Did you ever attend summer camp as a kid and partake in one of those trust-building exercises? I really only remember one such activity—the one in which you were blind-folded and had to navigate through obstacles with the help of a partner, who became your “eyes” to keep you safe. This sticks out in my mind because, if the partner that you chose didn’t do their job right, splat! You were going to fall in some mud or trip over a log. As I recall, I suffered from my fair share of muddy clothes and bruised shins at those camps.
Choosing a partner that you can trust now is just as important as it was back then. When you are looking for a PCB contract manufacturer to partner with for building your circuit boards, you need to find one you can trust. There are a lot of obstacles that you might run into during the design phase of your board that can grow into major manufacturing problems further on down the road if not addressed. Let’s talk a little about some of those potential problems and frustrations that can happen, and how the best PCB assembly services a CM can offer are focused on quality to help you navigate your way safely around them.
Common Problems with PCB Contract Manufacturers
Having a circuit board built is not an “off-the-shelf” type of service. There must be a true partnership between you and your CM, especially when you’re building prototypes with the aim of getting the board ready for full production.
Going with smaller “garage-shop” CMs can cause problems if the CM doesn’t have the capabilities or staffing to work together with you on resolving problems in your design. Likewise, the larger PCB assembly factories may have all the resources you need, but their size demands large-volume orders, putting you and your project on the bottom of their priority list. Many of these CMs are also located overseas, and that distance makes clear communication even more difficult.
It can be frustrating to not get the help you need when you don’t partner with the right CM. You may be able to relate to some of these specific problems or issues:
- Inconsistent manufacturing practices: You need to know that each project your CM works on will be manufactured to a high level of quality. It is difficult to build trust with a CM if you can’t depend on them to give you quality workmanship consistently.
- Undocumented changes: Having your CM help you with changes is great, but not when it is unexpected and undocumented. You need changes documented to be able to amend your design database for future revisions of the design.
- Too many end-customer returns due to manufacturing issues: Often, this is the case when a CM is not spending the time and effort on adequate testing of the boards before returning them to you.
- Documentation is non-existent or inadequate: You need precise final documentation from the CM for engineering and tracking so that your design documentation is fully updated with any changes that might have been made. The last thing you should have to spend time on is chasing all of this documentation down from your CM because they didn’t provide it to you in the first place.
- Too many layout iterations: Your CM should be able to review your design, and make any requests or recommendations in one comprehensive report that optimizes your design for manufacturing. Getting design changes dribbled in over a long period of time is ineffective and costly.
- Use of non-industry-standard databases causing time-intensive, expensive redesigns: If your CM isn’t working with CAD tools that you can easily interface with, it could cost you time and money to deal with translations. It may even result in being forced to bypass important changes in favor of manual board modifications after assembly.
Problems like these can be avoided by choosing to partner with a CM that gives you the quality of services that you need for a successful build. Not only should their manufacturing and testing capabilities be top notch, but they should also have an overall goal of reducing the number of re-spins that your prototype project will need to get it production ready. This will ultimately save you money as well as time so that you can get your product to market sooner.
The Best PCB Assembly Services You Should Expect from Your CM
To avoid the above pitfalls and contribute to your project’s success, your CM should be adequately staffed with trained personnel that can work with you on perfecting your design before it gets into manufacturing.
Before choosing a CM, ask questions about their processes, quality, and service, and come up with criteria to qualify them before you make a commitment. Many CMs will also welcome personal visits so you can see what they are about first hand, and you should leverage that as much as possible. Personal visits are one of many benefits of working with a local CM, which also allows you to significantly shrink your prototype cycle times.
Ask about the following services when evaluating a CM to partner with:
- Component analysis of your design: Your CM should have a process in place for reviewing your design for obsolete components, or components that are not recommended for use. In addition, your CM should also be able to help you with recommendations and alternatives for any such parts that are found.
- Design for manufacturability (DFM) review: The CM should have the engineering resources to examine your design before assembly for issues that could cause manufacturing problems. They should also be able to recommend solutions, or even make design corrections themselves if required.
- Design for test (DFT) review: As with DFM, your CM should have the capability to review your design for testability, and make recommendations for corrections or implement the changes themselves. Additionally, they should have the resources available to create test fixtures and programs to fully test your design during manufacturing.
You should also expect that your CM will have fully defined manufacturing processes. This would include all aspects of PCB assembly—from component placement through solder—as well as quality control and inspection points throughout all phases of manufacturing. Once manufacturing is complete, your design will then go through testing. Your CM’s testing services should be fully defined to ensure complete testing of your PCB, from ICT and flying probe to a full functional test.
Getting the Services You Need from Your CM
To make the best choice in a CM, do your research first by asking about the services discussed above. Your CM’s goal should be to deliver your assembled board back to you at the highest level of quality possible. That should mean working closely with you throughout the manufacturing lifecycle of our project and running bill of materials, DFM, and DFT scrubbing evaluations so that your design is optimized for production while meeting your requirements. This will ensure you receive the highest quality results on your assembled PCB.
When you are looking for a contract manufacturer that can provide the best PCB assembly services, look no further than VSE. We take pride that our care and attention to detail ensures that each PCB assembly is built to the highest standards, and we have the engineering expertise to partner with you to perfect your design. Contact us today to learn more about working with us on your next project.