It is not always easy to choose the right manufacturer for a printed circuit board.
Having developed the design for the PCB itself, the board needs to be manufactured and this is normally undertaken by a specialist PCB manufacturer.
Choosing the right PCB manufacturer can make the process much easier, but the wrong one can lead to a lot of grief.
Some research on the different PCB manufacturers is time well spent, but it often helps to have some pointers to guide and decisions.
Quality is a key issue when selecting the right PCB manufacturer. The word quality can mean a variety of different things and in itself it is not defined and possibly a little abstract.
However the PCB quality essentially means that the board comes in as required and to drawing - no errors
PCB quality can mean a variety of different aspects:
- Board to the right dimensions
- All holes drilled and accurately positioned
- Passes bare board test
- Minimum board warping (although some of this can be due to board design)
- . . . many other issues . . .
The quality should be consistently high, and not fall away after the main orders have been successfully secured.
As mistakes can endanger the PCB assembly or equipment manufacturer’s business, ensuring that the quality of the chosen supplier is key. It may be possible to ask other, non-competing companies who may use them about the on-going quality.
Ability to meet requirements
The first question to ask is whether the PCB manufacturer can work to the required specifications. In essence can they accept the files on the formats they will be provided (normally this should not be a problem as formats are generally standard), and also produce a board of the required specification: number of layers, type of PCB material; tolerances; specific requests, etc.
It is worth running through a detailed checklist to make sure they are able to meet them all.
PCB manufacture cost
Cist is a factor of major importance. Reducing costs is part of making a product successful, however care must be taken to ensure the cost is not too low.
The lowest cost is obviously a major factor in any decision, but it has been said, the joy of low cost is forgotten long before the grief of poor quality has been overcome.
Balancing cost and quality is necessary to achieve the lowest price but for the required product.
Sometimes the time it takes to manufacture a PCB may not be a major concern. However most PCB assembly companies require boards by given deadlines. Ensuring these deadlines can be met is a major factor that should be considered when selecting a PCB manufacturer.
Whilst it is useful to be able to rely on a PCB manufacturer / supplier to meet arranged timescales, it is also useful to have the capability to supply boards with a fast turnaround. This is normally done at a premium on the cost, and also if the turnaround requested is too fast, it can sometimes lead to an increase in errors.
It might be a surprise to hear that many of the so-called PCB manufacturers are no more than brokers who take orders and pass them onto a company to manufacture. Beware of this because it may not be possible to guarantee the standards and requirements that might need to be placed on the board.
Some good brokers, though, may be able to set up an order that might be beneficial, but in general it is best to work directly to ensure that communications exist with the actual PCB manufacturer.
Ability to work together
the ability of a company to cooperate and build a relationship is another key factor. It is difficult to quantify, but if the PCB manufacturer is able to work alongside the PCB assembly and design areas, then this can bring significant advantages and can be a significant factor is selecting the best PCB manufacturer.
Having a cooperative relationship can enable issues to be resolved more quickly, it can help provide feedback both ways to improve processes and productivity and benefit both parties in many ways.
One key question for many companies looking at selecting the right PCB manufacturer will be where the materials are sourced.
Some low cost manufacturers may look to sourcing materials from the cheapest place and as a result the boards may not be consistent varying in performance from batch to batch.
It is likely that it is necessary that the board specific regulations that govern the use of various hazardous substances that are restricted in manufactured electronics including lead, mercury, cadmium, and a few other fire retardants.
Make sure that the PCB manufacturer can deliver a UL approved circuit board that meets the required standards:
- RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances): – This regulation has been in effect for many years and it governs the amount of the hazardous substances allowed in manufactured electronics worldwide.
- REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals): This European program details the chemical used in manufactured electronics and they are evaluated for their effect on the environment and population.
- Conflict materials This particular regulation could be of major importance for any company working in or supplying the US. It is a regulation that seeks to provide better visibility into the raw material supply chain, specifically when ores are sourced from conflict zones like the Eastern Congo.
Better quality PCB manufacturers and suppliers will test boards, possibly on a sample basis to make sure they conform. Check that the company has the ability to undertake this in the way that is needed.
It is worth matching the capabilities of the PCB manufacturer to the likely quantities of printed circuit bards that need to be supplied. It may be that prototype PCBs are required and these will have very small quantities, or it may be that small production run quantities are need. In other instances huge quantities of PCBs may be needed.
It is worth trying to match the PCB manufacturer capabilities to what is needed.
Companies set up to manufacture huge quantities of PCBs for large production runs will not be able to accommodate small quantities, and conversely a small company normally set up to produce prototype PCBs or small production quantities could easily be overwhelmed by a large order.
Selecting the right PCB manufacturer is not always easy. However it is of key importance to any PCB assembling or electronics equipment manufacturer. Time spent in selecting the right PCB manufacturer is well spent and can pay major dividends in the long term. It would even pay to visit the company, assuming they are suitably local.