Design for manufacturability (DFM)—designing electronics devices with the manufacturing process in mind—lets you produce a high-quality product at a lower cost. It hasn’t always been a priority for those in need of electronics manufacturing, but that’s changing now as supply chain issues continue to hamper electronics manufacturing.
DFM can help you:
- Design out custom processes as much as possible to create a highly efficient, streamlined manufacturing and assembly line. This reduces labor time, which reduces cost.
- Lower the risk of bad outcomes. The percentage of wasted units is reduced because products turn out consistently viable. Reviewing a product design through a DFM lens ensures the highest-quality product at the lowest overall cost.
- Improve quality through testing. Testability is essential for creating an efficient manufacturing process. Designing with testing in mind ensures that engineers can easily and thoroughly test the product so that only reliable, high-quality products make it out the door.
- Avoid nonstandard components that must be soldered by hand. In most cases, it is 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.
The Supply Chain Threat
Beginning in 2020, the global supply chain became highly unpredictable. While conditions have improved, supply chains can still be unreliable. DFM is a secret weapon that allows you to better adapt to continuing global supply chain disruptions. For example:
- Some parts that used to be easily sourced in tape-and-reel format may now only be available in bulk. This means they cannot be directly loaded by machine; they must be hand-soldered or sent out to a third party to be reeled, which adds time and cost. If you can redesign the product BOM to use alternate MPN’s, the manufacturing process will be more robust and allow for marketplace inconsistencies.
- Relying on custom parts can also be a problem if there is only one supplier, which can put a whole product at risk. Standardized parts, on the other hand, can typically be sourced from multiple suppliers, who, at a minimum, will carry alternate parts that may not require design changes. We recommend to our customers that they move away from custom parts whenever possible.
For example, it is not uncommon for custom chips to be back ordered for months. However, if you can replace a scarce part with one that is available now, you’re back in business.
Redesign to the Rescue
Swapping out components often requires redesigning upstream and downstream components. Swapping a processor can mean a redesign of a complex board, for example. But if you have DFM-based engineers in-house, you can save time and money with a design review to identify these risks early. Some recent product examples, negative and positive, include:
- A company built their product around the Raspberry Pi single-board computer module. Because Raspberry Pi’s are both inexpensive and reliable, that decision allowed the company to produce a great product at a low cost in a very short amount of time. But when Raspberry Pi’s became extremely hard to source, they were in trouble.
- A Class II medical device relied on a main processor that was suddenly backlogged for more than six months. A DFM review assisted their redesign of the main PCBA so it could work with a different processor that was widely in stock. They were able to redesign, prototype, and validate the product to make a manufacturing changeover in under three months.
Redesigns like this are becoming more common now, as OEMs adapt to supply chain shortages.
Look for Experience
A good DFM partner will understand your priorities and help you streamline your product’s design to meet your goals. Experienced engineers who have worked on hundreds of devices will know how to optimize your product. Some engineers have been doing this for so long that they have an intuitive feel for good product design. These are folks you want on your team. Degrees are good, but design and manufacturing experience are paramount when it comes to DFM.
Successful DFM efforts create a win-win for contract electronics manufacturers and their customers. DFM allows you to develop a much cleaner manufacturing and assembly process for the product. If you can reduce custom processes, you can create highly efficient, streamlined manufacturing and assembly lines. This reduces labor time, which reduces cost. And the cleaner the manufacturing process, the lower the risk of a bad outcome.