Remove the Chance of PCB Manufacturing Delays by Using a Final Deliverable Checklist

Created: February 2, 2018
Updated: September 25, 2020

Vector of surgeon on blue circle background

Several years ago I had knee surgery. Something had happened to the membrane that provided protection in the joint, and my knee was making all kinds of noise that a healthy knee shouldn’t be making. Before going into the surgery the doctor said that I should take a marker and carefully notate which knee required the surgery. Considering the circumstances, I hope he wasn’t pulling my leg before cutting into it.

Using a checklist is always a good thing in life and in my mind anyway, having a checklist to make sure that the correct knee was operated on was extremely important. I keep checklists to make sure that my bills are paid on time, we get everything that we need from the grocery store, and that I’ve packed everything I need before I leave on vacation. But on a more day-to-day basis, I use checklists when I’m designing PCBs.

A pre-design checklist will make sure that you have everything that you need to start a design, while a design review checklist will make sure that all aspects of the design have been looked at. Perhaps the most important checklist of all though is the final deliverables checklist. If you aren’t using a checklist for your final deliverables yet, here are some of the things that I check for that might help you too.

Your Deliverable Checklist is Incomplete Without a Final Design Review

The first thing that I like to confirm in my final checklist is that the design review, or to be more precise, the final design review has been completed. Sometimes important steps like a final review get bypassed, especially when the design is either small or a simple re-spin. Yet you know that according to Murphy's law, those are the designs where something will go wrong.

With the final design review, you’ll be able to rest assured that you’ve gotten your necessary approvals to move forward in the process. And, later on, if you are worried about having skipped a step, you’ll be able to rest easy. Do yourself a favor, and put that final design review at the top of your list. Make sure that all of the requested changes have been made and that everyone with a stake in the design has signed off on its completion.

Close up of a PCB with markings on it
Without a checklist, updating part numbers and other PCB markings can be forgotten

Keep Those PCB Markings Fresh and Clean

In addition to the output files that go to the manufacturer, there are many things that should also be included in your final deliverables checklist. I’ve seen plenty of designs come back from the manufacturer because these items were ultimately incorrect and had not been checked. In the interest therefore of being completely thorough, here are some of those things that I include in my final checklist:

  • PCB part number markings: There may be different part numbers on a design like raw board numbers, assembled board numbers, etc. These numbers may be in etch or on the silkscreen or both. In a redesign updating these part numbers is often forgotten as it is usually a simple change of the last number from a -001 to a -002.
  • PCB board names and revision markings: Like the part number markings, the board name and the revision may be changing, especially in a redesign. You should check these again as well.
  • Miscellaneous markings: There will also be plenty of other markings on a PCB like copyright information and certification numbers. These all need to be looked at.
  • Film title blocks: It is very common to catch all the changes in numbers, names, revs, and dates on the physical board, but then completely forget to make the same changes in the title blocks. Make sure to check those title blocks as well.
Picture of a missing drawer
A final deliverable checklist will protect you against missing output files

Manufacturing Documentation, the Last Piece of the Final Deliverable Checklist

The last portion of your final deliverables checklist will be the actual manufacturing output files themselves. Not only should the different output files be listed, but also the media that they will be delivered in. Most manufacturers will require electronic media for the output files, but some may request paper copies as well. Here are some of the output files that you should consider for your checklist:

  • Gerber files
  • Aperture lists and Gerber configuration files
  • NC drill files
  • Manufacturing drawings (fabrication, assembly, panels, etc.)
  • Bill of materials
  • Pick and place

There are many other files that may be specific to your manufacturing process that I haven’t listed here. These could include special build instructions or read-me files. Whatever your specific file needs are, make sure to include them in your checklist as well.

A checklist like this will help to ensure that your PCB design has been fully completed and that you have everything that you need to send it out for manufacturing. Protect yourself from unexpected surprises by following a checklist.

For your design needs that come throughout your design process, using Altium Designer’s smart PCB design software will ensure your designs are complete and ready for manufacturing in a timely fashion. Altium Designer 18 comes with utilities that will output all of your files together in one master job file helping you to cross these items off your checklist all at once. With help like this, your board will be manufactured correctly and on time from beginning to end.

To find out more about how you can achieve your DFM compliant PCB design needs, consider talking to an expert at Altium.

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