Andrew Williams is the Engineering Manager for Electronics Manufacturing at PRIDE Industries. He has more than 30 years of experience in manufacturing and design and holds an SMT Process Engineer certification from SMTA. Andrew is a guest lecturer at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento for Supply Chain Management, Operations, and TQM courses, and speaks frequently on DFM, DFS, and other DFX topics. In the interview that follows, he describes how the current global situation is impacting design for manufacturability (DFM) and gives his take on what manufacturers should plan for in the coming year.

Q: Why is design for manufacturability important?

Andrew: Designing your electronics device with the manufacturing process in mind lets you produce a high-quality product at a lower cost. At PRIDE Industries, for example, we try to avoid nonstandard components that have to be soldered by hand. In most cases, it’s less expensive to use parts that can be installed using machine-based processes. This approach is also faster and ensures greater consistency—unlike humans, machines don’t get tired and create imperfect solder joints. And of course, having machines do the job of soldering is safer for workers.

Successful DFM efforts create a win-win for our customers and for us. It allows us to develop a much cleaner manufacturing and assembly process for the product. We look to avoid custom processes as much as possible by creating a highly efficient, streamlined manufacturing and assembly line. This reduces labor time, which reduces cost. And the cleaner the manufacturing process, the lower the risk of a bad outcome. The percentage of wasted units is greatly reduced because products turn out consistently viable. That’s why when we review a product design through a DFM lens, we’re able to make suggestions that will ensure a high-quality product at a lower price.

Q: How are global supply disruptions affecting design for manufacturability?

Andrew: Supply chain shortages are requiring PCBA design engineers to get creative. For example, we’re seeing a situation now where parts that used to be easily sourced in tape-and-reel format are now only available in bulk. This means they can’t be loaded by machine; they have to be hand-soldered or sent out to a third party to be reeled, which adds time and cost. Recently, we had to redesign the manufacturing process for one customer’s product because the surface mount connector it uses is now only available in bulk form. We’re encountering this situation fairly often now.

The problem is that there’s often only one supplier for a custom part, which can put a whole product at risk. Standard parts, on the other hand, can be sourced from multiple suppliers, who at a minimum will carry alternate parts that do not require design changes. So, for now at least, we’re recommending to our customers that they move away from custom parts whenever possible.
For example, one of our customers built their product around a single-board computer module known as a Raspberry Pi. Because Raspberry Pi’s are both inexpensive and reliable, that decision allowed the company to produce a great product at a low cost. But recently, Raspberry Pi’s have become extremely hard to source; they won’t be widely available until late 2023. That’s the sort of situation no manufacturer wants to be in. But it’s happening way more often than it used to—which is keeping us pretty busy helping customers find solutions.

We recently helped another customer get around a similar supply chain shortage. The main processor for their product was backlogged for more than six months, so we helped them design a drop-in replacement. We worked closely with the customer to redesign the motherboard so it could work with a processor that’s readily available now. This product is a Class II medical device, so our customer had the added challenge of ensuring compliance with FDA regulations. But even with that constraint, we managed to do it all—redesign, prototype, quality testing, and manufacturing changeover—in under three months.

Redesigns like this are becoming more common now, as OEMs adapt to supply chain shortages. And again, one of the best ways to streamline the manufacturing process and get around supply chain issues is to switch custom components to easily sourced standard ones. That’s not always possible, of course, and in those cases, I’ve seen some manufacturers change the functionality of the product itself. As I said, engineers are getting creative.

Q: Besides supply chain shortages, what other factors are currently influencing manufacturing design?

Andrew: End-of-life considerations are more important now than they were even just a few years ago, for a couple of reasons. First, the secondary market for components has grown more robust. Some manufacturers are now working with recyclers to harvest components for resale. Depending on the product, it can be a respectable revenue stream, and who wouldn’t want to gain additional revenue from end-of-life products? Obviously, harvesting components is a lot simpler when products are designed with that in mind. The faster you can extract boards and other components, the more profit you make from the original product. For example, a good way to reduce labor costs in that situation is to eliminate non-removeable adhesives or one-time-use screws.

