It’s that special season again where our family is actively interacting with each other more so than any other time of the year. No, it isn’t one of the more traditional holidays I’m referring to—it’s the NBA trading season. I am not a fan of seeing my favorite team reconfigured as players come and go, and my family will try to explain how this is a good thing due to salaries and statistics to build a winning team. But is it?
There have been so many times the players we traded away ended up playing better for a team that ultimately beat us. Basketball can be a really tough business to accurately predict what level of performance someone will or won’t deliver for you. It all comes down to making the right choice about who to partner with to be successful.
Fortunately, the choices aren’t so difficult when choosing the right contract manufacturer to build your printed circuit boards, as long as you go through the right selection process. There are certain attributes you should be searching for, as well as specific details you should confirm to find the best PCB contract manufacturer to fit your needs. Knowing what to look for and which questions to ask will be key to your success. Here are some recommendations for your PCB vendor qualification process to help you make the best choice.
Know What You Need Before You Start PCB Vendor Qualification
Knowing what your assembly needs are before you start looking for a contract manufacturer is the key to choosing the best vendor to build your board. Even if you’ve had other boards built by a vendor, you may find that the circumstances have changed enough on this particular design that it would be better built by a different vendor. To know for sure what the requirements of this design are, you should consider some questions, including:
- Is this going to be a prototype or a production build of the board?
- What PCB technology level is this board going to be?
- How many boards do I need built?
- What kind of certifications and industry requirements will be required for this board?
Based on the answers to those questions, you can begin to narrow down your search parameters. Is this going to be a quick prototype circuit board? If so, you don’t need a full production facility. Is this going to be a limited run of a high-technology board? Then you should look for a low-volume PCB manufacturer.
Once you’ve narrowed your search down, you can investigate the candidates that fit your parameters. You will want to look at what other customers have said about each contract manufacturer on your list to rate their experience and reputation. You also will want to explore potential CMs’ websites and look at the services they offer, as well as their credentials and certifications.
It is important to confirm they are authorized to build products for your market share if you have specific industry regulations that have to be met. At this point, you are now ready to start contacting your candidates directly to qualify them.
Narrowing Down Your Search: Finding the CM That Fits Your Needs
To get the best results when qualifying a PCB contract manufacturer, you should audit the potential CM with a list of questions as well as conduct a site survey. Some of the questions to ask could include:
- What ISO procedures does the CM follow?
- What is the communication process between the CM and their customers?
- What kind of additional services, like engineering, do they provide?
- What kind of processes do they use?
- Do they have a first-article process to provide a cross-section of the board for verification?
- Do they have the ability to electrically test manufactured circuit boards with flying probe or in-circuit test (ICT)?
- What are their manufacturing yields?
When you visit a potential vendor for an on-site survey, you will want to look at their facilities to see if they are clean, productive, and have up-to-date equipment. You will also want to look at their processes to see if they are using current production methods and are following industry standards.
Another important detail to look at is their company culture. What are their goals, and how well do they work together as a team? Ask yourself: Are these the people that can build my PCB to the level of quality I need? If so, then you’ve done a good job of qualifying them as a vendor.
The More Questions You Ask, the Better Decision You Can Make
Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions during the qualification process. A good CM will be more than happy to give you as much information about their manufacturing capabilities as possible. This will enable you to design your PCB to match their assembly processes, resulting in better quality and yields. The more you know, the more trust you will have in your CM, which makes for a better working relationship.
At VSE, we value our customer relationships and encourage your participation. We are happy to show you our facilities and processes, and we will answer your questions to the best of our abilities. Our engineering staff is ready to work with you from the very beginning of your design on component selection and design details for both assembly and test to ensure your board can be manufactured without any problems.
We also have an advanced customer database that we log all communication with you, including engineering change requests, which we call “clarification requests.” This database contains a complete history of all questions and answers on your design so that nothing is missed. From start to finish, our goal is to work together with you for the successful manufacturing of your circuit board.