No matter how deeply you research and plan a backpacking trip, the truth is you never know what to expect on the trail until you get there. I experienced this first-hand when a route I had planned out over a year disappeared under my feet while leading a group of five others. Suddenly, I was scrambling over scree, and realizing the dangers, I put another person in my group in charge until we walked halfway up the slant height of a mountain to rediscover the trail. It is a small section of an adventure I’m thankful to have experienced, but more in a relieved than accomplished sense.
Working with a new, faraway PCB contract manufacturer (CM) without in-person reassurance can also present challenges that only arise once production is in full swing. With a local CM, it’s easier to collaborate to improve production schedules, quality, and cost quickly. For a new product introduction (NPI), a local CM can also steer first-time products or even designers through the manufacturing process to encourage innovation in prototyping. As with all engineering, there’s always a trade-off, but design teams may be pleased to learn of the many advantages inherent to a local PCB manufacturer.
Advantages of Working with a Local CM
Disadvantages of Working with a Local CM
Establishing Partnerships Is Best Achieved Face-to-Face
Commencement of production is a major milestone with any CM; design teams will want to investigate the CM’s quality and performance thoroughly. Designs are proprietary information representing significant investments and potentially lucrative products. As such, designers will want full faith that their CM can accurately capture design intent in the final PCBA. This research is easily gleaned with a domestic PCB manufacturing facility. Still, it can become more difficult to obtain when a CM is overseas, where information is provided by the CM through public records and word-of-mouth only.
Choosing a local partner allows designers to more easily manage decisions because there are multiple avenues available to assess CM performance objectively:
- Designers can reach out to industry peers who are familiar with a CM’s production history, market segments, strengths and weaknesses, and reputation.
- Process engineers can tour the local facilities to observe the CM’s operations and management style.
- The CM’s production staff can schedule a visit to meet design engineers.
There’s something invaluable about having the time and proximity to discuss your production needs in person. It’s a significant benefit anytime when deciding to partner with a CM, especially in the lead-up to an NPI.
Local CMs Are Best Situated for NPI Revisions
New products and processes are unproven by nature, and challenges are more likely to arise than a change to production volume throughput (there are a separate host of issues for transitioning to moderate-to-high volume production, but they can usually be anticipated with a higher degree of confidence).
When overseas production stops due to design obstacles or PCBs fail quality tests, response time will be critical to implement changes. Geographical distance can slow the resolution of these issues, whether due to time zone differences or international flights for in-person meetings. Even for the best overseas manufacturers, a process like discussion and approval of change orders may occur over days instead of hours due to a mismatch between office hours. Throughout manufacturing, these individual delays can combine to place production far behind schedule.
NPIs are beset with complexity by the sheer number of phases involved. Design engineering, component engineering, compliance, sourcing, manufacturing and testing, quality control teams, and suppliers must closely coordinate efforts to ensure compatibility between departments and compliance with the end product. The ability to synchronize production faster and with greater ease is one of the biggest advantages of choosing to partner with a local CM with ample industry experience.
Your Local PCB Manufacturer Can Aid in NPI Development And More
While the allure of per-board savings may disfavor a local PCB manufacturer, design teams will want to carefully consider whether their design is ready for the limelight of mass production. Without vetting the initial design, the product’s quality, performance, and long-term reliability will likely suffer. For NPIs and low-volume runs especially, the optimum manufacturing scenario is a more guided oversight of PCB production during the prototyping through the design for manufacturing (DFM) revision phase.
We at VSE are committed to building electronics for our customers, whether for NPIs at our San Jose facility or higher volume at our new Reno location. Alongside our valued manufacturing partners, we aim to deliver the highest quality for many life-saving and life-changing fields.