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This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

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Why New Product Introduction (NPI) is Important to PCBs

Electronic manufacturers have to bring out new products in quick timelines to stay ahead of the competition. Building a successful new product involves a well-established printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturing process that focuses on continuous improvement. A design concept can be evaluated by building and testing a prototype. However, to convert the prototype design into a profitable and reproducible product, it is necessary to have a structured process known as new product introduction (NPI).

In the PCB manufacturing process, several work groups collaborate to improve the production yield. There are multiple process iterations and deliverables involved that are time-consuming and expensive. Establishing a robust NPI can handle the process complexities by planning and executing each stage of PCB production adeptly. It proceeds with reiterations to obtain the best possible prototype. Working with experienced contract manufacturers (CM) from the early design stages can ensure reduced cost and quick product launches.

The Merits of NPI in PCB Manufacturing

  • Manufacturing yield is accelerated by adopting Design for Excellence (DfX) during PCB development. Following the design guidelines for better assembly (DFA), testing (DFT), manufacturability (DFM), and reliability (DFR) reduces possible defects and improves product quality.
  • The NPI process includes careful consideration of product requirements starting from feature analysis, component sourcing, and early prediction of possible assembly or manufacturing issues. This reduces the overall product development cost.
  • NPI focuses on the product-to-market timeline through diligent follow-up of the schedules and networking with multiple vendors for component sourcing. This leads to better return on investment (ROI).
  • A detailed NPI process results in reliable products and higher customer satisfaction.
  • Several simulations and analysis tools are used in the NPI process for guided technology decisions. This enhances product quality significantly and reduces re-spins.
  • The early-stage market evaluation helps in understanding the customer’s requirements and expectations. Product features are outlined for better market adoption and broader product outreach.
  • An organized NPI process emphasizes strong product lifecycle management by optimizing the supply chain with the obsolescence management of components and other materials. Seamless switching to new suppliers and reduced inventory wastage improves the ROI and reduces the overall manufacturing cost.

new-product-introductionThe NPI Process

Implementation of an NPI process in PCB manufacturing can be customized based on the business objectives, budget, timelines, available resources, etc. The core steps to be followed are as follows:

  1. Outline a plan: Capture the product requirements, scope, and main deliverables. The NPI team performs exhaustive market research and highlights the primary objectives of the new product. Then the team identifies the required resources and components for the product design. An initial budget for product development is estimated.
  2. Feasibility analysis: An expert team evaluates the possibility of the product’s success through detailed design reviews. Timelines are estimated and financial budgets are analyzed. The design concept is verified to be repeatable and marketable. A process flow diagram is created for each stage of product development.
  3. Design and develop the product: The circuit designs are converted into working prototypes by adopting DfX guidelines and testing. This stage focuses on quality product development to limit iterations. Prototypes are tested for functionality. A bill of materials (BOM) is generated and manufacturing resources (PCB material, components, mechanical assembly, etc.) are procured. The production line is set up and verified. The NPI team validates the manufacturing plan for the schedule, budget, and practicality before proceeding to the next stage.
  4. Pre-production testing and evaluation: The designed product undergoes a series of tests to detect a wide range of possible defects. PCBs are reviewed for parameters like surface finish, easy component access for solderability, test points availability, etc. Final BOM is scrutinized for valid component lifecycle and Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) compliance (if necessary). Design for serviceability is ensured in the case of PCB box building. Also, documentation of test results, instruction manuals, and training catalogs is completed in this stage.
  5. Final production: Mass production begins after the complete validation of the product. The process performance is reviewed, and necessary feedback is provided to improve the production yield. Final tested products are packed and shipped to the customer.
  6. User feedback on product performance: Feedback on the shipped products should be gathered from the customers. After the first production run, the NPI process is evaluated for its efficiency. Possible corrections are applied in the next production cycle, focusing on a continuous improvement of the NPI process.

Optimizing the NPI Process

Evaluating customer feedback and analyzing the NPI process for mass production can offer insights to tweak the process further. Gathering process data over a couple of volume productions can assist in optimizing the NPI process. To ensure consistency in the NPI process, indexing the NPI products with an identification number is recommended. Adequate availability of required equipment and associated data can streamline the NPI process. Documenting each stage output and updating any issue observed can improve the next build in PCB production.

The NPI process is effective only when all the participants, including CMs and external suppliers, are involved and abide by the process framework. The CM should be available for physical inspection and flexible for any modifications in the fabrication and assembly processes. Those CMs who are experienced in high-mix builds can adapt to the rapid design changes that are anticipated during new product builds.

If multiple vendors are used in PCB production, then it may be obvious to expect some fit and function mismatches. Issues like wrong connector mating, inaccessible components, obsolete parts, and more can slow down the NPI process. It is crucial to hire a CM who is skilled in the NPI process, as they can provide additional services like turnkey PCB assembly, cable assembly, and complete box building.

Conclusion

Growing competition in the electronics industry has boosted product variety within shorter lead times. To capture the market and increase the profit margin, PCB manufacturers are relying on efficient NPI processes. Much of the production cost is determined during the design and development stage of PCB manufacturing. Converting a prototype to a production PCB demands a planned approach with assured quality output. Therefore, an NPI process accelerates PCB manufacturing and ensures the product’s success in the market.

Ken Ghadia
Ken Ghadia
Ken Ghadia works as a sales engineer at Technotronix. He brings 15 years of experience in Printed Circuit Board sales and technical client service. Contact him on Twitter.

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