You’ve put in the time to research, plan, and design your new electrical gizmo or product. Now, you’re ready to put it into action with a printed circuit board (PCB). But what exactly is the best way to get your hands on your physical PCB design?
While there are DIY PCB tinkerers and blogs about how to create your PCB, this process is messy, costly, and potentially hazardous. It’s much more reliable and simpler to go the professional route and to collaborate with a PCB manufacturer that can bring your design to life. With so many PCB manufacturers on the market, it can be challenging to pick the one best for your needs. Some PCB manufacturers work well for individual inventors and small businesses, while others are better suited for electrical engineers at large firms.
Whatever your reason for creating a PCB, these are the considerations you should keep in mind before selecting a PCB manufacturer. Making the best choice can save you time, money, and make sure that you don’t end up with a faulty product.
The first question you’ll want to think through is the quantity of PCBs you anticipate ordering. If you’re a PCB hobbyist that enjoys building novelty electronics, you’ll want to look for PCB manufacturers that match you. Your best bet will be a PCB manufacturer with simple solutions, easy-to-use PCB design software, and tutorial videos. These tools will keep you from becoming overwhelmed and will help you build your knowledge base on PCB design. You’ll also want to see if the PCB manufacturer has minimum order policies. As an at-home PCB designer, you’ll probably only order one or two PCBs at a time, so you don’t want to use a company that will require a minimum purchase order.
On the other hand, if you run a business that needs to fulfill large orders with a PCB design, you’ll want to work with a company that can turn out big orders – and fast. Check with the company to see what their bulk pricing is like and ensure that they’re able to keep up with your demand.
As you design your PCB, it’s essential to keep in mind your budget. More extensive operations will want to have a Bill of Materials that outlines how many and what type of components are necessary for a project. This will give both you and the manufacturer an idea of the financial resources needed for completion.
You will also rack up a higher cost if you need a multilayer PCB. Sometimes, multilayer PCBs are necessary or advantageous for your purpose. For instance, a multilayer PCB will provide more surface area, which means you can add more components. More complex circuit boards will need multiple layers to accommodate additional components as you don’t want to overcrowd the PCB. Overcrowding can lead to overheating and potentially cause a short circuit.
Knowing the materials required and how many layers you’ll need for your PCB design will help you to run price comparisons between PCB manufacturers. Some PCB manufacturers, like Advanced Circuits, offer exclusive deals on their two- and four-layer PCBs, making high-powered technology possible at a cost-effective price.
Time Is Of the Essence
If you’re on a tight timeline for a project or just antsy to get your hands on a design, you’ll want to know how quickly a PCB manufacturer can deliver the goods. In general, more complex PCB designs will take longer to manufacture and deliver than stripped-down prototypes. Wait times can vary from company to company, with most landing around 3 to 14 days. Advanced Circuits, the 3rd largest PCB manufacturer in the U.S., provides a same-day turnaround option for certain orders so that you receive your PCB the next day.
Skip the Middleman
As you look around for PCB manufacturers, take note of whether they’re actually producers or, instead, brokers. Since the market is so vast, many PCB brokers have cropped up to help facilitate relationships between large firms and manufacturers. PCB brokers have a place in the world and are the most helpful for large companies that constantly need to revisit their vendors for competitive bids. It can also be useful if your company doesn’t know much about the PCB industry as they can help guide you through the process and track progress.
However, for individuals or labs that know their way around PCBs, it’s most cost-effective to work directly with a manufacturer. Working with a PCB manufacturer is the best way to have an open line of communication and establish a relationship. Rather than playing a game of telephone, you’ll be able to call up the PCB manufacturer’s tech support or check your PCB’s production timeline.
Reputation Is Everything
When you’ve spent so much time and effort on a PCB design, the last thing you want is shoddy production. There’s nothing worse than finally getting your PCB only to realize the holes weren’t drilled properly, or your PCB has the wrong dimensions. This is why you want to confirm how reputable a PCB manufacturer is before sending off your pet project. A good indicator of quality is if the manufacturer works with other large companies and organizations. For instance, Advanced Circuits is approved to manufacture Department of Defense contracts for the U.S. government. This demonstrates the level of quality and service that you can expect when trusting your PCB design with Advanced Circuits.
Don’t Settle For Less
While budget and time constraints are real, you don’t want to skimp out by not choosing a high-quality PCB manufacturer. Determine your purpose and keep in mind these considerations so that you can select the absolute best PCB manufacturer given your resources and needs. Splurging a bit more on manufacturing or taking the time to do research will save you the headache of a faulty PCB that will send you right back to the drawing board. Advanced Circuits is one of the premier, American-based PCB manufacturers that is ready to help you bring your design to life today.