By Suresh Patel, Sales Engineer, Mer-Mar Electronics
Cloud manufacturing is an AI-based, advanced manufacturing approach that streamlines different production processes, integrates stand-alone functions, and automates all manual tasks through remote-hosted software. It is also known as digital manufacturing or Manufacturing as a Service (MaaS). This model aims at continual improvement of the manufacturing process with increased data generation and analysis. Cloud manufacturing optimizes the complete production process starting with online quotes, component sourcing, tracking deviations, delivery, etc. It provides real-time data from the order placement till the shipment with assured quick response at each stage of the manufacturing process.
Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS) are adopting innovative cloud manufacturing methods as the traditional PCB manufacturing processes are tedious and ineffective. Cloud manufacturing services promise a user-friendly interface with an elastic factory capacity and accelerated product development. OEMs can choose their vendors from a shared network through an online platform. The transparent and simple quote calculators allow them to understand the cost impact by modifying build volume and lead times.
Using cloud manufacturing service enables a seamless handover of the PCB design among different contract manufacturers, as the product moves from prototype to final production. It offers a right-fit factory for both limited-quantity prototypes and mass-production builds. A well-established network reduces negotiation time and fosters smooth interactions with contract manufacturers. These features enable the product designer to focus on market changes. The improved agility is a significant benefit of PCB cloud manufacturing. It has promoted creative solutions in the electronics industry.
How does cloud manufacturing work?
Cloud manufacturing services provide a complete solution for PCB manufacturing and improve productivity largely. The AI-based solution routes the tasks quickly to the best-suited factory based on the product specifications and quantity. The process works as follows:
Different factory profiles provide their skill level and equipment inventory details. Their performance and slot availability are tracked. For any given product with a defined volume, the software routes to the best factory profile, matching the specifications and available build slots.
Sharing the design data with the contract manufacturer should be compliant with the IPC-2581 standards. In cloud manufacturing, work instructions and tooling standards are also communicated to minimize fabrication and assembly issues of PCBs. Any change in the product or material is updated immediately in the software.
Effective logistics management is a feature of cloud computing. Real-time data acquisition and analysis help in the continuous improvement of task allocation and management. Different product elements can be built parallelly and assembled effectively in cloud manufacturing.
Benefits of cloud PCB manufacturing
Cloud manufacturing services is providing a robust digital manufacturing platform to achieve the cost and timelines of PCB production. Partnering with the right contract manufacturer (CM) makes the design-to-manufacturing process easy and effective. Salient features offered by PCB cloud manufacturing are:
- Elastic capacity for factory services: The unexpected changes in the production volume can be easily accommodated with the elastic factory capacity approach. Alternate vendors and supply chains allow customers to maintain production quality and schedule with fluctuating demands.
- Get online quotes: One detailed quote is presented online for component procurement, PCB fabrication, assembly, testing, shipment, etc. This avoids multiple emails for different services and saves time. It also lists the available manufacturing logistics for each service. Dedicated customer assistance is offered for any query resolutions.
- Handover documents digitally: Based on the PCB development stage, necessary documents like assembly instructions and workflows are shared with the CM. If it is for mass production, then the release sign-offs and production validation documents are also required. As the documents are shared online, different teams access the same repository ensuring data consistency.
- Uploading EDA files: Once the quotes are finalized, the board layout and drill files can be uploaded with simple drag-and-drop functionality. The latest EDA tools support an easy and complete transfer of design files including BoM and placement guidelines. The tool ensures the uploading of DFM checklists that if skipped can cause manufacturing issues later. The uploaded documents can be used for any re-orders again.
- Tracking the schedule and lead time: The component lead times and assembly schedules are critical and can become bottlenecks if not tracked diligently. The digital system identifies possible logistic delays and the status change is updated in real-time. The analytics further instruct necessary actions to mitigate supply-chain disruptions.
- Assembly and test reports: The online availability of component re-work details, test reports, and yield allows the customer to provide feedback to the CM on a need basis. This stored information can be intelligently used in the next production runs to increase the throughput.
- Coordination for ECNs (Electronic Change Notification): The online propagation of the ECNs for any deviations in prototype or production PCBs is efficient in the digital manufacturing tool. Approvals from all stakeholders are archived for reference. Updating the ECN implementation status online avoids follow-up from the customer.
- Track invoices and payments: All work requests can be traced and archived in a single repository. Raising invoices for different work orders altogether becomes easy with the cloud manufacturing tools.
The improved data flow between engineering and procurement teams has significantly reduced the delay in responses related to PCB engineering. The shared platform enables different teams to be aware of the component lead time and the impact on PCB assembly. The expanded resources and simplified ordering methods are aiding in quick PCB assembly. The automated data reports help to address possible constraints and decrease production downtime.
Cloud PCB EDA tools are globally accessible. They support the design engineer to easily switch between different applications like schematics, layouts, or 3D modeling. Even the design reviewers can take advantage of the unified tool to provide feedback online and accelerate the design process.
PCB quality depends on the tests and inspections conducted before and after the process. The cloud manufacturing services enable passing quality control information from the shopfloor back to the design team. Features like revision tracking and access control improve the quality of PCB assembly.
Cloud PCB manufacturing offers numerous resources at a lesser cost. It assures a swift deployment without compromising on quality. Adapting to changing requirements and promoting a reliable development process, cloud PCB manufacturing is unleashing boundless opportunities in the PCB industry.