A printed circuit board (PCB) prototype is used to model what a new PCB design will look like and how it will function, enabling you to tweak the design until it is just how you imagined it. You prototype PCBs before mass production so that you’re sure everything works properly before sending it off to the market. The process of PCB prototyping will reveal potential flaws with your design and enable you to make the appropriate modifications. In addition prototyping gives you the opportunity to make improvements and experiment with your designs. Prototyping is not only beneficial with regard to new PCB designs, it is absolutely essential for mass production.

Your will not always run into flaws when you prototype your PCB design, because sometimes your design is flawless and, in this case, prototyping is used to confirm that your PCB will perform consistently. This period of development also gives the opportunity for manufacturers or customers to offer their feedback and suggestions on how to improve the design. As PCB designers we should always be ready for all possible results, which is to say that reworking your design at the prototyping stage should be expected beforehand. Skipping the prototyping stage and going straight to mass production is a recipe for disaster — not only will you waste time and money, your design won’t be as good as it can be.

Let’s go through the basic stages of prototyping your PCBs. The first stage is the breadboard test or proof of principle during which you check whether the logic supporting your PCB is viable. After that you’ll scrutinize the size of your expected PCB. Next you’ll generate a visual model and, if your design works, you’ll move on to the final stage in which you’ll assess function and appearance. During this stage you’ll begin to see what the final design will look like. Generally the simulation of current flow through the circuit board and condition of the circuitry are the most important aspects of PCB prototyping. You have to simulate the system before you can use components and other materials for the final prototype or design.

Thus concludes our brief overview of prototyping printed circuit boards.


George Leger has a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, worked in private industry pioneering surface-mount technology and in government research labs for twenty years, published several papers on surface-mount technology, co-authored papers published in national symposiums on accelerator technology, was past president of SMTA and an adjunct professor at the community college level, holds a patent, and is a certified microchip design partner, serving as a consultant to many companies developing electronic circuits.

Leave a Reply