I have a friend who insists on driving out of his way to find the lowest gas prices in town for his car. I’ve tried in vain to suggest that any cost savings he finds are negated by the amount of gas he used pursuing it. Spending two dollars to save one simply doesn’t make good financial sense. Yet, the lure of paying a lower price can be a difficult temptation to pass up, especially when it comes to expensive electronics.
Building a circuit board is a significant expense in any product’s budget, and it is the responsibility of the designers to find the best manufacturing for the lowest price. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that OEMs will look at low-cost manufacturers for building their electronics. The problem is that many additional and essential production benefits aren’t available with low-cost PCB manufacturing. Without these benefits, design teams will end up spending more money in the long run. Here we will look at how working with bargain manufacturers can cost more and how the benefits of an established PCB contract manufacturer can save time and expense.
Engineering, Procurement, and Other Pre-Production Benefits
While low-cost PCB manufacturing will provide an assembled circuit board, there are some aspects of regular production that these manufacturers will omit to keep their prices low. For example, bargain PCB assemblers may cut back or eliminate the pre-production services that refine a design for more efficient manufacturing. Without these services, your design may end up taking longer to build or have problems sourcing the correct components. Here are some more details about what you may miss out on with a low-cost manufacturer:
To cut production costs, many manufacturers will trim their engineering department down to a minimal staff. Without adequate engineering resources, your design may go into production without these checks and services:
- Bill of materials (BOM) review to confirm the form, fit, and function of the components used in your design or recommend part or circuitry changes as needed.
- Design for manufacturability (DFM) review to find and correct design issues that may impact efficient manufacturing.
- Documentation control and update with a full information package to accompany all necessary BOM and DFM changes.
- Mechanical and system design services to refine and build the system around the board being manufactured.
Low-cost manufacturers often use your original BOM for a parts list and proceed without checking for problems. However, a good PCB contract manufacturer will use their procurement staff for the following:
- Check the BOM for the best prices, availability, and delivery before ordering.
- If an engineering change is the best solution, search for alternate components to match form, fit, and function, or functional equivalents.
- Leverage their extensive network of component manufacturers, distributors, and brokers to find the best quality parts for the best price.
An experienced PCB CM will invest time in their incoming inspection processes to validate the components being used on the board. Not only does this guarantee a better board build, but an experienced inspection team is also skilled at detecting counterfeit components that can cause intermittent or outright board failures later.
A trusted PCB CM will have refined production processes in place that their project managers will carefully monitor. This management ensures that your project is getting the visibility you expect, and any concerns or problems are dealt with immediately.
All of these services can make a huge impact on the success or failure of building high-quality circuit boards, and that’s before the board even enters the production floor. Next, we’ll look at how investments in manufacturing quality by a good CM can add further value to your project.
Invest in Quality to Avoid Manufacturing Errors and Other Unexpected Expenses
While all PCB manufacturers can assemble a circuit board, there are differences in the PCB type and technologies they produce, the board size, and many other characteristics. However, what distinguishes a good contract manufacturer from low-cost PCB manufacturing is the repeatable quality of the products they build. Here are some of the reasons why a good PCB CM can keep their quality levels high:
PCB CMs that have a reputation for quality will employ trained and experienced engineers and technicians on their staff. They will also incorporate continuous training programs to ensure that their personnel keeps up-to-date with industry standards and expectations. These CMs will also use the latest equipment, keep it updated and maintained, and have a well-defined manufacturing process with established checkpoints for quality control.
QC begins with established processes and procedures and includes online tracking and other automated systems and processes to follow each project through the factory. Quality in the products is verified through manual inspection, automated optical inspection systems (AOI), and X-ray or other advanced checking processes.
With the proper procedures and processes in place, a good CM can handle various customer requests and still hit the same levels of quality across the board. They can complete single prototypes or production runs with their expertise, and quick changes to prototype or NPI builds are managed quickly and efficiently.
It’s true that these engineering and procurement services, along with the high levels of quality during manufacturing, will cause an increase in circuit board assembly costs. The advantage, though, is that you will save money on PCB corrections and rework, field failures, and ultimately redesigns of the board.
Avoid the Risks of Low-Cost PCB Manufacturing by Partnering with a CM You Can Trust
For over 35 years, in California’s Silicon Valley, VSE has provided a high level of service and quality to its customers. Before a production build starts, it has already gone through multiple checks and reviews to ensure that the board is ready for assembly. And for prototype and NPI builds, VSE excels at expertly guiding these projects through the build process to respond to your change requests promptly while maintaining the expected level of quality.