Have you ever had a meal dining out that you were sure you could make better at home? I don’t consider myself a great cook. Still, there are the rare disappointing occasions at the restaurant when I realize I could’ve just stayed home and cooked something probably healthier and cheaper. There’s often a time investment to consider. I may have saved time on cooking, but accounting for traveling, waiting, paying, etc., the time expenditure is the same or more than if I had cooked at home.
Similarly, domestic manufacturing for PCB assembly has many distinct advantages over offshoring. The core issue revolves around flexibility. Overseas assemblies are intrinsically more difficult to orchestrate and suffer from additional logistics issues (perhaps best illustrated by the massive backlog of freighters congesting major US ports in 2021). Even in the best of circumstances, transit time can add up. If time is money, this needs to be factored into the cost calculus for the superficial bargain of international production.
Domestic manufacturing shares a locality with design teams, allowing for a higher level of cooperation and interactivity to ensure board quality is met promptly. Here we’ll examine many reasons to opt for domestic manufacturing.
Prototyping and Domestic Manufacturing for PCB Assembly
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and boards do not enter into production-level quantities without a gauntlet of revisions. Designing a circuit board invokes many engineering disciplines that must balance extensive physical and electrical characteristics. Even the most careful design team may later encounter a change to the scope of the board’s functionality that forces some level of redesign.
For example, a new communications device needs a prototype built for testing. The circuit board at the heart of this product will be a high-speed design that requires expansive 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 board can pass FCC RF compliance testing. Pairing with a manufacturer who can analyze the underlying causes of assembly defects – especially before production – can save customers time and money.
Pros and Cons of Domestic Manufacturing
Smaller companies may not necessarily possess the bandwidth or ability to handle all of the engineering a project like this requires.
Common development pain points may include:
- Component selection for the best performance, cost, and availability. With crucial component supplies still trending towards allocation and extended lead times, the earlier a procurement team can secure sourcing for a design, the better. An experienced assembly team can also assist in the case of multiple design variants to capture more available components in severe shortages.
- Design for manufacturability (DFM) review to ensure an efficient production process.
- Critical RF issues such as power distribution, grounding methodologies, and EMI control.
- Documentation control to ensure you are ready for full FCC compliance testing.
With an overseas manufacturer, all of these services must be handled remotely. At the same time, a domestic PCB assembler can offer you real-time engineering help with, at most, a few hours of time difference.
On the manufacturing side, the following capabilities will prove beneficial to the success of a prototype:
- Fast responses to design changes. The quicker an assembler can incorporate revisions, the faster the turnaround time for you or your customers.
- Coordination between parties is easier, which can have a pronounced outcome for new design teams. At least initially, working with a domestic manufacturer is likely more approachable.
- Quality. Inexpensive offshore assembly partners may suffer quality issues due to a lack of training among technicians or outdated equipment.
In other words, a manufacturing partner which can develop a trusting relationship will aid in the ultimate success of your project. While communication technology has shrunk the world, sometimes the best conversations occur face-to-face, especially when tight deadlines and manufacturing expenses are involved. Domestic manufacturing will have immediate and direct input into the performed work and can ascertain its progress and quality while in process.
Production Runs of Circuit Boards
Imagine a company that builds medical diagnostic equipment; typically, small order production runs of circuit boards support a fluctuating sales cycle. These PCBs have Class 2 or higher reliability requirements (part of medical standards and regulations for electronic devices) and must be produced quickly to satisfy sales requirements.
Unfortunately, the seemingly everlasting supply chain problems the industry is experiencing have yet to abate. Component selection is one of the first problems that will crop up with overseas production. Arguably the largest logistical hurdle these days is sourcing a sufficient amount of components from numerous suppliers in a reasonable amount of time, with demand largely outstripping supply.
An assembly partner that understands current market conditions and has either stocked up your parts ahead of time or can draw upon additional resources for part acquisition has upgraded in criticality from merely advantageous to necessary.
For those parts that have recently become or remain frustratingly unavailable, an experienced manufacturing partner will have the engineering capabilities to find form, fit, and function replacements or help you with a redesign to get around the problem. Overseas manufacturers may not have the engineering or procurement expertise to cover these changes. Design teams should be aware that entering into production with an assembler lacking in this area may prompt a third party, further complicating the build cycle.
Once the circuit boards are built, the transit issue must still be surmounted. Some shipping problems you could encounter include:
- While government shutdowns have largely subsided, some offshore manufacturing locations are still liable to interruption.
- Increased shipping expenses due to delays and elevated fuel costs.
- Disruption to production schedules due to a mismatch between national holidays.
With local production from a domestic manufacturer, most of these problems are mitigated, if not outright eliminated. When an assembly plant is strategically located near a design hotbed, delivery can be measured in days instead of weeks. Local shipping alone represents significant cost savings once lot sizes reach moderate to high volume.
What Your Contract Manufacturer Can Bring To The Table
These two examples show the importance of domestic manufacturing for PCB assembly partners to aid circuit board design teams in accomplishing their goals. Quick-moving projects need the engineering know-how of a contract manufacturer ready to assist when market challenges force alterations to a design. Furthermore, relying on overseas production for projects like these often results in additional expenses, missed deadlines, and a potential reduction in quality.
At VSE, we’re a team of engineers eager to share our knowledge and optimize electronic builds for our customers. With our valued manufacturing partners, we dedicate ourselves to delivering the highest-quality PCBAs in many life-saving and life-changing industries.