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Free DFM (Design for Manufacturablity) Software!

13 May 2010 7 Comments

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.

08The 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.

header_backgroundOne 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.

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7 comments on “Free DFM (Design for Manufacturablity) Software!

  1. Elizabeth on said:

    This was a great post and read. Thanks for putting it up. Would you be interested in and willing to write a guest blog post for us at http://www.acdi.com?

  2. Gerald on said:

    “Well written Mr.Morris! I agree with you. It’s essential for the PCB designers to have a good knowledge and understanding of PCB layout techniques, as well as a basic understanding of circuit operation.
    A faulty design can make soldering of electronic components pretty difficult and it’s very hard to locate the mistakes in complex circuit boards and also time consuming to fix them. What’s key is that the designer needs to carefully balance the constraints of cost vs. reliability vs. performance needs. Nowadays manufacturers issue free DFM software which is of great help to both manufacturers and designers. Recently I came across free online tool for DFM check from Sierra Proto Express, high technology printed circuit board manufacturers. The tool detects your design errors right from the start and prevents On-holds and Re-spins. It also ensures that you have a complete set of files for manufacturing and your Gerber files electrically match your CAD design.Thanks for your information.”

  3. George Defond on said:

    What a great subject. I have always been a big supporter of DFM. It’s a rarity that my work comes back with a DFM issue. I have a set of guideleines that I use that count on the Fab House and Assembly House. This works at an optimum if I know who will be manufacturing and building the boards. But I recently lost my job because I crammed a board as tight as I could using the guideleines that I came up with over a four and a half year period. These guidelines were an agreement betwenn me and the Fab house, and me and the Assembly house. The powers-that-be were unhappy that my cram-job did not fit the board outline they wanted. The powers-that-be contacted a consultant who said he could make it fit. Of course he could. So I’m on the outside, looking in. I don’t know how the story ended. I don’t know if they had to find new vendors (who will cost more). The bottom line is that no good deed ever goes unpunished.

  4. Carl Schlemmer on said:

    Ah the tug of war game – not a blame game. As a manufacturer the basic issue is we want the data as “clean” as possible. The root issue in my opinion is many designers have never been to or understand the manufacturing process therefore other than acedemically how can they know the manufacturing constraints?

    On the flip side – manufacturers are not designers and still run design rule checks (DRC’s) more as a safety net than to be the governing factor.

    In a perfect world I try to recommend if a designer has a doubt or question do an early involvement with the PCB fabricator and from a manufacturers point of view we should involve the designer when manufacturing concerns can be flagged at the DFM stage.

    Nobody is right and nobody is wrong – the underlying factor is everyone has budgets and deadlines and the gap between designers and fabricators has widened when a large amount of PCB’s go through CM’s / EMS which further disconnects these two.

  5. Mike Cummings on said:

    I have been a consultant for a good number of years, DFM, has always been a slow subject to pick up and run with. Designers tend to protect there projects like their children, they can do no wrong, and manufacturers have to accomodate ever demanding component designs, board designs and trade suppliers who talk the talk on DFM but dont walk it.
    I have developed manufacturing for design (MFD)for my clients, this works but just masks the need to have a joined up DFM program, better feed back to designers allows them to beter choose between a design saving or a manufacturing saving, I agree designers have tight budgets and a very difficult task, however the number of product recalls is also increasing year on year.

    Mike C

  6. Liam Morris on said:


    thanks for the comment. I didn’t mean to imply that designers cause all the problems… by no means. I’ve simply seen both sides of the fence. I hear the designers wishing we would get back to them faster, and get frustrated when the 2 day turn they needed gets bumped to 3 days because of our questions, and watched the quotes/po’s stand in limbo while edits are made.

    My hope is to spark discussion and change.

    What other ways do you think fabricators could be better serving the design community?

  7. Malcolm Maxwell on said:

    Whilst I agree totally with your article, I feel it is slightly biased in that manufacturers can do no wrong, and all the problems come from the designers side.
    The problem that manufacturers have is they have to cut their prices to the bone, and a poor design can cause a lot of liaison between them and the designer, cutting their profits further. Therefore, free DFM software would be a big help for both sides.
    Maybe manufacturers should free issue the software if possible.

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