Up your PCB Game with Digital Twin Technology

In the manufacturing of printed circuit boards (PCBs), communication between PCB suppliers and Electronics Manufacturing Service provider (EMS) or Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) is key. In this blog, we’ll see how the PCB digital twin can bridge the gap between the two and bring your business to the next level.

Laura Berti
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 min read

This article has been updated in May 2023.

The Digital Twin – a novel by… No, there’s nothing sci-fi about the digital twin, although if you’re thinking of a parallel reality you’re not completely misguided. 

The digital twin is, in fact, a virtual replica of a physical object or system generated by a computer program through the acquisition of data about the physical counterpart (input), with the purpose of predicating or simulating its behaviour (output). Applied to PCBs, digital twin technology is used in manufacturing to create a virtual model of both the product and the production process as a way to test and troubleshoot problems at the earliest design stages. 

The practical application of digital twin technology to business has only become possible in recent times. However, the concept itself has been around since the 1960s, when NASA started using basic twinning ideas to assess and simulate conditions on board Apollo 13. In 2002 Dr. Michael Grieves of Florida Institute of Technology first applied the digital twin concept in manufacturing.

Smooth and transparent communication

The digital twin of a PCB is a powerful and effective communication tool. When a PCB design is ready to be sent to the manufacturer, the digital twin serves as a common language that both parties immediately understand. But how is this information transmitted? IPC-2581 and ODB++ are two examples of standard data transfer methodologies, but the true advantage of the digital twin is that its information can be easily transferred via APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), for example Azure’s REST APIs, which allow the exchange to be instantaneous and automatic.

Data all the way

We said that the digital twin is made of data gathered from the physical twin. But what data are we talking about? It’s the essential information needed in the exchange between PCB suppliers, EMS providers and OEMs that will enable the quotation process and, ultimately, lead to an optimal final product: material costs, technology and process specifications, pre-production checks (Design for Manufacturing), pre-production cost breakdowns and cost analysis, availability checks, panel and production utilisation, plus any other insights and useful notes. The more design data available, the more accurate the digital twin will be. And it’s not only a question of design accuracy or simplified communication: a comprehensive digital twin is now a must-have for businesses to be ready to face current and future industry challenges, such as “smaller lot sizes, tighter electronic-mechanical integration requirements, and supply chain disruptions” (Siemens). 

Before and after

A day in the life of a PCB supplier before the digital twin would have looked a bit like this: juggling loads of information spread in different files, i.e. Excel lists of materials or Word documents with PCB specifications; on-premises systems to handle the Request for Quotation (RfQ) process, i.e. XML or Excel Parser; Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions to consolidate RfQ data in order to create a sort of “in-house” digital twin to then produce a quote. All this, seasoned with a fair amount of misunderstandings between stakeholders and loss of time- and cost-efficiency. 

The digital twin is now revolutionising PCB manufacturing by enabling a much clearer and faster communication, and by making all stakeholders involved in the electronics value chain save resources with early troubleshooting at each step of the design and production process. 

At Luminovo, we can help you smoothly transition from “before” to “after” with Stackrate, the first holistic cloud-based RfQ software for visualising, analysing and adapting PCBs through digital twin technology. Simply upload your PCB production files, enrich them with as many details as possible (e.g. colour, technical parameters, layer stack and material information), and with our software you’ll be able to identify manufacturing issues before production and automatically calculate the PCB price in a matter of minutes – and all this will be extremely accurate because it’s based on the virtual replica of the real thing. Book a demo now with one of our PCB experts!

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