Sustainability is important too. There are websites now that track the environmental footprint of all kinds of products, including electronics. So making products with parts that can be resold, and that use plastic that’s more easily recycled…OEMs are starting to pay attention to those considerations because it’s starting to have an impact on their public image.
Consumer preference is also having an impact, especially regarding a product’s rework-ability. More and more, people want to be able to modify the electronics they buy, and they can get frustrated with black boxes. They figure they own the product, so they should be able to open it up. Some people worry about e-waste, and others just want to tinker. And they’re willing to pay more for a product that lets them do that. DFM can help companies give that experience to their customers at low or no cost. Something as simple as keeping the programming connector on the board can make a world of difference to the end user. Customers appreciate that, because they know the company is thinking of them, and trying to give them a good user experience.
My favorite example of this is the Roomba. There were so many customers using Roombas as a foundation for their own robots that the company started producing a version that’s purposely easy to hack. It’s easy to add additional sensors, for example. This product is meant to be modified by the consumer; they can upgrade it or even change its purpose. The designer made that possible, and customers appreciate it. And that has led to additional sales for the company with a line of educational robots.

Right now, there are companies that are losing repeat business because customers don’t like being locked out of a product they paid good money for. End users aren’t renting these devices, after all. These days, you gain customer loyalty by opening up your product. That means skipping the glue and the proprietary screws. It means not overmolding, not bonding parts to the circuit board. Of course, some products have to be overmolded for durability, and some have to be ultrasonically welded because they require high security. But that’s not the case for a lot of consumer products.

Q: What should electronics manufacturers look for in a DFM partner?

Andrew: An EMS provider should offer a basic DFM review as part of its standard service. A basic review shouldn’t be an add-on cost. This type of analysis is required up front to design the most efficient and cost-effective manufacturing and assembly process. At PRIDE Industries, our initial DFM reviews are free, because that allows us to maximize quality and minimize cost. It’s part of getting an accurate quote for services, part of the business relationship.

In addition, DFT is always a consideration. On my team, one of the things we look at in our basic design reviews is testability. We make sure that our engineers will be able to thoroughly test the product when needed. That’s one way we ensure that only reliable, high-quality products make it out the door.

Some customers require more than a basic DFM review, so a DFM partner should have engineering personnel who have that level of expertise. Engineers with a background in PCBA design are ideal. This is especially true for a product redesign. At PRIDE Industries, we have engineers on staff with backgrounds as PCBA design engineers, and we also use Altium software that allows us to conduct highly detailed, in-depth product analyses. This service isn’t free, but the money saved in manufacturing costs more than pays for it. An in-depth review can also reveal ways to improve a product’s functionality or discover a configuration that will put less stress on components, which definitely impacts quality.

A good DFM partner will understand your priorities and help you configure your product to meet your goals. For example, there are times when customers have to break with DFM best practices in order to reach a certain level of performance. In that case, our job is to let them know what the tradeoffs are. Some products are just hard to build, but you can still streamline the process as much as possible by utilizing solutions like custom fixturing or inventing new process techniques, so that you get the functionality you want at the best possible price. And this is where experience really pays off. A DFM-focused engineer who’s worked on hundreds of different devices will know how to optimize your product. I know engineers who’ve been doing this so long that they’ve gained an intuitive feel for good board design. Degrees are good, but experience is paramount when it comes to DFM.

Streamline Your Manufacturing

Are supply chain shortages disrupting the manufacture of your electronic product? Are you seeking to wring more profit at the end of your product’s lifecycle? Or do you want to build a more sustainable device? Whatever your priorities, the engineers at PRIDE Industries can help you reach your manufacturing goals.
Andrew Williams
Andrew Williams
Benefits of DFM
  • Greater product consistency
  • Lower product loss
  • Higher quality product
  • Lower per-unit cost
  • Can provide greater sustainability
  • Can improve rework-ability
  • Increases end-user satisfaction
PRIDE Industries worker in electronics
A basic DFM review can streamline both machine- and hand-processed operations.
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