PCB Prototypes 3+3 – Manufactured and Assembled

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Introduction to PCB Prototypes

Printed Circuit Board (PCB) prototypes are essential in the electronics industry for testing and validating circuit designs before mass production. PCB prototyping allows engineers and designers to identify and fix any issues in the design, ensuring that the final product meets the desired specifications and functions as intended. In this article, we will explore the process of manufacturing and assembling PCB prototypes, with a focus on the 3+3 approach.

What is the 3+3 Approach in PCB Prototyping?

The 3+3 approach in PCB prototyping refers to the process of manufacturing three bare PCBs and assembling three of them with components. This approach provides several benefits, including:

  1. Validation of the PCB design
  2. Testing of the assembled PCB functionality
  3. Identification of any manufacturing or assembly issues
  4. Opportunity to make necessary changes before mass production

By following the 3+3 approach, engineers and designers can ensure that the final product is of high quality and meets the required specifications.

PCB Prototyping Process

The PCB prototyping process involves several steps, from design to assembly. Let’s dive into each step in detail.

Step 1: PCB Design

The first step in creating a PCB prototype is designing the circuit. This involves using Electronic Design Automation (EDA) software to create a schematic diagram and a PCB layout. The schematic diagram represents the electrical connections between components, while the PCB layout shows the physical arrangement of components and tracks on the board.

Schematic Design

In the schematic design phase, engineers create a diagram that shows the interconnections between electronic components. This diagram uses standardized symbols to represent components such as resistors, capacitors, and integrated circuits. The schematic design is essential for understanding the circuit’s functionality and identifying any design errors.

PCB Layout Design

Once the schematic design is complete, engineers move on to the PCB layout design. This involves arranging the components and tracks on the board in a way that minimizes interference, reduces signal loss, and ensures proper functionality. The PCB layout design also takes into account factors such as component size, shape, and pin configuration.

Step 2: PCB Manufacturing

After the PCB design is finalized, the next step is to manufacture the bare PCBs. This involves several substeps, including:

PCB Fabrication

PCB fabrication is the process of creating the bare PCB from raw materials. This typically involves the following steps:

  1. Creating a copper-clad laminate board
  2. Applying a photoresist layer to the board
  3. Exposing the photoresist layer to UV light through a photomask
  4. Developing the photoresist layer to remove the unexposed areas
  5. Etching away the unwanted copper to create the circuit pattern
  6. Removing the remaining photoresist layer
  7. Applying a solder mask and silkscreen to the board

PCB Inspection

After fabrication, the bare PCBs undergo a thorough inspection to ensure they meet the required specifications. This includes checking for any manufacturing defects, such as short circuits, open circuits, or incorrect hole sizes. Automated Optical Inspection (AOI) systems are often used for this purpose, as they can quickly and accurately detect any issues.

Step 3: PCB Assembly

With the bare PCBs manufactured, the next step is to assemble them with components. This involves several substeps, including:

Component Placement

The first step in PCB assembly is placing the components on the board. This can be done manually for low-volume prototypes or using automated pick-and-place machines for higher volumes. The components are placed according to the PCB layout design, ensuring that they are correctly oriented and aligned.


After the components are placed, they are soldered to the board to create electrical connections. This can be done using various methods, such as wave soldering, reflow soldering, or hand soldering. The choice of soldering method depends on the type of components, the board’s complexity, and the production volume.

Assembly Inspection

Once the components are soldered, the assembled PCBs undergo another round of inspection to ensure that they are correctly assembled and functioning as intended. This includes visual inspection, electrical testing, and functional testing. Any issues found during this stage are addressed before the prototypes are considered complete.

Benefits of PCB Prototyping

PCB prototyping offers several benefits for engineers and designers, including:

  1. Validation of the circuit design
  2. Identification of any design or manufacturing issues
  3. Opportunity to test and refine the PCB functionality
  4. Reduction of time and cost in the long run by catching issues early
  5. Ability to showcase a working prototype to stakeholders and potential customers

By investing in PCB prototyping, companies can ensure that their products are of high quality, meet the required specifications, and are ready for mass production.

Choosing a PCB Prototyping Service

When selecting a PCB prototyping service, there are several factors to consider, including:

  1. Quality of the manufactured PCBs
  2. Turnaround time
  3. Cost
  4. Customer support
  5. Ability to handle complex designs
  6. Experience and expertise in PCB manufacturing and assembly

It’s essential to choose a reputable PCB prototyping service that can deliver high-quality results within the required timeframe and budget.


PCB prototyping is a crucial step in the electronics product development process. By following the 3+3 approach, engineers and designers can validate their designs, identify any issues, and ensure that the final product meets the required specifications. Investing in PCB prototyping can save time and money in the long run, as it allows for the identification and resolution of issues before mass production begins.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What is the cost of PCB prototyping?

The cost of PCB prototyping varies depending on factors such as the complexity of the design, the number of layers, the components used, and the quantity of prototypes required. On average, a simple 2-layer PCB prototype can cost around $50-$100, while a more complex multi-layer board can cost several hundred dollars or more.

2. How long does PCB prototyping take?

The turnaround time for PCB prototyping depends on the complexity of the design and the workload of the prototyping service. On average, a simple PCB prototype can be manufactured and assembled within 1-2 weeks, while a more complex design may take 3-4 weeks or longer.

3. What are the different methods of PCB assembly?

The most common methods of PCB assembly are wave soldering, reflow soldering, and hand soldering. Wave soldering is suitable for through-hole components, reflow soldering is used for surface-mount components, and hand soldering is typically used for low-volume prototypes or specific components that cannot be machine-soldered.

4. What is the difference between a bare PCB and an assembled PCB?

A bare PCB is a printed circuit board without any components attached, while an assembled PCB has components soldered onto the board according to the PCB layout design. Bare PCBs are used to validate the circuit design and check for any manufacturing defects, while assembled PCBs are used to test the functionality of the complete circuit.

5. Can PCB prototypes be used for mass production?

While PCB prototypes are primarily used for testing and validation purposes, they can also be used for small-scale production runs. However, for larger production volumes, it’s usually more cost-effective to optimize the design for mass production and use dedicated manufacturing processes, such as those offered by turnkey PCB assembly services.