When I was a kid, a popular toy store in my town offered the latest in games, action figures, and other treasures. As I got older, my interests changed to scale models, radio-controlled vehicles, and model rockets. The best part was that the people working there were experts in all of these things, and they helped me successfully build, operate, and enjoy many of these wonders.
That level of customer service is vital in any business, and even more so in printed circuit board manufacturing. Design engineers expect to partner with their manufacturers to ask questions and work through changes, a challenging process when dealing with offshore vendors. In addition to the lack of personal service, shipping costs and time delays can impact an electronic project’s development schedule. Let’s take a closer look at these hindrances and how a US-based PCB manufacturer can resolve them.
Potential Production Problems Working with Offshore Manufacturers
Offshore PCB manufacturing usually sets up for large volume production runs of printed circuit board assemblies. The processes in those manufacturing plants are refined for the specific board produced and are good at delivering a high-quality product. But high-volume production isn’t always necessary. When a customer requires a circuit board that falls outside of specified scopes, there is a potential for serious problems. Some areas of difficulty to watch out for include:
- Geographical: Due to the location of an offshore manufacturer, there can be discrepancies in both the time difference between the customer and the assembly plant, affecting communication. Questions or concerns go through unacceptable lags. If you are developing a prototype or running a project through the introduction, that delay in transmission may seriously impact your development schedule.
- High-volume: Offshore manufacturers excel at high-volume production, but they don’t always respond well to changing their processes for low-volume runs. Reconfiguring processes delay your production until a schedule slot opens up. Delays will impact your prototype and NPI builds where rapid changes are essential.
- Prototyping: A successful prototype board requires rapid changes and manual assembly, and specific project management. The production facilities of an offshore manufacturing plant aren’t always set up to respond to specialized needs. For instance, it could be impossible to insert a manual assembly step into an automated production line to accommodate a unique request on a prototype build.
Several production difficulties can occur when working with an offshore manufacturer, but here are also service problems to consider.
Offshore Manufacturing Service Issues to be Aware Of
The country that an offshore manufacturer situates in will have unique circumstances that could impact your working relationship with them:
- Political: Strikes or other forms of political unrest in offshore manufacturers’ countries affect their labor force, shut factories down, or impact shipping schedules and prices.
- Holidays: Nationally observed holidays shut down factories. Although holidays are scheduled in advance, it can slow down your board’s production if the manufacturing timeline falls into a holiday period. For example, Chinese New Year (CNY) closes offices and factories in China for three weeks in February.
- Emergencies: Unplanned events can also affect the workforce of an offshore production facility causing additional delays in the manufacturing of your circuit board.
In addition to the effect on your circuit board’s production, any of these problems can affect the finished boards’ shipping. Shipping changes can result in higher prices or additional delays.
Though unprecedented, the outbreak of Covid-19 is an example of how offshore manufacturing was affected by an international incident. Many offshore manufacturers had to shut down due to labor shortages and safety concerns. Shipping was affected as airlines, and other carriers changed travel schedules, impacting the delivery of finished boards and the component supply chain. Communication was complicated when manufacturers permanently shuttered. Fortunately, several local PCB contract manufacturers based in the U.S. were still able to produce electronics.
The Value of a US Based PCB Manufacturer
There are many benefits of using a low-volume high-mix PCB contract manufacturer locally based in the United States, including:
- Communication between you and the CM will be in or close to the same time zone.
- They specialize in low-volume builds and can rapidly change their process to accommodate the design changes required of prototyping and NPI.
- They will have an engineering team ready to respond to your needs and requirements quickly.
- International shipping rates and taxes won’t apply, and delivery can sometimes be as simple as driving the finished boards across town.
The key is to get to know the manufacturers in your area and choose the one with the best resources and reputation for delivering a quality product.
At VSE, we have been serving electronics innovators like you for over 30 years, and we have built our business on fundamentals like communication. Our engineering team is ready to evaluate your design and recommend any changes needed to facilitate error-free production. Our manufacturing teams are ready to build your board to the high level of quality that you expect.