Frequently Asked Questions

Via Technology provides custom electronic circuit board and software development services to a wide variety of clients from start-ups to large established firms. The following is a list of 'Frequently Asked Questions' regarding the services that we offer. Please click on topics of interest for more information.

GENERAL FAQs

ENGINEERING SERVICES FAQs

 PC BOARD LAYOUT SERVICE FAQs

CIRCUIT BOARD PRODUCTION FAQs

MECHANICAL DESIGN  FAQs

 

GENERAL FAQs

Q: What type of clients does Via Technology work with?

A: We work with clients across a wide range of industries covering industrial, commercial, medical, and military/aerospace, products. Our clients range in size from entrepreneurs and start-up companies to large fortune 500 enterprises with a majority of our clients falling somewhere in the middle.

Q: Do you work with start-ups?

A: Yes, we routinely work with start-up companies that have progressed to the point where they have a clearly defined vision of their product and associated business plan. To consider a design we generally require that the client has established a company, developed a clearly articulated set of requirements for the product, and arranged adequate financial resources to bring the product to fruition.

Q: How does Via Technology bill for its services?

A: Most electronic design projects are performed on a Time & Materials basis. Costs are billed biweekly. Labor costs are billed at our standard hourly labor rates. Non-labor expenses are billed at cost plus 15%.

Some smaller design projects of limited scope may be bid at a fixed price. Additionally, PC board layout services that are provided for customers who provide their completed schematic and bill of materials are often performed on a fixed price basis.

Start-up companies or companies with poor payment histories are required to work off a retainer. In this case, Via Technology will ask for prepayment of funds periodically throughout the development process. This will establish "credit on account". Costs incurred will be invoiced against this credit on a biweekly basis. If the credit on account is depleted, work will stop until the account is replenished. The client can issue a stop work order and/or terminate their order at any time. In this event, outstanding charges will be applied and any remaining funds on account will be refunded.

Q: What forms of payment do you accept?

A: Small orders, up to $2,000, can be paid by credit card. We accept Visa or MasterCard.

Orders over that amount must be paid by check or electronic funds transfer.

Q: How much does it cost to develop a product?

A: Electronic product development involves highly trained engineers and is therefore not an inexpensive venture. Clients experienced with electronics and software development costs typically find Via Technology to be a good value and competitively priced, where as entrepreneurs or companies who are unfamiliar with all that goes into bringing these types of designs to market may underestimate the costs involved with engineering new electronic designs and software. Our goal is always to make our clients aware of the process, its costs, and the risks that accompany new product development.

Costs for PC board layout services, where the client provides the completed schematic and parts list, can run from a few hundred dollars up to thousands of dollars depending on board complexity.

Costs for full engineering design of a circuit card from scratch including schematic design, parts specification, bare PC board layout, and prototype development, can vary greatly based on the complexity involved and standards that apply. Simple to moderate developments can begin at a few tens of thousands of dollars and rise from for more complex boards, particularly those requiring associated software development. This is especially the case when software requirements are extensive.

Q: Do factors other than technical complexity affect development costs?

A: Yes. Other factors can greatly affect product development costs.

Medical products, for example, require a rigorous process be followed in order to receive FDA approval. This process involves extensive safety and risk analysis to be undertaken from the start of the design. It is especially extensive for products involving electronics and software. Numerous application specific standards may also need to be adhered to depending the specific type of medical product. In the end, development costs for a circuit board and software used in a medical products might realistically cost 3 to 5 times more than a similar design used in a commercial product design.

This type of effect can also apply to military and aerospace products, or products used in applications where design standards may be much more extensive.

Q: If I have Via Technology to design my product do I own the rights and IP to my design?

A: Yes. You own the data and intellectual property rights to any designs that Via Technology develops for you provided your payments for such services are up to date.

ENGINEERING SERVICES FAQs

Q: How do I get a quote from Via Technology for electronics and software development services?

A: We start by getting an overview of your company and the nature of your product since our first goal is to make sure that we are a good match for your product's development. We are committed to bringing value to our clients and won't undertake a project if we aren't well suited to your design needs.

Assuming all goes well, we will review your product specification (see below for what we will need) and generate a budgetary estimate of time and cost to develop a prototype unit for you. This will allow us to quickly gauge whether we fit your project finance requirements before we proceed further.

Assuming that our first pass budgetary estimate is within your expected range, we will continue the review process in greater detail, asking questions as necessary, and develop a formal proposal for your development effort.

Q: What should I include in my product specification for electronics development?

