Even while designers are working diligently to develop PCB designs that will meet the needs of a particular project, the effort must be underway to source a manufacturer who is:
- Capable of fabricating the final design.
- Able to meet the project budget in quoting the cost of manufacturing a prototype, final product, or both.
- Willing to commit to product deadlines and has the manufacturing bandwidth to produce on schedule.
- Technically matched to the designer’s tools to optimize effective communication and final fabrication results.
- Committed to quality and on-time delivery.
Proposed manufacturers being considered should utilize automation tools that help PCB designers work in collaboration with the vendors to resolve potential issues before manufacturing actually begins. Even prototype designs should be analyzed for potential fabrication problems so that designers and manufacturing teams can work as a unit to resolve them early in the process. This greatly improves the likelihood that boards produced will meet the designer’s specifications and will provide the functionality engineered into the product.
How Can PCB Designers Find the Right Manufacturer While Keeping Costs Low?
There are many fabricators of PCBs with just as many variations in capability, cost, and quality. These providers are located throughout the world, adding further wrinkles to the selection of a manufacturing resource. There are a variety of important considerations in finding the manufacturer that is right for your project:
- Does the manufacturer utilize the technology that will accommodate a successful build of your PCB? Not all suppliers have the advanced computer aided manufacturing tools available to create the most sophisticated PCB designs. With rapidly-shrinking PCBs tailored to specific products, PCB engineers must keep pace with advanced technology, and manufacturers must do the same.
- Can the manufacturer provide feedback to your design in the forms of analysis that reveals problems or suggestions for improvement before manufacturing begins? This is the hallmark of a seasoned and technically-capable supplier who will add value beyond the manufacturing process itself. Such a level of service can effectively reduce project cost and result in a higher-quality PCB. With the extreme precision required in PCB design and manufacturing it becomes essential to utilize software technology suited specifically to such tasks.
- Even if the highest levels of technology are utilized by a prospective provider, is it used effectively to provide the quality you need for your PCB products? Make sure your vendor possesses any accreditation you require and that certifications are up to date. Quality counts in PCB manufacturing with faulty components or boards resulting in failures of the PCB or the products they’re installed in.
- Delivery may be important to any given project, as well. If the supplier can’t commit to – and meet – delivery in quantities needed, they are probably not the vendor to establish a long-term relationship with. What is the vendor’s track record for reliable and consistent delivery?
- Cost isn’t everything, but it’s definitely a factor in the vendor selection equation. With companies located globally, it may be cost-effective to source PCBs from countries where costs are lower than local companies can even approach. But consider communications difficulties in the form of language barriers, different time zones, and widely varying manufacturing techniques and quality control. Saving a small amount on the PCB itself may be outweighed by other complications and project delays that add significantly to the total cost of the project. In addition, the vendor’s low cost quote may be due to lower-quality materials in laminates or components. Verify that their manufacturing methods and materials will meet with all design specifications.
- Not to be ignored is support. Are there technicians available that can discuss issues with the fabrication or design processes? Engineers can waste a considerable amount of time waiting for responses to questions or asking for design modifications when fabrication personnel are not available.
All these elements in selecting a quality PCB manufacturing resource should be considered when selecting a supplier. There are additional recommendations that apply to PCB design that contribute to controlling cost while creating quality boards that take Design for Manufacturing (DFM) into account.