How Subtractive Manufacturing Revolutionizes In-House PCB Prototyping

Much attention has been given to 3D printing in recent years as the technology has allowed users to manufacture a wide variety of items – from common mechanical parts to more outrageous projects like Vincent van Gogh’s ear.

While 3D printing was ground-breaking, there is another form of technology revolutionizing the world of rapid prototyping. Known as subtractive manufacturing, this technology is now accessible to companies that previously relied on external services. When coupled with in-house methods for electronics, subtractive manufacturing can drastically reduce design and test cycles.

Sounds great, right? We know that’s a lot to digest…but trust us, this is good stuff. Read on, and we’ll break it down for you.

What is Subtractive Manufacturing?

This technique is aptly named. While 3D printing is an “additive” method of manufacturing – creating 3D objects by layering materials – the “subtractive” method removes material, leaving behind the desired piece. Think CNC machining – a technology that has been around for quite some time – and now apply it to printed circuit boards.

In the world of printed circuit boards (PCBs), this method refers to the process of creating circuitry by removing conductive material (typically copper) and leaving behind the conductive traces, which compose the circuit. At LPKF, we use subtractive manufacturing to produce mechanical prototypes – milling away the excess copper and leaving behind the copper tracks that make a circuit.

In-house Prototyping

Now that we’ve covered subtractive manufacturing let’s examine the next component of this winning combination – in-house prototyping.

The concept of in-house prototyping is fairly self-explanatory – it’s simply the process of using one’s own equipment, staff, and resources to produce prototypes as opposed to contracting with an external party for the service.

Employing external services to create PCB prototypes is both costly and time-intensive – often stretching manufacturing budgets and adding significant time into the production schedule. With these considerations in mind, it should come as no surprise that companies are increasingly looking to cut costs and streamline processes by bringing manufacturing in-house.

Benefits of In-house PCB Prototyping

There are numerous benefits to in-house prototyping – here are a few to consider when evaluating your third-party provider and the cost of prototyping services:

  1. Save (lots) of time – By bringing the process in-house, you can say goodbye to the delays and back and forth that often hinder efficient testing and product development. Through an in-house program, you can expect to reduce design and test cycles. The process of creating multilayer electronics – which may have previously taken designers months – can be reduced to just one day.
  2. Foster innovation – Delays are costly not only in terms of time and money, they can also repress innovation. An in-house process empowers teams and enhances creativity by putting the control back within the home team’s hands.
  3. Flexibility and customization – Working with your own equipment and team, you can set your own schedule and regain control of the timeline. Moving away from outsourcing and determining your production can make small-scale projects more cost-effective and suddenly feasible; projects that previously may not have “penciled-out” with an external service.
  4. Streamline and control the process – As with any process, the fewer the steps and hand-offs involved, the fewer the opportunities for errors and inefficiencies. Bringing prototyping in-house is a significant step toward increased control and standardization in your process.
  5. Save money – Eliminating those external service fees translates to your bottom line and allows you to reinvest dollars into your company’s future.
A Simple Solution

When you use LPKF products, you’ll find that our advanced mechanical milling and laser technology features allow you to create a PCB prototype by simply pushing a button. This simplicity is significant for designers, as it allows them to freely innovate, identify and correct issues, and take chances that are too costly and time-consuming for an external prototyping service. Our rapid prototyping systems are specifically designed to produce PCBs and multilayer boards with up to six layers.

The Bottom Line

Thanks to the revolutionary technology of subtractive manufacturing, companies can bring prototyping in-house and enjoy cost savings, an infusion of innovation and the empowerment that comes with a streamlined internal process free of third parties and external vendors.


To learn more about how LPKF’s innovative line of products can help you bring your subtractive manufacturing process for prototypes in-house, contact us today.