A:In order to develop a quote for your custom design we need a clear specification of your product's requirements. At a minimum, this should include:

·         A thorough functional description of how the circuit is intended to operate. This applies to both hardware and software. The specification should be thorough enough to clearly define  operational requirements of the circuit including such things as:

o   Types and amounts of data to be collected or transferred across various interfaces

o   Speed of required data collection and transfer

o   Onboard memory storage requirements

o   User interface type - such as LCD character display, graphics touchscreen, membrane keypad, etc.

o   User interface content - identify details of information to be provided and received across the user interface

·         A list of required inputs and outputs - for common interfaces you can just list the I/O type and quantity (such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, etc.). For discrete or custom I/O, specify quantity and descriptive detail (such as voltage and current required for driving external outputs)

·         Power requirements - define the input power source. For example, external AC/DC adapter, battery, etc. If the circuit is to run off battery, identify required battery life and whether the battery is to be rechargeable. For battery powered circuits also define the duty cycle for circuit awake time and any other high power consumptions functions (for example, "The circuit will be in sleep mode most of the time. Each hour it will activate and record listed measurements and transmit them via WIFI before re-entering sleep mode").

·         Physical constraints if any - such as limits on board size and component height, mounting constraints, etc.

·         Environmental considerations - expected min/max ambient temperatures, high vibration applications, dirty/wet/or corrosive environments, etc.

·         Agency compliance requirements that apply such as FCC, UL, CE, DoD standards, FDA medical device and class, etc.

·         Expected annual manufacturing volumes and the maximum production cost target in order for the design to fit your business plan. This is an important factor since we don't want to pursue a development effort unless we think that there is a reasonable chance that we can hit your production cost target.

Keep in mind that if the specification does not define a requirement it will not be in the final product. Adding specifications once work begins will add cost and may impact the development schedule. So take time to develop a well thought through specification for your product from the beginning.

Q: Can you describe the development process?

A:The development process that we use for most circuit board designs consists of the following major steps:

·        Top Level Design - requirements are clarified and design approaches are generated. Circuit block diagrams are created, critical parts are selected and a preliminary BOM may be generated for use in initial production cost estimation. Software is architected and production test plans are discussed.

·        Design Implementation - circuit schematic and BOM are generated, test plan if required is generated, circuit board layout is performed, simulation and other analysis is performed if required, and software is coded and unit tested.

·        Prototype Fabrication and Test - prototype circuit boards are built, circuit board hardware is brought up and tested. If software is involved, the software is installed and integrated with the circuit board. Compliance with client requirements is verified.

·        Circuit Board Updates - any modifications made to the circuit board as a result of initial prototype testing are incorporated into a circuit board update. New circuit boards are built and verified.

·        Additional Testing and Updates - the fully tested design is now ready for third party agency testing and field testing/beta testing, if applicable. Based on the result of these testes additional updates can be made and retested if required.

For simpler circuit boards, it is sometimes possible to combine steps to reduce development time. For example, Top Level Design and Design implementation could potentially be combined in cases where a formal Top Level Design phase is not really necessary.

Q: Does development of a new electronic design take multiple iterations?

A: While very simple circuit boards may be successfully designed and tested in a single pass, it is realistic to assume that at least some modifications may be made to a circuit board during test and integration of the prototype. In addition, for circuit boards requiring third party testing for agency approval (such as FCC, UL, CE) or for FDA or military qualification, clients should assume that testing may yield the need to update the circuit board design to address test results. This can result in one or more additional update cycles to the circuit board before it passes all qualification tests and is ready for production.

Q: Where does agency testing fit into the process?

A: Agency qualification testing normally refers to testing to confirm compliance with industry or government standards based on the type of product. For electronic products tests typically apply to electronic emissions and susceptibility, ESD sensitivity, and safety. Additional requirements can also involve shock and vibration, temperature performance, and many other attributes depending on the application.

This testing normally takes place after a working prototype circuit board is established and any updates resulting from test findings are incorporated into the circuit board design.   

Q: Who performs agency qualification tests?

A: Qualification testing for electronic products is typically performed by an independent third party laboratory. We can refer our clients to qualified labs if needed. During the qualification process, our role is to prepare the circuit board(s) and necessary documentation for use by the lab in testing and to address any issues that arise as a result of testing. Via Technology can also assist in setting up the electronics that we develop at the third party lab and be present during testing if requested.

Q: Is agency testing included in Via Technology pricing?

No. Via Technology development quotes cover costs associated with design, fabrication, and functional test of initial prototype circuit boards. Any board design updates and/or support for third party testing is performed as an additional service on a Time & Materials basis.

Q: What are the risks involved in developing an electronic product?

A:Electronics and software development is a complex process. Some common risks that clients face include:

·         Scope risk - While we provide our best estimate of the expected scope of work in our proposal, actual costs incurred may be higher or lower than estimated depending on the extent of unanticipated factors that arise during design and test of the electronics.

·         Technical risk - some designs push the envelope of performance. These designs run higher than average cost and schedule risks.

·         Component related risks - in some cases components may not perform as specified, or newer components just coming to market may have limited availability and technical support from the manufacturer and their distributors. This can slow progress and add cost to a development.

