Choosing a PCB Manufacturer

Things to Consider when Choosing a PCB Manufacturer

Choosing the Right PCB Manufacturer for Your Gizmo: Key Considerations

Your organization has realized that there is a need for a new form of gizmo. You’ve come up with the concept for the gizmo, and realize that a pivotal part of making the gizmo work is having an effective circuit board. The board is in the concept stage and now you’re ready to move into production.

An internet search to find manufacturers for your boards found 237 possible suppliers. How do you choose which one to go with? Considering the following points should make your decision easier.

1) Will you need a prototype?

A prototype can be an important part of PCB development. It lets you test the functionality of your gizmo. It will be much easier to make minor adjustments or major design changes based on the effectiveness of the prototype. Once you are confident that the prototype is functioning as expected, full production can commence. Ask yourself:

  1. Do you need to make a prototype stage; and
  2. Do the manufacturers you’re considering have the scope to print prototypes?

The response will help narrow down the range of manufacturers being considered.

2) Will your production run be low or high volume?

As a guide, low volume production is likely to be about 100 boards per year.  High volume production can be more than 1,000 boards per month. A high volume manufacturer is unlikely to want to break their production run for a small job. Conversely, a manufacturer that focuses on small print projects may not want to be burned with a large production run. Some manufacturers can provide both services.

3) Where should your supplier be based?

There are likely to be three choices:

  1. Local
  2. Domestic
  3. International

You can meet with a local manufacturer, face-to-face, and you can work hand-in-hand with them in development and production. While this may be an advantage, it should be weighed up against the other factors being considered.

There are many good domestic manufacturers. Communication will be within your time zone (give or take), and courier services will help ensure you can conduct your product tests within a relatively short time from printing.

Overseas manufacturers can deliver high quality PCBs, and may be more cost effective than domestic providers. The trade-offs includes subject to international freight and logistics, the risk of exchange rate fluctuations and language barriers.  Time zones may also affect communication.

4) Time Frame

The old truism in manufacturing is that customers can have any two of: Quality, Price and Timeliness. If you’re prepared to trade off timeliness to ensure cost effectiveness and quality, then make that choice early in your decision making process.

As you work through potential suppliers, ask them about the timeframes they need to work in to deliver boards for your gizmo. It is far better to know the timeframe before committing to a manufacturer than to commit, and find out later that their time frames don’t align with your expectations.

 5) Special Requirements

Your design may include special requirements like material, thickness, the number of layers, or the hole sizes. Not all manufacturers can deliver against these special requirements. You will need to confirm the capability of potential manufacturers to meet any such special requirements.