Customized electronic board – Design and production

scheda elettronica con display personalizzato
Display TFT 7″ custom

Which are the necessary steps needed to make a customized electronic board?
Which are the information that I have to give to the partner in order to reduce time and engineering design risks?
Which are the output and documents that I expect to have during work in progress?
How can I monitor the project and how can I be sure that the electronic board will correspond to my request?

These and many other questions are very frequent in the head of who commissioned the engineering design of a customized electronic board to a partner specialized in design and production.
Let’s see very briefly which are the typical phases of a project aimed to a first production lot of a customized electronic board.

  1. Technical project’s requirements of customized electronic board
  2. Preliminary electrical scheme and initial production price estimate of the electronic board
  3. Economic offer for design and production of customized electronic board
  4. Electrical scheme and early start of firmware development
  5. PCB routing
  6. First samples production of the customized electronic board
  7. Test on first samples and certification activities
  8. Pre-series for project validation and field testing
  9. Mass production of customized electronic board
  10. Choosing the right partner

Technical project’s requirements of customized electronic board

At this preliminary stage it is essential to exchange exact information regarding desired aims, so to can obtain an economic proposal and fix an estimate of product delivery times, accordant to the technical requirements and what you imagined.

What do we need from you?
It is important to know application area for which you decide for a customized electronic board, because regulations and set of rules that your final product must be respect will depend from application area. Our design activities will depend from set of rules related to final product and customized electronic board will be certified with final product.

  • all technical data that we must check are: how many and which are the size that has to be measured and with which sensors, which ones are the output that has to be controlled, presence of possible movements, the needs to communicate with the external… We need to know how you’ve made your product and which are all components you have chosen to install inside to implement its functions, because somehow they interact with customized electronic board.
  • after a detailed description of product, we need to know functional specifications: what the electronic board has to do and which are the requested automations.
  • mechanical constraints that must be respected.
  • temperatures and more generally the worse environmental operating conditions, particularly if you want to close the customized electronic board into a casing, or if you suppose to obtain a dedicated accommodation, if it will be possible the formation of condensation and if there will be a risk of dusts contamination, dirt o flammable or explosive gases.

Preliminary Electrical scheme and initial production price estimate of the electronic board

schema elettrico di una scheda elettronica personalizzata

We are in the phase in which we exchange many information, because we still have to understand for sure if it will be necessary the design of a dedicated customized electronic board or if we can satisfy your requests with our other product, significantly reducing engineering activities. Moreover, I’m sure that you are expecting for an estimation about the costs of customized electronic board, in order to complete the mass production costs analysis of your finished product.

I don’t have any good news.
Unless you can obtain without any excessive modifications your customized electronic board from an object already produced, we must necessarily issue a primary electrical scheme in order to have an estimation of our times and costs of production.

Over the years we have developed a process for the early cost estimation based on libraries of circuit modular modules, that is a series of electrical circuits that are assembled in order to get a first view at what it will be really assembled on your customized electronic board.

Preliminary electrical scheme will be composed from many elements coming from our libraries, from some possible integration section and new sections specially developed in order to satisfy your specifications.

Making this document we are able to generate a preliminary bill of materials which allows us to give you an estimate of the board’s price for different production volumes: at this point we can reasonably guarantee a confidence on a price equal to +/- 15%).
Moreover, we can identify and immediately let you know the presence of possible critical lead-time components (delivery times) that need to be controlled.

Economic offer for design and production of customized electronic board

In this moment, if we had been clever in exchanging information, we are able to present you an economic offer related to design and production of your customized electronic board.

Probably we will be pretty accurate about realization time of the hardware part (board, mounted and produced in first samples), meanwhile we will find more difficult to make an estimation of development activities for firmware (program installed into a microcontroller): unfortunately at this point you will be involved giving us functional specifications which describe with adequate precision how to implement the code.

From experience, especially when you are designing complex products, we know that it is not always possible to obtain all the information at this stage: often for you it’s difficult if not impossible to know all the details, also because very often the details have not even been defined at this progress level of finished product.

For this reason we have put in place several practices for the management of the firmware development, which allows us to make progress and communicate incrementally.

However, at this stage, we can give you just an estimation of delivery for the first working versions, more or less complete compared to whole project, based on information that we have.

Electrical scheme and early start of firmware development

sviluppo firmware

After the acceptance of the design offer, the activities will begin in order to obtain a sampling of the first specimens of the customized electronic board.

We develop a preliminary electrical scheme in order to obtain the first version of the printed circuit board (PCB) really producible: at this point you have a little to do except answer our clarification questions and check the progress of the activities.

At the same time, we start firmware development, even if the definitive board is not yet physically present, thanks to hardware and software simulation techniques, aimed to create a virtual machine able to simulate almost the whole of finished product.

At the end of this stage, we will have produced the electrical scheme that can be sent to the disentangle and complete bill of materials, thanks to which we will be able to define production costs estimated in the offer, reducing confidence intervals.

Moreover, we will issue a document that will be shared with you and which allow us to proceed to connector validation and to their pinout: with this document you can start to producing the wiring of your product respecting the proposed indications.

PCB routing

gerber sbroglio pcb

For PCB routing we mean all the activities carried out by the “master” that will lead to definition of the “design” of the printed circuit that you have in your hands, starting from the electrical scheme.

