Free DFM (Design for Manufacturablity) Software!
We have a problem. As an industry. And it’s nothing new.
HotPCB has pointed to and written about the relationship between fabricators and designers since our inception. And we are not the only one speaking to it. Pete Waddell of UP Media wrote an editorial to the issue of DFM (design for manufacture) failures within our industry earlier this year. We would like to speak to the issue as well, but not without providing a way to begin fixing the problem.
The issue is that there has been, and will continue to be a disconnect between printed circuit board designers and fabricators. If you, as a designer, have a firm grasp of the details surrounding the fabrication process, power to you and thank you. However, if you are a designer and have not spent time learning the process of building boards, I highly recommend it. Now I understand that the two parties have their areas of expertise, and I am not asking you to do a 9 month apprenticeship in a board shop. But some research, and using some valuable tools available will be very beneficial to you. How? Read on.
Whenever a board comes into our shop, we need to check it for manufacturability and errors. We use a variety of methods, but one of the key methods is to run the designs through DFM software. We estimate that about 50% of the jobs we process need to go back to the designer for edits and changes after it has been run through the DFM. That means we need to call/email the engineer, often leave a message, set up a time to talk about the issues, have them go fix the problems, wait to receive the updated files, assure that we don’t accidentally use the old files, re-check the design files, and then continue on in the production process. In a quickturn shop, this may take 1-2 days, and I have heard several claim they often see it taking 5-7 days to get this all hashed out. In a tense, quickturn market, several days means that you have doubled the lead time which was originally possible. In addition to this, the fabricators are spending a lot of time going back and forth, chasing down engineers, revisions, files, etc. This is time that is not billed, but in the long run finds its way into your boards because the process is less efficient and is using a lot of man-hours. And so the designers are delayed in getting their boards, the fabricators are spending a lot of extra time pre-production, and nobody wins.
My hope is that there would be an industry wide shift in mentality toward an attitude of responsibility on the part of all to check for manufacturability. I believe that it ultimately rests on designers to begin this change, and recognize that they can run preliminary DFM checks on their designs. It takes very little time to run it, especially compared to several days of back and forth with the fabricator. With designers running preliminary checks, and fabricators running secondary checks, the process will grow to be more seamless and productive.
One company in the marketplace who has narrowed in on this issue is Intercept Technology. Their top-end software contains a DFM program, and their goal right now is to make it as accessible to designers as possible. In fact, for a limited time it is free. I recommend this to everyone within the industry. This is an incredibly valuable tool for designers. Together we can help each other accomplish our goals and increase in efficiency. Designers will get their boards more quickly, fabricators will be able to spend more time improving their processes and building boards, and greater understanding/collaboration will be fostered between both.
Do you have a DFM nightmare story? Or a success story? Please feel free to comment below. Maybe you think this is all hot air and unnecessary. I’d like to hear what you have to say.