For years there’s been an upward trend to build printed circuit boards in offshore production facilities, but that has changed significantly due to the pandemic. There are undoubtedly good reasons to use offshore production facilities, but there could be more value in using locally-based manufacturing. Consider, for instance, these four areas in the assembly of printed circuit boards:
- The location of the production facilities
- Working together with your manufacturer
- Local control over hardware and data security
- Building a trusted partnership for future product development
We’re going to explore these areas more in-depth as we examine the benefits of onshoring PCB assembly.
Printed Circuit Board Manufacturing in a Nut-Shell
Most original equipment manufacturers of electronics do not have their own printed circuit board fabrication and assembly facilities. To get their boards built and, in some cases, designed, they rely on the services of circuit board contract manufacturers for PCB development. Here are the services that CMs provide to electronics OEMs:
- PCB Design: If an electronics OEM doesn’t have PCB design capabilities, they will need to contract this out. Usually, the OEM will deliver a schematic to the design service bureau for layout, and sometimes they also need help with engineering development. PCB layout includes defining the circuit board’s physical parameters based on the circuitry’s needs, organizing the components on the board for optimum connectivity, and connecting the circuitry with metal traces.
- Board fabrication: Once the design finalizes, the PCB CM will subcontract the raw board’s fabrication to a fabrication facility. The fab shop will use the PCB design CAD files to create metal circuitry images for each board layer. These metal layers will then be laminated together with non-conductive layers to create the raw circuit board. Once the board layers are laminated together, the holes will be drilled and plated through, and different protective masks and component markings will be applied.
- Circuit board assembly: Along with the fabricator’s raw circuit boards, the PCB CM will coordinate the components and materials needed to manufacture the final circuit board. They will assemble the components onto the raw boards using various automated and manual soldering processes and inspect the completed boards for quality. The assembled boards will then be tested to validate their operation and shipped back to the customer.
Circuit board manufacturing is a complex process, further complicated by the need for rapid changes typical with prototype development or new product introductions (NPI). These changes can make working with offshore contract manufacturers very difficult for electronics OEMs who have to navigate a wide variety of potential problems, including communication difficulties, data security, inflexibility, scheduling, and shipping. A local contract manufacturer can mitigate many of these problems.
The Four Main Benefits of Onshoring PCB Assembly with Locally Based Manufacturing
Using a locally based PCB contract manufacturer can offer electronics OEMs some powerful benefits. Here are the four main benefits:
Working with a locally based contract manufacturer will avoid problems related to time and distance. An onshore PCB CM will usually be in the same time-zone or close to it, which helps when prompt responses are required for rapid prototyping changes. Communications are also typically better without the need to translate language or convert currency. Another benefit of a local manufacturer is shipping. Building a product at an offshore facility requires international shipping, which is expensive and impacted by schedules, holidays, taxes, or even unplanned events such as a pandemic. A local CM can ship much more efficiently and offer direct pickup or delivery for their customer.
With the onshore manufacturer being much closer, the customer can benefit from more interaction during their circuit board’s manufacturing. Often, the customer can work directly with the PCB CM at their facility to make immediate real-time corrections to the design. Prototypes often require multiple changes quickly. Access to rapid design changes with an onshore PCB CM can trim a lot of time and expense from a development schedule. Similarly, when a prototype is being readied for NPI, a local PCB CM’s direct access will afford the customer’s engineering team better control than an offshore facility.
There is a great deal of component counterfeiting in the electronics manufacturing world today, with much of it coming from offshore part providers. Locally based PCB contract manufacturers are trained to look for suspected counterfeit parts and have a network of trusted manufacturers and distributors they will work with for their customer’s protection. Onshore PCB CMs also offer better data security than their offshore counterparts, and the customer can avoid any potential security problems with international shipping.
Electronic OEMs have an excellent opportunity to build trusting working relationships with locally-based PCB CMs. With their proximity, the local CM is better positioned to understand their customer’s needs and respond quickly to any technology or business changes. The onshore CM is also not impacted by some of the problems affecting offshore facilities, such as political unrest or national holiday shutdowns.
The benefits of using onshore PCB manufacturing lend themselves very well to projects such as prototypes, and NPI builds that require the highest levels of efficiency and quality. Next, we’ll look at how locally-based PCB CMs specializing in low-volume high-mix production can help you.
The Importance of a Low-Volume, High-Mix PCB Contract Manufacturer
Whether you are building a prototype, getting your project ready for mass-production, or building a limited run of boards, the services of an onshore PCB CM is best suited for you. Not only is their location, interaction, security, and partnership important, but their low-volume, high-mix setup is exactly what your project will need. Offshore production facilities are designed for large-scale operations, but they often lack the necessary flexibility for prototype or NPI builds. However, the low-volume, high-mix production model of the onshore PCB contract manufacturer has been fine-tuned for this process.
At VSE, we have serviced our customers’ needs with our low-volume, high-mix manufacturing processes for over 30 years now. We welcome our customers to work together with our engineering team to refine their designs for the most optimum manufacturability. Building your circuit board at the highest quality levels so that it meets and exceeds your design expectations is our goal.