It is a stage that needs to consider several aspects in order to be able to produce satisfactory result:

  • mechanical constraints, including any interference with objects presents near the board of finished product
  • set of rules (o regulations) for product and electrical (insulation, degree of pollution, high voltage safety…)
  • heat dissipation problems
  • possible electromagnetic compatibility problems

The output of this stage is a set of files (gerber) that are delivered to companies who physically produce the printed circuit.
It will also be delivered to you a 3D model (STP file) of customized electronic board, thanks to which you can validate the proposed solution or ask for little modifications. 

First samples production of the customized electronic board

After the validations received the first samples will be ordered: usually we produce few pieces because some corrections or modifications may be necessary depending on the results of the first installation and operation tests.

We go on to the electrical tests in order to make sure that nothing will explodes, than we deliver the boards to the firmware developer which will install the first versions on real models of your customized electronic board: as we worked with simulators until now, usually the firmware developers should carry out some integration activities before to  complete the first operating tests.

Giemme is ISO9001:2015 certified and this implies some attention to the ISO9001:2015 project management, that don’t always correspond with the operating project sharing with the Customer.

Considering that firmware development can go on for several months and in some cases it could never be considered as closed, take note that we consider ISO9001:2015 project “closed” when:

  • first model of the customized electronic board is already produced
  • a first release of firmware which allows the use of all electrical circuit sections has been installed and run

In simple cases this version corresponds with one of the first operating firmware revisions implemented accordingly to the product specifications and then later installable in production.

In more complex cases this would entail closure times of ISO9001:2015 project too much long, therefore it is considered the realization of a firmware dedicated to functional testing regarding all parts of customized electronic board.

For ISO9001:2015 system the developing activities of production firmware continue as functional modifications and integrations.
For you this internal management does not involve particular worries, rather it allows you to get already in the early development stages the warranty that a functional test of all the components of your customized electronic board will be done.

Tests on first samples and certification activities

test progettazione e certificazioni

When we have produced the first samples of the customized electronic board, it will be our care to do some tests for evaluate the product’s actions in worst operating conditions.

In order to carry out these tests we will use some tools and methods we have available in Giemme:

  • we analyse thermal dissipation at full load through infrared images, in order to evaluate if the solutions for dissipation of accumulated heat are sufficient to guarantee the normal operation of all components
  • We submit the boards to a climatic chamber tests, both at temperatures constantly higher than the operating ones, and executing thermal cycles for simulate day-night working cycles of the board into finished product
  • We power the samples for several days, also simulating the loads expected on-board, in order to evaluate thermal dissipations effects
  • We connect the board to a disturbance generator (current and voltage peaks) and microinterruptions in order to carry out a first evaluation about the ability to endure external disturbance
  • we do an analysis of the “near field” emmissions, in order to detect the components that could later give problems during tests on finished product

Customized electronic boards are not certified by Giemme because the boards will be used as a part of your finished product and, as such they will be examinated from the certification agency installed in your machine.
In this stage we provide you all the necessary support needed to facilitate the good success of tests, both in terms of the documentation provided (especially for UL/CSA certifications) and in terms of assistance at certification agency in case of problems.

Pre series for project validation and field testing

If the first samples were used to verify how much we had examined until that moment only in electronic format, now is the time to start distribution of your customized electronic board and evaluate their use in practical cases.

The purpose of this stage, called also “field test”, is those to collect as much information and feedback from pilot users.
Normally this is a first production, that is completely similar to successive mass productions, which allows:

  • evaluate possible critical points of productive process (for us)
  • minimize the risks in preparation of the real launch of the product on the market (for you)

On these pieces usually we install a mature firmware revision, very close to the expected features needed for product’s debut.

If the customized electronic board is predisposed for firmware updating on field (bootloader), it will be possible to release versions with new functions and corrections, and it will be possible to implement it into the machine later, directly on working point.

We suggest you to consider an important duration of the field test, in order to get the necessary time for collect and process the information and make any necessary changes in anticipation of mass production.

Mass production of customized electronic board

produzione scheda elettronica personalizzata

During the project stages, you will surely have had the opportunity to often interact with the staff of our technical department and, at least in the pre-series management, a little bit also with our production:  from now the technical department delivers the board to production and steps aside.

Tech dept. is always at your disposal for any further information or for interventions in case of unexpected events or modification’s requests.

To avoid production’s errors, it is very important to have all necessary validations, in order to give you the product with correct hardware revision and with agreed firmware version already installed.

Each produced piece is identified by a QR-Code containing the information for traceability of production’s lot and for validated and installed firmware.

All boards produced by internal assembly lines are 100% tested before they are packed and delivered, also regarding circuit sections prepared for future uses but not yet managed by the installed firmware: this attention ensures the proper operation of the boards installed in the moment of further field updates, which enable the optional functions.

Choosing the right partner

Designing a customized electronic board is a long and complex process, mostly if you want to reduce those risks always present at the moment of production of your product.

The development of complex project such as super-automatic coffee machines can continue for several months or years, gradually introducing new functions that we had not foreseen at the beginning of the project, and solving those unavoidable problems that brings out from the continued use of product, also years after the first installation.

Choose a partner with adequate skills, having experience in your trade, that is adequate for the expected production’s volumes, and with whom you can establish a serene and transparent collaboration relationship.