Multi-Layer Prototyping: There’s No Excuse Not to Go In-House

Posted by on March 8th, 2016

“…There will be a rush charge for that.”

“…We should have that for you in two days.”

“…We’re a little backed up right now, but we’ll get to it ASAP.

If you’re stuck outsourcing your prototype PCB designs, you’ve probably heard these excuses for as long as you can remember. Fortunately, now you have another option.

Fabricating single layer prototype PCBs is fairly straightforward and as a result, more and more organizations are bringing this process in-house. Quicker turnaround times, increased flexibility, and the cost savings compared to outsourcing make a compelling argument. But what happens if multi-layer prototypes are needed? The good news is that it is now possible to process advanced multi-layer designs in house as well. Best of all, the same benefits of bringing single layer fabrication in-house still apply – and when you are processing designs with up to 8-layers the payoff is exponentially bigger.

The key advantages of bringing multi-layer prototyping into an in-house R&D environment include significantly less time needed for design verification – down from several days when outsourcing to as little as a few hours for machine operations plus cooling time. In addition, it’s also possible to reduce outsourcing costs, especially if multiple iterations and rush delivery is needed. For example, rapid turn times for multi-layer projects can costs several thousand dollars per iteration when outsourced. Bottom line: going in-house is a win-win if multi-layer prototypes are a common requirement in your organization.

Setting up an in-house PCB development line

In order to create multi-layer boards (greater than double sided, up to 8 layers) in-house, a number of different machines are needed. These include a milling machine with a 60,000 RPM motor or better, a through-hole plating machine, a multipress used to bond layers (up to 8 layers), and any desired SMT products for applying solder paste, placing components and reflowing the populated boards. In many cases, a laser etching system is added to enable ceramic processing, faster metal removal on FR4, Rogers, etc., laser etching on select flex materials and advanced trace/space capabilities with excellent edge definition – all without having to use chemical etch.

The Rapid Prototyping Lab located at the University of Waterloo Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems (CIARS) facility. This lab includes a full line of the LPKF PCB milling (ProtoMat S103), copper plating (Contac RS), lamination press (MultiPress S), advanced PCB laser etching (ProtoLaser U3) and LPKF SMT products (ProtoPrint S, ProtoPlace S and ProtoFlow S reflow oven)

With over 40 years of PCB milling and laser system development, LPKF’s German-engineered machines are proven to offer pristine milling and laser etching quality, high resolution and unmatched processing speeds with easy-to-use software. LPKF’s latest PCB milling systems include the LPKF CircuitPro software enabling users to import design files (Gerber, Gerber-X, DXF, HP-GL, Excellon, etc.) and prepare them for operation on the machine. CircuitPro also includes process wizards to guide operators through PCB milling, drilling and cutting stages and instruct the operator when the plating and lamination stage is needed. Multiple templates are included within CircuitPro that correspond with the plating method available within the lab and formatted based on the desired layer count. Set pin drill profiles are also included within the templates allowing the ProtoMat to drill alignment holes utilized in the lamination process.

With advanced equipment readily available providing new levels of design freedom, it is now possible to bring multi-layer prototyping in-house for a wide range of applications including digital test boards and fine pitch SMT design requirements to high precision RF/Microwave applications and more. If you can’t stand hearing any more lame excuses from your prototype board supplier, maybe it’s time to seriously consider going in-house.


How could in-house prototyping boost your creativity and save you time and money? Visit to learn how LPKF can help you experience true quick turn prototyping using LPKF mechanical or laser milling machines. Use our PCB System Selector wizard to help you choose the right LPKF system for your specific needs.