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Bay Area Circuits is on a quest to help PCB designers and design engineers. For the past few years, the company has been holding facility tours and open house events to help designers understand more about the fabrication process. Now, Bay Area Circuits has upgraded its free design tool, InstantDFM.com, which allows customers and non-customers alike to check manufacturability and request pricing of their jobs.
At PCB West, I spoke with President Stephen Garcia and COO Brian Paper about the new tool update, and some of the other services they offer for PCB designers.
Andy Shaughnessy: I'm here at PCB West with Stephen Garcia and Brian Paper from Bay Area Circuits. Stephen, why don't you start off telling us a little bit about the company and then about your latest tool upgrade?
Stephen Garcia: Our company was founded in 1975 but we’re now entering the fourth year since we relocated to a larger facility in Fremont, California. Being located in the heart of Silicon Valley surrounded by product development companies, our real focus has become quick-turn prototype manufacturing. Since the move, we’ve made significant investments in technology to not only keep pace with customer requirements, but also to reduce processing time and speed delivery. Most recently, we took delivery of a second Excellon Intelli-Drill system, which really strengthens our drilling capacity and capability.
Shaughnessy: So, tell me a little bit about this DFM tool upgrade. It's been out for a little while.
Garcia: InstantDFM.com launched in 2014, and allows users to upload their PCB design data and receive a free design for manufacturability report. Of all the free design tools and educational resources we offer on our website, InstantDFM is by far the most popular. That said, some users found that the DFM feedback provided was too cryptic; the information made sense to us, the manufacturer, but wasn’t always understood by the user. So, we set out to improve the feedback mechanism and just prior to PCB West, we released the first major update to the tool, providing easier-to-understand, actionable design intelligence.
Additionally, we’ve added functionality that displays for the user how their design lines up with our standard and advanced capabilities. This becomes helpful during the design process because users are now aware of the capabilities needed to fabricate their design, providing them the opportunity to make cost-saving design adjustments wherever possible. We’ve also added the ability for the user to view each layer of the design, which can really help identify any design software-to-manufacturing software translation issues.
Ultimately, we’re trying to put more information in the hands of the designer, and the fact that InstantDFM is free and completely automated means that users aren’t beholden to normal business hours to receive a design for manufacturability report.
Shaughnessy: It's nice that people who aren't necessarily customers get to use it.
Brian Paper: Providing free design tools and resources to the designer community has become part of our company’s DNA. As a manufacturer, we have so much pent up knowledge that it seems unfair to keep it to ourselves. We do our best to share this knowledge by distributing design tools, white papers, blog posts, and, by offering frequent facility tours that give designers a chance to better understand the fabrication process. Ultimately, our hope is that these resources help us establish ourselves as industry experts and attract a growing customer base.
Shaughnessy: That's a great idea. A good facility tour helps establish you all as experts in their minds.
Paper: The company has been in operation for more than 40 years so we’ve obviously acquired a lot of PCB manufacturing expertise. But, we’ve also found that many experienced PCB designers have never taken the time to tour a manufacturing facility. By offering tours to designers, we’re able to better explain the fabrication process and provide them with valuable design feedback and cost-saving advice. We always find tours to be a win-win scenario for both parties.
Garcia: Tours are also helpful in terms of educating customers about recent equipment investments and what those additions mean to them in terms of technology and capability improvements. After all, customer demand really drives our technology investments. And as a quick-turn manufacturer, it’s really important for us to have redundancy throughout the process. As you might imagine, building a PCB in 24 hours doesn’t leave much room for equipment downtime.
And, based on customer deadlines, these types of turn times are not abnormal. Just last week, a customer contacted us on a Monday and said they needed a fully assembled board in hand by Friday. They literally sent us a scan of a napkin, and in three days we handled the design, PCB fabrication and assembly, delivering the project to them by the Friday deadline. So that’s the world we now live in and we’re going to continue to support that speed of innovation.
Shaughnessy: Sounds good. Thanks for your time today.
Garcia: Thank you.
- InstantDFM – Online PCB Design for Manufacturability Tool
- PCB Creator – PCB Layout and Schematic Capture Software
- Introduction to Printed Circuit Board Design Guide
- Blog: Essential Advice for Designers from a Manufacturer