Recently I needed the services of a plumber, and before long, I had dozens of search tabs open on my web browser looking for the best deal. Like many people, I am always looking for ways to cut my expenses. Similarly, when I look at different PCB design processes, I find areas where money can be saved.
Many circuit boards end up costing more than they should because of the money spent on design or as a result of poor design decisions. Some design groups have older work-flows that need updating or forced design decisions that no longer apply. Let’s look at the four main areas where you can reduce the expenses of printed circuit board development; fabrication, assembly, components, and the initial PCB design process.
The Four Areas to Focus on to Reduce Your PCB Design Costs
The development of a printed circuit board can be broken up into four main areas, and each of these areas can be fine-tuned to help reduce costs:
Streamlining PCB Design and Layout
While the process of designing a circuit board is still basically the same, there have been a lot of improvements in both CADand CAM software that can help streamline design flow. For example, board outlines can now be imported from 3D mechanical systems instead of creating them manually in the design system. There may also be some new or improved processes that you can put into place to leverage the power of these design tools further and help reduce expenses:
- Make sure that each portion of the design is reviewed and signed off to reduce rework. If you have team sharing software, this can help speed up the design review process. But even the standard design review meeting can be enhanced with projected views of the design that highlight specific components and sensitive nets and trace routing.
- Have a well-developed design library in place so that you aren’t continually rebuilding the same parts. Another option is to use a PCB library vendor that can provide component symbols and footprints directly from the part manufacturer.
- Save and reuse common areas of circuitry to save a lot of time and effort in the same way that a design library can.
- Make sure that your design data is backed up and protected against data loss.
Cutting Circuit Board Fabrication Expenses
A lot of money can be spent fabricating the raw circuit board, and it will help your bottom line to find ways to reduce these costs:
- Look for ways to reduce board layer count when possible. However, it is essential to remember that a higher layer count may be necessary for better signal integrity and the circuit board’s overall performance. In this case, a slight increase in cost may end up saving you more.
- Look at the board materials you plan to use to see if there are better cost alternatives. In many cases, standard FR-4 will do the job you need without going to a more expensive option.
- Examine your PCB design technology for ways to reduce expense. For example, does this design need blind and buried vias, or could you offset that cost with a different layer stackup configuration or a different routing strategy?
- Ensure that the board is laid out with the best design for fabrication (DFF) practices so that the boards can be produced as efficiently as possible.
Making PCB Assembly More Efficient with Good DFM Practices
Just as with circuit board fabrication, there can be excessive expenses in how the board is designed for assembly. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Make sure to optimize the layout for soldering processes. What may work best for the wave solder could cause problems during solder reflow. These types of issues could result in unexpected rework expenses.
- Avoid placing components in a way that forces them to be manually assembled. For example, smaller parts placed in the shadow of larger components may have to be installed by hand, which adds cost to the board.
- Make sure that your component placement provides enough room for debugging and rework on the board. Parts that are difficult to access for the rework technicians will also add to the board’s manufacturing costs.
- The board must be enabled for automatic testing to ensure it’s been assembled correctly. If the board has not been designed for test (DFT), the manufacturer will either add testability to the board or test each board manually.
Reducing Component Expenses
Lastly, make sure that the components you’re using on the circuit board are not adding unexpected costs by checking for the following:
- Don’t specify components that are suspected of being illegitimate or counterfeit. These may fail prematurely or not give your board the performance you expect.
- Ensure that the components you use on the board are both available when you need them and that they have the best price.
- Check for component life cycles to ensure that they’ll be available for the duration of the board’s production.
- Look for ways to reduce the use of expensive components or parts that are difficult to work with by finding alternates or redesigning the circuitry.
Choosing the Right Partner to Build Circuit Boards With
Another way to reduce your PCB design costs is to partner with a contract manufacturer that understands the business of circuit board design and manufacturing. PCB CMs like this will have a full technical staff available that can help in the following areas:
- Component procurement
- Electrical and mechanical design engineering
- Manufacturing expertise
- Test engineering
As a PCB contract manufacturer, we at VSE have served our clients’ needs for over 30 years. We specialize in low-volume, high-mix manufacturing and understand the importance of refining a design to reduce expenses while maintaining the highest quality levels. From the moment you contact us, our engineers and technicians will be working together to ensure that your circuit board is built to function as intended.