The real value of an LPKF ProtoMat system
Effective in-house PCB prototyping starts with LPKF’s award-winning PCB Plotter – the ProtoMat System. Available in a variety of different models, the LPKF ProtoMat is a precise drilling, milling and routing tool that our customers use for a multitude of applications, from single sided circuits to 8-layer boards.
Usually, everyone is concerned with “cost”
when they should really be concerned with “value.”
Each of our customers has a different need and use for the ProtoMat system. From controller boxes, face plates, fixtures, and templates to eight-layer PCB, the LPKF ProtoMat system is a powerful drilling, milling and routing tool regardless of your application.
Whether you need to run the machine 10 hours per day, or just once a month for a few minutes, the LPKF system is capable and versatile. With its long typical life of 8-12 years or more, there is no doubt that a customer’s LPKF system pays for itself many times over. How quickly this return on investment is reached is determined by how often you use the system.
Often, the most challenging point to convey is what other “values” besides monetary savings the LPKF ProtoMat provides. There are many, and each individual user places a different value on the many benefits of the ProtoMat system. The section below highlights some of our customers most common ProtoMat “values.”
Fast Turn-Around Time
Many customers value the benefit of the extremely fast turn-around of their prototypes. This helps them reduce expensive R&D time, and get their product to market faster than their competition. As most designers and group managers will tell you, the ability to maintain momentum during a development project is absolutely critical. When designers are typically waiting 5-7 days for a prototype to return from a fabrication house, (more time if they go overseas, and much more money if they want the board back in 1-2 days), they are often wasting valuable man hours before they can take the next step in the evaluation of their new board design. With a ProtoMat, designers can have PCBs and/or multilayer sub-circuits tested and re-designed with multiple prototype iterations before the end of one business day.
Reduce Development Costs
Another very important and obvious “value” of the ProtoMat system, is its ability to reduce development costs. As you know, outsourcing prototypes can be a large expense for small and large organizations alike. Many times, you only need one or two prototypes of a certain design made, but through outsourcing you typically have to pay a “tooling fee”, “set-up charge”, and a “minimum lot charge.” So, even if you only want one board made, you have to pay for a minimum of 10. Some board houses have recently been offering prototypes for $30 - $50 each, but if you try to get a quote for just one board at $50 you will discover that the advertised price is not always accurate. Plus, you may have to sign a contract with the board house that gives them the right to the eventual production run. When you compare the cost of board material and tooling for boards made with the ProtoMat to outsourcing, the LPKF system pays for itself after just a few projects.
Precision, Accuracy and Quality
Other customers value the ProtoMat system for its accuracy and quality of work. While some designers may not care how long the turn-around time is, they absolutely need a high quality tool that they can depend on for testing, production, or to impress their potential clients. The quality of board produced by the ProtoMat is equal to the quality of outsourced boards and far surpasses the poor quality boards derived from in-house chemical etching. With a chemically etched board, you will always have the problem of over-etching or under-etching your circuit paths. This means that the circuit will have an “overhang” effect or a “sloping” effect at its edges. Even if the board is removed from the corrosive chemicals at exactly the right moment (which is difficult to do), the edges of the circuit traces can be rough, bumpy, or fuzzy. With a ProtoMat system, our flat bottomed end mills make a perfect 90 degree angle from the side of your trace to top of your substrate material. This is a particular benefit to RF and Microwave engineers who need that “clean” edge for accurate results. The ProtoMat systems also come with a fiducial recognition camera which significantly simplifies front-to-back alignment, making it virtually indispensable for creating multilayer boards. The software supported camera automatically locates fiducials and then determines the material position, skew and stretch in relation to the artwork. The camera system further provides automatic bit inspection and a direct measuring function. The innovative automatic depth adjustment feature guarantees a pre-defined tool penetration depth, thus ensuring consistency from one tool to the next.
The many automated features of the ProtoMat systems help decrease the potential for human error, and contribute greatly to the overall ease-of-use. Most of the ProtoMat systems come with an automatic tool change which decreases the time needed to switch between tools. The ProtoMat systems also come with a built-in dispenser which applies solder paste directly onto the pads of the board with minimum data preparation.
Some of our customers including government agencies, defense contractors, and highly competitive industry leaders value our equipment as a means of maintaining security over their product designs. By keeping the entire development process under your own roof, not only is speed and efficiency increased, but also there is an assurance in knowing that your new design has never left the building in this highly competitive and proprietary electronics industry.
Another very important aspect of electronic design and the corresponding “value” of the ProtoMat is its ability to rework existing PCBs. LPKF has saved many companies from a bad production run that had the potential of costing hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new production run. It is also especially important for RF and Microwave engineers who use the ProtoMat to trim and tune their filters and antennas to the exact frequency they need. Normally this process could take several tries at a board house with a 4-7 day turnaround time for each iteration. Those weeks of waiting for your latest prototype add up quickly. You receive it, test it, determine it needs another change, and the cycle continues.
Promote Innovation and Creativity
Probably the most overlooked “value” of the LPKF ProtoMat system is the machine’s promotion of innovation and creativity. As we all know, electronic design is a very creative process. When you have the ProtoMat tool, it is far easier to “just give it a shot” when a new idea comes to mind. It costs next to nothing, and in a matter of minutes you may have a new design worth pursuing further. Tooling and board material are cheap, and new ideas are always worth exploring. The easier, faster, and more convenient it is to explore a new idea, the quicker you can progress with your new technology.
As you can see, the “value” our customers place on the ProtoMat system differs as much as our customers themselves. That’s why LPKF provides a variety of ProtoMat models from entry level to automatic and advanced laser processing. Regardless of the size of your organization, with the combination of any or all of the “values” discussed above, the LPKF ProtoMat becomes an invaluable engineering tool