If you’re considering switching an existing electronic product design from through-hole technology to surface mount technology (SMT), you’ll want to do your homework first.
SMT versions of through-hole PCB designs are available in most cases -- and there is no shortage of advantages of surface mount technology. However, failure to account for typical challenges in transitioning to SMT can lead to costly hurdles.
The following steps are meant to serve as a checklist of sorts for your transition. Once you check your boxes, you can move forward with confidence and make informed choices.
Taking Advantage of Surface Mount Technology: 8 Electronic Product Design Tips
1. Make Sure Transition Is Actually a Good Idea
When you look at surface mount vs. through-hole, you will see there are many advantages of surface mount technology, including:
- Lower manufacturing costs. Once you get your SMT design up and running, you can expect to pay less for the cost of building your product. SMT is the go-to now for several reasons, and lower cost is one of those reasons.
- Uses less space. With a few possible exceptions, all the boards in your small mobile devices are SMT. Companies choose SMT because it takes up less space, which allows them to deliver more with less bulk.
- Faster manufacturing. What may take a few hours on a through-hole board can take five minutes on an SMT board.
However, there are a few reasons why you might want to stick with through-hole, including:
- Durability. For applications where the part will be subjected to serious impacts, through-hole will hold up better.
- Power. Many mobile devices will still use through-hole for power ports because the connections transfer power more efficiently.
Keep in mind that some components may need to remain through-hole even if you do transition to SMT for durability and power.
2. Regulatory Certifications
There are a few things you should keep in mind with your PCB development plan to minimize issues with regulatory certifications:
- Allow as many deviations for component selection as you can. You may need to make changes to meet regulations.
- Determine the impact of the redesign on regulations. New approvals can seriously delay product rollout, so be aware of the strength of the upcoming approval cycle. The more changes you make, the more attention you will probably draw to your product.
- New components may have restrictions in certain parts of the world. Know the issues you might run into for every region in which you’ll sell your part.
3. Redesign Considerations
Reputable electronics design companies should be able to redesign most boards, but make sure it’s possible to convert your specific product. Questions you should ask include:
- Can you redesign the board?
- Can you find SMT versions of components that match the form and function of the through-hole components?
- Are there any features you’d like to add from a sales/marketing standpoint since you're redesigning anyway?
4. In-House Engineering Requirements
Every company is different -- you may or may not have the capacity to handle quite a bit of the design yourself. Keep in mind the benefits of contracting with electronics design companies that have engineering capabilities.
You’ll avoid communication issues and avoid overengineering with the new product team. Plus, everything will stay at the scale and volume you’re looking for.
Does your product need to be backward-compatible with existing equipment in the field? Your electronics contract manufacturer can give you options concerning compatibility, but ultimately it’s up to your upper-level management.
Backward compatibility costs more, but the increased customer satisfaction may make it worthwhile.
6. Is This an Internal or External Job?
A contractor with capable electronics manufacturing design services can support your redesign. It can quote the scope of the work and ask you the right questions -- like those in this list -- to determine the optimal PCB design and how much it will cost.
7. Prototyping & Testing
Determine the number of PCB prototypes you’ll need and what types of PCB testing you’ll require. Understand your prototype run and how to design for manufacturability to avoid:
- Extra work
- Delayed production
- Increased costs
8. Obsolescence Management
The electronics contract manufacturer should understand life cycle management so it’s not designing with obsolete or end-of-life components. The contractor should use parts that have a good outlook in terms of life span.
You don’t want to spend all this time redesigning the part only to produce something that’s nearing obsolescence before it comes off the line.
Other PCB Assembly Questions
If you have questions about transitioning a PCB assembly from through-hole to surface mount technology -- or anything about electronics product PCB design in general -- let us know. We advise OEMs on the entire PCB production process from design to packaging, so nothing you ask will scare us!