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Step by Step Guide to Go from Prototype to Production with MacroFab

Turnkey PCB Assembly and Box Build manufacturers are a hard find, and it is easy to understand why one-stop shops for hardware products do not exist at every turn. There are hundreds of manufacturers who can help with specific aspects of products, but very few who can provide a turnkey service end-to-end, while guiding the product towards a successful launch. Putting together a ready to ship product with sub-assemblies produced by multiple manufacturers is the hardest part of going from functional prototypes to production, and often the lack of coordination between all parties involved is what introduces the biggest delays. Knowing how much time to allocate to each phase of manufacturability validation and making timely decisions is critical to staying on track to meet your schedule. To ease any anxieties about basic product management or timelines that go into scaling up product production, check out the guide below which thoroughly outlines each stage of a typical electronics manufacturing process. And yes, MacroFab will work with you through each of these phases as smoothly as possible.

Prototyping/Electrical Validation Testing (EVT)

QTY: 10-25 units

Time: 10- 25 business days

Whether you have never brought your hardware idea to life or you are already in the process of producing at high volumes, we personally advise all customers heading into production to prototype their product with their contract manufacturer (CM) first. We want to ensure you are satisfied with the quality of work before committing to thousands of units and dollars. It is also important for the CM to get to know your product, ensuring preparation for a great build can start early.

Electronics Validation Testing Goal: A small first article test run of your electrical design to validate key product purpose and functionality.

What it looks like: Prototyping is one of the fastest stages and can take anywhere from 10 days to five weeks, depending on the complexity of your board. During this stage it is recommended that you stick to first article quantities (10 to 25). This is to compensate for unforeseen failures stemming from design flaws or parts selection.

Once your order is complete and you have submitted payment, our team will validate your design and Bill of Materials (BoM) to make sure we have everything we need for the build. If anything comes up during this process, we will contact you with feedback and questions. For example, MacroFab will contact you if there are any stock issues on your BoM, so you can make the appropriate adjustments to your build, prior to production. Prototyping will begin once your design is validated.

Typically, it takes about 3 to 5 weeks from the time you order your prototype to receiving it on your doorstep, depending on the complexity of your build. To validate designs quickly, some CMs offer rapid prototyping options. MacroFab offers 10-day prototyping.

After receiving your prototypes, you will want to establish a functional testing procedure for your units and freeze that procedure. The more basic the procedure can be, the easier it will be to scale up the process to handle mass production quantity.

Electronics Validation Testing Outcomes:

  • Final electrical design
  • Frozen BoM
  • Frozen functional test

Should you have some hurdles with your prototype, we recommend iterating on your prototypes until you achieve the desired outcome. As frustrating as these can be to a timeline, we highly recommend iterating on your prototypes until you have caught all potential issues. Being proactive this early in the game will eliminate risks, potentially saving time and money in the long-run.

Potential risks:

  • Discovery of circuitry or schematic issues
  • Component shortages
  • Discovery of sensitive components (such as a microphone sensitive to reflow oven heat)
  • Discovery of design flaws
  • Failing of functional test

Design Validation Test (DVT)

QTY: 10-50 units

Time: 6-8 weeks

Design Validation Testing Goal: The goal of the design validation stage is to produce a first article build of your entire product, including all items such as enclosures, screws, and packaging. This is the best stage to evaluate project costs and your production volumes. This is also a good point in time to start procurement on any long lead-time items you know will not be dropping off your BoM.

What it looks like: This is the longest stage of the production process and can take 6 to 8 weeks. We recommend keeping these quantities low (50 units max) and set few expectations for their end use.

If you are planning for a full box build production, you will want to sample as many combinations of product materials as possible to achieve the end product of your dreams. During this stage, you will provide your first mechanical BoM for your product. For a typical hardware device (eg. wearables) this would include items like an enclosure, miscellaneous hardware, lithium batteries, USB charging cables, product material packages, and foam inserts. MacroFab can help you sample from multiple vendors as well, so you can weigh out the variables of cost, timing, and quality for your project.

As procurement takes place on the manufacturers end, you will want to prioritize creating a first draft of your assembly instructions and programming/testing procedures. Set up your initial expectations for the build and submit those so we can help you improve these instructions as you get closer to completing this stage. These instructions will be used for your DVT build, as well as the first items used for review and feedback.

Once procurement is completed, your product will go through its first box build. MacroFab will analyze your instructions and collaborate with you further on additional improvements. Feedback will be gathered on recommended updates and the product will be evaluated on its mass manufacturability.

