Effective Board Design Process

I have been involved in several organizations which had custom hardware components in their system. There was a wide mix of practices in these organizations regards their approach to board design: PCB Design and Layout.  Given this is typically a one-off task in the system design flow, the schematics design and/or layout was often outsourced to an external vendor.

Since the layout and design of a PCB are iterative, in order to achieve size and speed objectives of the system, the board design process often suffers from delays, resultant re-spins with their associated cost and time overruns. Here I present a brief overview of the process I have used successfully, both as a provider and solicitor of board design services, in managing the process to avoid  time and cost overruns.

The key to accomplishing this, as with any other outsourced task, is to have a well-defined process in place that defines both the overall process flow as well as intermediate input and outputs for the engagement to minimize ambiguity. Illustrated below is the process-flow chart, I have used, with milestone of interaction and exchange points in the process flow that have enabled efficient realization across several engagements.


While the above illustrates a general flow, most of the flow would apply to most board design projects. It illustrates a method of structuring such engagements and users should adapt it to the specifics of their own system design.

In this age, with the presence of cloud based version control such as git as well as the ability to securely exchange all the intermediate electronic files required and produced in the process above, the whole process can quite easily be managed even when the vendor and service provider are not co-located geographically, much akin to distributed software development.  This enables the outsourcer to seek the most price, time and quality competitive global provider without limitations of geo co-location.

Ambiguity is the bane of timely delivery and following a structured process limits design mistakes, as well as billing creep to the outsourcer while helping limit scope creep and expectation ambiguity for the service provider.

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