In today's digital world, designing electronics devices is all about form and function and engineers are often working in isolation during the design phase. By isolation I mean disconnected from the down stream manufacturing process.
As a design engineer back in the 1990s I was very connected to the down stream manufacturing processes due to the fact that the production and test departments were down stairs from the R&D offices. This meant that design and manufacturing were in constant communication with the aim of improving the product design and the production process. This symbiotic relationship resulted in good product design that was easy and cost effective to manufacture, and delivered a product that was fit for purpose. In the noughties I was involved in the automated optical inspection business where PCB design played a critical role in reducing manufacturing errors and associated costs.
But in today's internet connected world where information is obtained primarily via the world wide web, design engineers are often not so familiar with the manufacturing processes and typically not co-located with production. As a result, "design for manufacture" has largely been overlook and is not taught at university.
So what is design for manufacture and why is it so important today. Well good PCB design does indeed reduce production errors but component choices can have a significant impact on the cost of manufacture. Today's PCBs are largely made up of surface mount devices (SMD) that are automatically picked and placed on a reflow soldering production line. There may be a few larger components that require a secondary wave soldering process and industrial connectors (pitch =>2.5mm) often fall into this category as by necessary they are fairly big and unsuited to automatic pick and place. But there is a growing number of connector solutions now on the market that are designed for the reflow soldering process and as a result make it easier to design devices for a single automated production process.
So what has driven this change. Well several factors. The first being the availability of high temperature plastics which can survive the higher reflow oven temperatures compared to that of a wave soldering process. The second being the design of the connectors which due to the higher accuracy demands of automatic pick and place lines, require tighter tolerances on the connector contacts. The third is the increasing capability of pick and place machines to accept larger reels and odd-form feeders.
The benefits of choosing connectors for automatic pick and place and clear. Reducing the need for a secondary production process saves significant time and money. Connectors with surface mount contact increase the amount of space on the underside of the PCB for other components. PCB design does not have to compensate for the secondary manufacturing process. Less material handling by operators reduces errors in production and saves time in final test.
Design for manufacture is an important topic and deserves more consideration when designing electronic devices.