After you have approved your build design and selection of your end product, MacroFab will procure sample quantities for all of your final materials. From here you will make the necessary updates to your project documentation. Doing all of this will advance your project to the final Production Validation Testing phase.

Design Validation Testing Outcomes:

  • 2nd draft assembly instructions
  • Frozen firmware for program and test
  • First draft program and testing troubleshoot guide
  • Frozen mechanical Bill of Materials for your product materials
  • First draft Quality Control Guide (This will be the outcome your team creates after reviewing your samples units)

Should you encounter hurdles with your DVT stage and discover that none of the final samples led to your perfect product, your next viable step will be to start a second iteration.

Risks:

  • Missing steps in assembly process
  • Exclusion of language to cover quality standards
  • Product materials not matching tolerances
    • Ex: a screw not fitting in your enclosure as expected
    • Ex: key process of gluing is not under control
  • A need for additional materials, unexpected costs associated with sampling

Production Validation Test (PVT)

QTY: 50 units max

Time: 3-5 weeks

Production Validation Testing Goal: The goal of the PVT stage is to conduct a mock run of your mass production processes and give your product the gold star it needs to be high volume ready. The priority in this stage is to make final tweaks to your processes and ensure your quality standards are being met. The final outcome of this stage is to procure all outstanding materials for your full production build. Results of this stage should allow your product to seamlessly transition to a mass production ramp up.

What it looks like: This stage is a looked at as a condensed version of DVT, the procurement timeline should be shorter and the build more efficient. This stage can take 3 to 5 weeks depending on lead-time of the parts needed to be procured. Low volumes are still suggested, and these units can be used for marketing or advanced presale purposes.

Run through of PVT is almost identical to your DVT stage but rather than work with samples of different product materials, you will be running through the small build with your final picks to make sure there is nothing missing from your build instructions.

The manufacturing team at MacroFab will run through your build with all of the final processes in front of them and work to get out any potential questions or concerns that could come up as a roadblock during mass production.

End result of the build should be 25 to 50 successfully built-up units and a full greenlight to purchase all mass production materials. This will ignite manufacturing to proceed with purchasing and creating any tooling or equipment needed for your build. You may think this step of procurement is coming late in the process, but it is important that you are 100% certain before financially committing to anything.

Production Validation Testing Outcomes:

  • Final assembly instructions
  • Final Quality Control Guide
  • Final program  and testing troubleshoot guide
  • Full procurement for mass production
  • Manufacturing of tooling and equipment
    • SMT stencils
    • PTH wave solder pallets
    • Die cuts for packaging

Should you have hurdles in your PVT stage, your next step is to rethink your process and run another iteration. The chances of an unsuccessful PVT stage should be minimal, but if roadblocks occur, they’re likely to be major and should not be overlooked. As difficult as it may be to pause a timeline at this stage, it will absolutely be the best scenario for the integrity of your product.

Risks:  

  • Last minute manufacturer order drops on components
  • Major failures in program/testing

production manufacturing macrofab

Mass Production (MP)

QTY: 1000 minimum

Time: 4-6 weeks

Mass Production Goal:

Since you’ve had a successful PVT stage, the major goal of MP is to get a marketable product into the hands of your end users as smoothly and quickly as possible.

What this looks like:

We will take full inventory of all your mass production materials to ensure they are ready for the production line. Ship time can take anywhere from 3 to 10 business days. This shipping timeline very much lies in the hands of customs and duties across the US border.

MacroFab’s partners reiterate the inventory check once the materials are received to ensure everything is present for the build. Manufacturing is launched within 2 to 3 days after receiving and checking the materials. Depending on the complexity of your build, production time is 10 to 20 business days for quantities ranging from 1000 to 25,000 units.

Post production, the partner will ship your full batch of product to MacroFab head quarters for the final QC check. Shipping to the states is typically faster and can take 4 to 5 business days. After passing the quality control inspection, the product will be shipped out to you or directly to your customers!

Mass Production outcome:

Getting your product to market!

Risks:

  • Unexpected quality control issues due to mass assembly
  • Shipping or custom delays
  • Part shortages towards the end of production

Conclusion

Getting your product from initial prototyping all the way through mass production can be a daunting task. Working with turnkey PCB manufacturers like MacroFab will make the process easier. Utilize our self-service platform for your iterations, then work with our production team for your high volume runs. Doing this will ensure seamless manufacturing as you scale your new product. For any questions, please reach out to support@macrofab.com.