What is Siemens PCBflow offering and why does it matter? Recently, Siemens, specifically the Valor group within Siemens, has come out with a new solution called PCBflow. It is targeted at design for manufacturing assessments for electronic boards earlier in the product development process.

The Process of Assessing Manufacturability of Electronic Boards

First, it’s important to understand when engineers typically assess manufacturability of boards and why it’s important to shift it earlier in the development process. Here’s the way it typically works. You have an engineer that’s developed a board. They’re basically ready to source that board out. No board is really single sourced any more.

The engineer shares this board definition out to a number of different suppliers. The suppliers assess that board against their best practices and rules for manufacturability.  They provide the feedback to the engineer. The supplier feedback identifies a number of manufacturability issues. Some issues vary from supplier to supplier. For example, one supplier might identify an issue and another one might be okay with it. This process usually happens late in the design process and that causes issues.

Let’s take a second to talk about those issues. When you have big changes at the end of the product development process, you have little flexibility to accommodate these changes because the designs are so constrained. Later stage changes mean you have to make other compromises in other spaces.

It can be a nasty problem that you run into. It also causes delays in the product development process. There are a lot of companies under tight time constraints that are trying to hit a certain window to go to market or to deliver these things to their clients. So this has become a significant problem.

Design for Manufacturability Test Timing  

Many companies are making changes to do design for manufacturability tests far earlier in the development process. So they can avoid all that chaos at the end.  Companies have been working with the suppliers to take their checks and they will share those with the company that’s designing the board.

 As a result, the engineer can identify the issues. But there’s a few problems on this front. For one, the competition is fierce between these contract manufacturers that have all these design rule checks. So there is concern that the company that is designing the board is going to take those and directly or indirectly share it with their competitors.

The design rule checks that they hand over to OEMs typically are not the full story. Because they don’t want to hand over all of their IP, all the design rule checks that describe how they manufacture boards and the lessons learned over the years.

As a result, the engineers are working against an incomplete list. Engineers can still hand the design over to the contract manufacturer and additional issues are identified. They’re not avoiding the end of product development issues that caused them to go off and do this DFM analysis to begin with.

What is Siemens PCBflow Offering?

This part is where this solution from Siemens called PCBflow comes into play. So instead of the contract manufacturers sharing all of their checks with the OEM, they instead share it to this intermediary. A cloud solution that then synchronizes with the ECAD tool that the design engineer is using to develop the board. And then in aggregate, all of those rules can be used as checks, manufacturability checks for the board that’s being developed.

So this adds some protection of the intellectual property for contract manufacturers. Those are the capabilities that PCBflow delivers. If you look at it from an engineer, it allows them to perform these DFM checks early on and avoid these late-stage delays with the schedule or ugly design compromises.

From a contract manufacturer perspective, it protects their intellectual property, but still lets them participate and give insight to engineers designing the boards so that you can also avoid these late stage design issues. Interestingly enough, the solution is a cloud-based solution. It acts as the intermediary between contract manufacturers and design engineers.