allegro PCB SI 630.

  • On a desktop it can simulate up to 10 Kbits/s and 1 Mbit/hour. This means that on a single day, it can run through multiple full-board simulations. Memory access is another speed issue, this makes the life of PCB designers difficult. Circuit designers are planning to move to double data rate (DDR) from SDRAM; current designers mostly make use of DDR2 with access rates of 800 MHz, it is clear that consumer electronics continue to favor DDR3.
  • Increased adoption of advanced memory technologies and high-speed buses drives designers to become experts in signal integrity. In the past, what were termed “extremely exotic” board design elements came into existence. Technologies such as buried Vias and blind embedded passive components, made flex circuitry drop their niche tags. They are now part of designers’ tools thus designers must ensure their toolset can manage this technology efficiently.

A Holistic Approach

  • The combination of large pin-count devices like field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and high speeds pushes designers and EDA vendors toward taking a holistic view of the components they carry and the PCBs. The board designers are presented with a different scenario of the malleability that makes the field-programmable gate array (FPGAs) such a useful tool for designers.
  • PCB/FPGA co-design is supported by Altiums designer 6.0. This enables the designers to fully exploit FPGAs as a system platform. FPGA pins are often assigned without regard to board layout; this is a major barrier for board designers. Additionally, board routing can wreak havoc with the dense packaging technology in large-scale field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs).
  • The idea of dynamic reassignment portrays an important feature of Altiums designer6.0. Field programmable gate array (FPGAs) pins can be swapped on the fly during PCB routing with this feature. Pre-routed subnets are dynamically reallocated by the tool and swap linked differential pairs of the signal.
  • Combination of an automatic field-programmable gate array (FPGAs) pin-optimization engine with dynamic net reassignment, 6.0 enables designers to take full control of field-programmable gate array (FPGAs) pin programmability to optimize the routing of board-level

It’s important to take note that the recent IC package is becoming more like PCB.

Melding Design and Test

  • Broadening the functionality in the design tools may be an added advantage to the PCB designers. The workbench design suite which is the latest release embodies national instruments response. The 9th version of the suit aims at breaking down the artificial partitions between the benchtop, part selection, and desktop design work by faking tight integration between Lab View and version 9 of multiuse.

The Perils of Placement

  • Today, the placement of components is among the top vexing aspects of PCB design. This is because, in the course of system design, the component net assists changes mostly. PCB design is similar to other aspects of system design; this makes it a global affair. Collaboration is necessary from all the design teams all over the world.


Rapid prototyping has revolutionized printed circuit boards. The direction of PCB design tools is seen. To fill the changing needs of designers, these tools must revolve. The improved computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided engineering (CAE), and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) technologies as well as the growth of low-cost rapid prototyping have facilitated the evolution of rapid prototype designs. Designers can produce high technology products at an increasing rate due to the emerging and existing technologies in the new product development process.