We do our best to track project costs against our estimates and notify clients in advance if we expect costs to run above estimate. Clients should plan contingency funds into their budget in the event that costs exceed estimates.

Q: What documentation do you deliver for your custom circuit board designs?

A:For circuit board engineering design services we deliver the following electronic files:

·      Schematics

·      Bill of Materials (in Microsoft Excel format)

If software, firmware, or VHDL code is required by the project, commented source code is also delivered. In addition, we can generate various types and levels of design documents, test plans and reports, and various analyses as requested by the client. Such documents are priced at an added cost.

PC BOARD LAYOUT SERVICE FAQs

Q: What if I have a schematic design already and just need PC board layout services?

A: If you have a design that you generated we will be glad to provide a quote for bare PC board design. Simply email us your schematic, BOM, and design constraints to info@viatechnology.com. Based on this, we can turn a quote around for you within a day. For simpler boards you can also get a quick estimate of cost using our Online Estimator tool.

To begin work on your board layout we normally expect final design inputs including:

·         complete and final BOM with reference designators, manufacturer and manufacturer part numbers

·         any mechanical constraints that apply such as board size/shape limits, mounting hole requirements,  keep out areas, component height restrictions, etc.

·         placement guidance for any critical parts placement such as connector locations, requested parts groupings, etc.

·         any special considerations (high current/voltage traces, split power planes, matched impedance, noise sensitive signal lines, special routing instructions, board thickness, specific board materials, application specific standards, board markings/part numbering requirements, etc.)

Q: Can you get started with printed circuit board layout before schematics and BOM are completely finalized?

A: Yes. In some cases our client's project schedules require the flexibility to get started with PC board layout before all of their inputs are finalized. In these circumstances we work with our clients on an hourly basis rather than fixed price. The same applies to layouts where the client prefers a high degree of interaction in fine tuning the layout.

Q: Can you create Gerber files from an AUTOCAD file?

A: Yes we can import either a .dwg or .dxf file into our PCB design software.

Q: Can you provide Signal Integrity Analysis services?

A:For circuit board layouts that involve high speed traces or busses, we offer Signal Integrity Analysis as an optional service.

Q: What design tools does Via Technology use for PCB layout?

A: Via Technology supports several design tool sets for clients who prefer their board layouts to be generated using the same design tool that they use internally. As a result, Via can provide PCB design using:

·         Orcad PCB Designer

·         Cadence Allegro

·         Altium Designer

·         PADS

For clients who generate their schematic using another design tool, we can start using an ASCII net list exported from their schematic capture tool. We can also enter schematics from scratch based on hard copy inputs for clients who cannot provide an electronic schematic or net list.

Q: What documentation do you provide for PC board layouts?

A:For PC board layout services we provide the following electronic files:

·      Gerber and drill files

·      PCB Max file (I think we should say we can deliver the design in the native tool format rather than giving a specific file type)

·      Assembly and fabrication files (these are in DXF format and contain the information required for manufacturing of the PC board assembly that can also be used by the client to generate formal drawings in their format own drawing format if desired) (should we also mention step files?)

CIRCUIT BOARD PRODUCTION FAQs

Q: Can you provide bare circuit boards?

A: Yes

Q: Can you give me an estimate up front of what my product will cost in production if I have you design it?

A: Not normally. We cannot accurately price something that doesn't exist yet. Production prices are based on parts costs, complexity of the assembly, and production volume. The production quoting process takes a fair amount of time and effort on the part of our staff and suppliers and we hesitate to provide an estimate that may later prove to be inaccurate. As a result, we normally don't attempt a preliminary production cost estimate until we have at least completed the high level design effort including the BOM.

If we have production pricing information from a previous comparable design effort, we may share it as a rough estimate of projected production cost.

Q: Can you assist with production services for my circuit board as well?

Yes. While Via Technology is not a manufacturer we maintain close relationships with several U.S. based contract manufacturers to assist our clients in making a smooth transition to production. We offer several options ranging from referral of our clients to these suppliers to having Via Technology act as the prime contractor for both engineering and production needs. In the later approach we select one of our manufacturing partners who is well suited to the type and volume of circuit board involved and we will take full responsibility for managing manufacturing, programming, testing and delivery of the circuit boards based on your production needs.

Mechanical Design FAQs

Q: Does Via Technology offer Industrial design help?

A: We currently use outside consultants for this.

Q: Can you design and provide front panels?

A: Yes

Q: Can you select and provide enclosures?

A: Yes

Q: Do you provide Step Models?

A: Yes we can provide a Step models of Printed Circuit boards.

Q: Can you design and provide overlays and membrane keypads?

A: Yes

Q: Do you offer 3-D printing?

A: Yes to a limited extent. We have an Ultimaker 2 Extended+ with a max build area of   8"x8''x12".