Given increased time-to-market pressures, design engineers are caught in a never-ending quest to streamline design and production processes. The challenges are formidable: proprietary or incompatible software, poor design tools, incomplete parts documentation, equipment issues - all can slow down prototyping and production. Although the government and industry associations have undertaken efforts to standardize tools and processes, such efforts take time and often only succeed when major companies decide to follow.

Printed circuit board solutions provider Sunstone Circuits is taking a grassroots approach to knock down the roadblocks in the design-to-production process for printed circuit boards. Called the Sunstone ECOsystem®, the process would encompass the entire design and supply chain of IP, vendors, tools, and libraries needed to take boards from concept into production. It intends to find and make use of low- or no-cost design tools and produce quality working prototypes in fewer turns at a lower cost.

Sunstone is known for its ability to provide quickturn printed circuit board prototypes and short-run electronic assembly services. It is partnering with several industry heavyweights to help achieve this goal: Digi-Key, National Instruments, NXP Semiconductors, and Screaming Circuits. Digi-Key is a global distributor of electronic components for more than 400 manufacturers. National Instruments supplies graphical programming software to automate pc board design. NXP is the semiconductor giant founded by Philips, while Screaming Circuits also provides pc board prototyping and assembly services.

When the group gathered with journalists at a recent roundtable meeting in Boston, it became clear that the companies’ efforts have gone well beyond the initial discussion stage into concrete action. There is already an online link between National Instruments and Sunstone Circuits, and a link between Sunstone and Screaming Circuits to facilitate quoting and ordering will be announced in early October. The group showed a ECOsystem® step-by-step roadmap to create a seamless pc board design and production process over the next 18 months.

One participant cited an industry association’s statistics stating that 75% of the total cost of a printed circuit board was in design and 30% of an engineer’s time was spent resolving parts issues. In a market where any loss of time and cost can adversely impact a company’s bottom line, the Sunstone ECOsystem® effort appears to a step in the right direction.