Bluewire Prototypes
Harris Designs

BlueWire Prototypes, Inc.
Harris Designs of NRV, Inc.
Corporate Overview

In the 1980’s when companies had a concept for a new piece of electronics, they would generally assemble samples in their own electronics lab to prove out the concepts and circuits. The physical size of the parts was large and the technicians were able to assemble the necessary components using a special type of phenolic board called a bread board. The technician would push the leads of the parts through the board and make the solder connection on the back side of the board. Again the parts were large and the density of the circuits was not too large so it was easy to assemble samples in this fashion to be tested. Circuits that were prototyped this way could not operate at high speeds because of the large physical size. As personal computers evolved faster circuits that were more compact were developed. These circuits and the associated components needed to be assembled and tested before mass production could begin. New packaging of the actual parts allowed the designer to shrink the size of the end product but made the job of the prototype technician harder as the parts no longer were large enough to assemble by hand.

In the late 1980’s electronics packaging allowed components to be built in smaller and smaller physical packages. The higher densities allowed designers to shrink the end products even further but the circuits became more and more specialized as more things were integrated into smaller packages. In the early 90’s the industry saw the rise of the contract manufacturer (CM). These companies specialized in electronics manufacturing so design companies could trim their overhead by not owning the specialized equipment that was necessary to build the new, denser styles of electronics. The CM’s specialized in mass production and removed the overhead that was typically needed internally to support an electronics production facility. The CM’s were successful as the technology moved rapidly and they were able to reach critical economies of scale rapidly. As a side business these CM’s also would build the first prototypes to help capture the big manufacturing runs that drove their economies of scale. Because of the large overhead of the CM’s the actual prototype cost was high but was subsidized by the larger production runs. As labor prices continued to increase in the US and other foreign labor became available because of the lifted import restrictions, most of the US contract manufacturers took the large scale operations outside the US. As these production lines moved so did the ability to quickly build the prototypes that US designers needed to verify final designs.

In the mid 90’s the overall electronics market shrank as the need for new computers and cell phones started to flatten out. This caused a small bubble in the CM market and the smaller operators could no longer survive. A lot of consolidation occurred in the industry as the CM’s struggled to grab the larger runs of products to keep their excess capacity utilized. This consolidation created a gap where smaller production runs (100’s to 1000’s of devices) no longer were profitable for the CM’s to handle so they attempted to shed the smaller production runs. This shrinking along with the final change over to the new style packaging of electronics left many companies hard pressed to find companies that were willing to help them build small production lots for prototype testing and/or small production runs. Quite a few of the small volume products were still being hand assembled in the US using the larger style parts in the 90’s. Some of these devices are used for industrial controls, test equipment and research and development for larger products. As these designs get updated they are being converted to smaller electronic components and newer parts requiring new assembly and test methods. Some of the new designs are moving to “green” assembly techniques. Some new designs remove the hazardous substances including lead solder. Lead solder has been used for many years and was the main method of solder joints for the industry. Now new alloys are being used that require a hotter process to solder the joints. Another advance that is finding its way into the small production is the Ball Grid Array package. This method of packaging an integrated circuit places the electrical connections under the main package of the part. This makes hand assembly impossible and requires X-Ray techniques to verify that the parts are soldered correctly.

All of these changes in the industry are making it nearly impossible for companies to build prototypes in-house because of the specialized equipment needed. This need along with the reduction of engineering talent in some firms has created a demand for companies that can supply contract engineering and prototype construction services. These companies supply engineering support to help in-house design engineers finalize circuits and products and then help construct the first units for testing. These units are sometimes known as Alpha units, being the first units built to test theories or design ideas. Normally Alpha units are followed by Beta units. Beta units are usually built in quantities of 10’s to 100’s. The Beta units can be followed by the actual production runs of 1000’s of units.

Our company is tuned and staffed to help customers that need to build anywhere from one to a couple thousand pieces of an assembly. We own the required equipment so we can process the newer alloys for “green” designs. We utilize older placement equipment as it gives us quite a bit of flexibility in construction methods and keeps our overhead to a minimum. We have relationships with outside vendors that assist us in mechanical design and in tooling and fabrication when we have a need. Our specialty is the ability to quickly finalize a design and then rapidly produce working samples to a client. We also have the ability to produce small runs of devices and to help customers interface with the larger CM’s when their volume warrants the bigger run sizes.

While our company serves a niche market, we are not limited to serving clients only in our own geographic region or any specific industry. We have served clients from Colorado, Washington, North Carolina, as well as northern Virginia. Utilizing our ability to provide quick, turn-key solutions, we were able to design and produce a working prototype device for a client from Belleview, Washington in under a month. This device is used to detect counterfeit or “knock-off” clothing products in the fashion industry using laser technology. A client from Colorado required our assistance with building a prototype system to help implement E-911 testing for the cellular industry. This testing was necessary to help the cellular carriers conform to new government tracking regulations for locating cellular phone users dialing into E-911 emergency systems.

Another prototype device for a company in Cary, North Carolina resulted in a product to remotely control safety signs along highways. These paging relay controllers are in use by transportation departments in various states. We not only built the first prototype units for this project, but also all of the production units as well. One of our latest clients from Fairfax, Virginia needed a prototype design for a Navy project. This device is used to determine maintenance requirements for the painted deck on aircraft carriers. This sensor detects the roughness of the paint to determine if the deck needs repainting.

As shown in the above examples, our expertise lies not in a specific field or industry but in providing a turn-key solution based on the specific needs of our clients. The first step in any project we undertake is to work closely with our client’s technical staff to gain a complete understanding of the client’s requirements. Once this is done we can apply our technical expertise in the field of printed circuit design to start constructing a viable solution for our customer. A key advantage and time saving benefit we bring to the table is having our own in-house production facility. We are able to rapidly put our concept into a prototype form that the customer can test. Once that initial testing is complete, we are able to work with the client to incorporate any necessary modifications to produce a working solution. Once customer acceptance is achieved, we can then provide them with additional services such as alpha units to immediately deploy to the field for product verification. Also, we have the flexibility and capacity to provide first production runs if the customer finds it necessary.

4034 Pepperell Way, Dublin, VA 24084
540-200-3200 Voice
540-674-4268 Fax
Michael H. Harris, President

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