The Challenge

A manufacturer of cellular RF-related products needed a layout team experienced with cellular RF products. There were both business and technical challenges. On the business side, there was a desire to keep products as low cost as possible and the prototype cycle was typically six weeks long. However, the technical challenges tend to drive up development costs so the company had initially selected an offshore layout firm.

Every micron of metal in an RF circuit has the potential to enhance or degrade transmission lines in an RF circuit. Most of the printed circuit board assemblies (PCBAs) have high speed digital circuitry adjacent to RF circuitry, creating the need to carefully manage the relational aspects of these two distinct types of circuitry to ensure highest performance. An additional challenge that was exacerbated by the short prototype cycle is that cellular RF operates on many bandwidths with multiple frequencies. This element of nuance-control, makes it critical to work iteratively with the RF engineer. While working offshore was one-third the cost of an onshore solution, language issues and technical misunderstandings were making the layout process take three times as long.

The Process

San Diego PCB's team had experience with cellular RF and understood the need to become the hands of the engineer in terms of translating the functionality he/she is designing into a workable layout. San Diego PCB's understanding of electromagnetic interference (EMI) theory helped make that level of coordination possible.

The team changed the strategy from a serial design process to a concurrent engineering, gated development process that compartmentalized digital and RF elements to allow for a parallel development. The team also worked with the customer's manufacturer to ensure manufacturability considerations were incorporated in the layout process.

The Solution

The customer established a long term relationship with San Diego PCB and as the teams established a close working relationship, the process became extremely efficient. Today, the team delivers layout in a third of time the offshore team took and is near the offshore team's original projected cost.