Whether you need a small proof of concept design built, or a large run of full turnkey assemblies, finding the right PCB contract manufacturer to build your circuit boards is essential. There are many PCB CMs that can provide various services, and you need to know the exact capabilities of the assembly shop that you plan on using. The following areas are some of the topics that would be good to explore with the contract manufacturer that you are considering:
- In what kind of circuit board technology are they experienced?
- For what type of manufacturing are they set up?
- Are they certified to build what you need?
- How can they help you with engineering resources?
- How will they communicate with you during the build?
- Do their core business values match yours?
Let’s look closer at these questions to ask a contract manufacturer and determine why they are essential and precisely what you should be seeking.
The Main Six Questions to Ask a Contract Manufacturer
With all of the different expenses and expectations that come with building electronic hardware, it is essential to use a contract manufacturer to get the job done right. When searching for a PCB CM to build your circuit boards, you need to understand their capabilities before proceeding with more in-depth site visits and interviews. Here are the six general topics you should explore with a potential PCB CM candidate to determine if they will meet your minimum requirements.
Are they experienced with your circuit board technology?
If you are having a standard circuit board built on FR-4 with minimal high-speed requirements, the chances are that most PCB CMs will be able to build your design. On the other hand, if you need a more specialized manufacturing process for hybrid or flex designs, or exotic board materials for harsh operating environments, you need to find out if the CM can handle those needs. Not all PCB CM’s can build the same technologies, and it is essential to know what your CM can and will do.
What kind of manufacturing is their specialty?
If you are looking to get a prototype developed in a hurry, an assembly shop that traditionally builds large runs of production boards may not give you the service you need. Prototyping requires specific capabilities to be agile and responsive to quick design changes by the customer, and some CMs cannot provide that. Additionally, if you require full turnkey manufacturing services, cable assemblies, wiring harnesses, or box builds, you need to enquire about that.
What certifications do they carry?
This may be the most important of questions to ask a contract manufacturer. Quality is essential, and at a minimum, you should find out if the PCB CM you’re considering has an ISO 9001 certification. Beyond that, inquire if they are certified for building boards in your specific industry. This certification could include ISO 13485 for medical equipment or UL 508A for industrial electronics. You should also know if they keep their certifications up to date and have training programs to keep their staff certified in their skills.
What kind of engineering resources do they have, and how are they used?
While any circuit board manufacturing could require engineering help, developing prototypes and new product introductions usually require a lot of engineering expertise:
- Component engineers to find form, fit, and function part replacements and purchasing agents with experience working within the PCB component supply chain
- Design engineering for project reviews and circuitry changes
- Layout engineers for design for manufacturability (DFM) reviews and changes
- Test engineering for developing test strategies and fixtures
- Documentation control for board changes and drawing updates
How are communications with their customers handled and documented?
You should know what their process controls are and how they handle design deviations or problems. Remember to examine how they manage their communication for recommended changes and inspection and progress reports.
What are their facilities and equipment like, and what kind of company culture do they promote?
Lastly, find out what kind of company culture they promote. Do they have the same business values that you do? What are their facilities like, and do they have the latest production equipment to handle circuit board assembly needs.
With the answers to these questions, you will have a much better understanding of the PCB contract manufacturer before you get into the specifics of having your industrial project worked on. Next, let’s take a look at how one PCB CM answers these questions.
How VSE Answers These Six Questions
At VSE, we are experienced in several different circuit board technologies, and our assembly processes are refined for high mix, low volume manufacturing. This refinement allows us to respond quickly to the needs of our customers, developing prototype NPI circuit boards. We are a certified ISO 9001 electronics assembler with additional certifications for medical and industrial equipment.
Our component engineers will work with you to ensure the highest quality parts are available for your design and at the best price. Our design engineers also will collaborate with you on your board’s circuitry and DFM while our test department ensures the completed project is thoroughly tested and validated. For customers developing prototypes, part of our services includes design recommendations to make your board ready for full production, including documenting all changes and enhancements. Additionally, we can support full turnkey production needs, box builds, and cable assembly.