You can find a lot of information online concerning the current electronic component supply chain problem. Likewise, with only a few additional clicks, you can find an equal amount of information about overseas versus domestic manufacturing for PCB assembly. All of this is very data for understanding the conditions that could impact the manufacturing of your next circuit board project. However, raw data doesn’t always tell the complete story.
Here we’ll discuss the importance of domestic circuit board manufacturing but from a different perspective. First, we’ll look at some of the problems involved with the overseas development of a PCB prototype. Then, we’ll explore some of the common difficulties to be expected when building a small production run of circuit boards overseas. These examples will provide a holistic understanding of these projects’ challenges and how domestic PCB manufacturing can resolve many of them.
Domestic Manufacturing for PCB Assembly of Prototypes
For our first example, let’s say that you engineered a new communications device for your company and need a prototype built for testing. The circuit board at the heart of this product will be a high-speed design with a lot of RF circuitry. It is not uncommon for communications equipment like this to require multiple prototypes while being developed to resolve EMI and other noise issues. It may take several design iterations before the design is ready to pass its FCC RF compliance testing. Not all manufacturers understand or are skilled at working through this process.
Assuming that you are working at a small company, you probably don’t have the staff or the finances to handle all of the engineering a project like this requires. Here are some of the tasks that you may need help in:
- Component selection for the best performance, cost, and availability
- Design for manufacturability (DFM) review to ensure an efficient production process
- Help with critical RF issues such as power distribution, grounding methodologies, and EMI control
- Documentation control to ensure that you are ready for full FCC compliance testing
With an overseas manufacturer, all of these services must be handled remotely, while a domestic PCB assembler can offer you real-time engineering help when you need it. On the manufacturing side, you will also need the following capabilities from your manufacturer if your prototype is to succeed:
- Fast responses to design changes
- High-quality work
- Quick turn-around time
- Easy access
In other words, you need a manufacturing partner with which you can develop a trusting relationship that will aid in the ultimate success of your project. With overseas production, everything has to be handled through a phone call or an e-mail and is often based in a different time zone. But with domestic manufacturing, you will have immediate and direct input into the work that needs to be done quickly and correctly.
Production Runs of Circuit Boards
In our second example, imagine that your company builds medical diagnostic equipment, and you typically order small production runs of circuit boards to support a fluctuating sales cycle. The PCBs need to be high-quality, built to medical standards and regulations, and they need to be produced quickly to satisfy the sales requirements.
With the supply chain problems the industry is currently experiencing, one of the first problems that you will run into with overseas manufacturing is component selection. Many manufacturers are having difficulty finding common parts. You need an assembly partner that understands your needs and has either stocked up your parts ahead of time or has additional resources from which they can acquire components. And for those parts that simply aren’t available, your manufacturing partner needs to have the engineering capabilities to find form, fit, and function replacements or help you with a redesign to get around the problem. Unfortunately, many overseas manufacturers don’t have the engineering or procurement expertise in place to do this.
Once the circuit boards are built, another big problem with overseas manufacturing is having the assembled boards shipped back to you. Here are some of the shipping problems that you can expect to run into:
- Production interruptions due to emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic
- National holidays that shut production down for several days or more
- Increased shipping expense due to delays, tariffs, and overloaded carriers
- Delays due to clogged shipping ports and other transportation issues
With local production from a domestic manufacturer, most of these problems are mitigated. When the assembly plant is in your local area, you can usually get same-day delivery, or you could even pick up the order yourself. Local shipping alone can save a significant amount of money when you need a limited production run built quickly and at the highest quality.
What Designers Need from Their PCB Assembly Partner
These two examples show the importance of a domestic PCB assembly partner to help circuit board design teams to accomplish their goals. Quick-moving projects like these need to have the engineering help of a contract manufacturer ready to assist when you need it and have the manufacturing expertise to build the boards correctly. On the other hand, relying on overseas production for projects like these often results in additional expense, missed schedules, and a general lack of quality.
At VSE, we have heard from our customers who have the same or similar needs as you, and we have responded with the following:
- We have a full engineering staff ready to help you with component selection, design changes, documentation control, and mechanical design.
- Our procurement specialists will navigate the troubled waters of the current component supply chain to resolve any part issues in your design.
- We provide easy accessibility for our local clients to aid them in their design efforts quickly and efficiently.
- Our clean high-technology production environment is staffed with industry-certified technicians to ensure the highest quality in everything we build.
- At VSE, we have a proven track record of precision electronic manufacturing for California’s Silicon Valley and beyond for over 35 years, and we are looking forward to working with you.