The PC board is no longer simply a repository for circuitry, but the opportunity for electronics companies to add its unique value and produce a more competitive product.
As the executive for one of the PCB industry's largest electronic software companies, I am often asked by other executives "Why does the printed circuit board matter to me? The integrated circuits are what are important."
While there may have been some validity to that statement one or two decades ago, today's high-speed circuitry and ultra-dense packing of those electronic components on the PCB have completely altered the industry. No longer is the PCB simply a repository for circuitry, it is the opportunity for the electronics company to add its unique value and produce a more competitive product. The way that the PCB is designed and integrated into a product can save—or cost—your company tens- or hundreds-of-thousands of dollars; maybe more over that product's lifetime.
Plus, it goes way beyond the placement and routing of printed circuit board itself. Designing the PCB for easier and more reliable fabrication and assembly can save money and time in the product development process. Using computer simulation and producing "virtual prototypes" rather than expensive short-run physical prototypes not only saves cost, but catches more errors than actually building the hardware and testing in the lab. Designing the PCB for optimal manufacturability—ease of placing the electronics on the board, ensuring proper clearances, allowing easy substitution of parts, and facilitating testing—allows that end product to be manufactured less expensively and more reliably over its entire life.
Yes, the PCBs and their design matters…in a big way.
This is illustrated in a report created by the Aberdeen Research Group last year that summarized research to determine why certain companies—the top 20 percent "best in class"—stand above others in achieving success with their products. One fact that came across strong was that, on average, the PCB was responsible for 31% of the product cost. Even small savings in PCB costs could result in significant bottom-line profits. What makes a company best-in-class?
Aberdeen picked the common business goals and the pressures these companies see in the marketplace. The most common business goal was to get the product to market quickly. This was no surprise in the always-competitive consumer market, but it was actually a common goal across most industries. Figure 1 shows the top three stated business goals, in order of priority.
Next, Aberdeen inquired about the top pressures that these executives faced. Their list (Figure 2) almost seems contradictory: design quicker at lower cost, but higher quality? Yet, these are the real goals and pressures that companies face in today's world of electronic products, whether in the consumer, computer, industrial, automotive, military/aerospace, or medical marketplaces. These pressures and goals can basically be summarized as getting the most competitive (cost, functionality, quality) product to the marketplace in time (reduce design cycle time, get to target production volumes) to meet aggressive market windows.
Aberdeen then categorized the companies based on their stated success in meeting their goals into three categories: 1) Best-in-class (top 20 percent) 2) Average 3) Laggards
On average, "Best in Class" companies meet the following criteria:
o 88 percent of their products launch on time. o They have experienced a 13 percent decrease in development time. o 86 percent of products met their cost targets. o Are able to decrease their product cost by 11 percent. o 88 percent of their products meet quality targets at design release.
These top 20 percent of companies surveyed are clearly today's leaders in the electronics industry and have had sharp focus on their business goals and clear initiatives that enabled them to achieve the above results.