How to Select a Vendor to Outsource Your PCB Prototype Assembly

If you are a designing a product and need to produce a printed circuit board (PCB) prototype, you can manufacture the prototype yourself or outsource it to a vendor who specializes in PCB prototype assembly. But producing a PCB prototype yourself would require an in-house PCB fabrication and assembly facility, which would not be cost-effective if you only need it for PCB prototypes, which are very small production runs. It makes better business sense to subcontract with a vendor who specializes in manufacturing prototype PCBs. Here are the primary guidelines for selecting a vendor to outsource cheap PCB prototype production work:

Online Quote Convenience

Vendors who possess an online quote system can save you time. The online quote system should be simple to use. The system should allow you to enter the salient details of the PCB’s design requirements such as thickness, type of material and production specifications. The ultimate purpose of the online quote system should be cost control. You do not want to learn about surcharges once the prototype PCB production begins.

Lower Your Costs

It is generally less expensive to manufacture a large quantity of PCBs than a small quantity. Yet, prototype PCBs are usually produced in small quantities because the circuit design is still being refined. A vendor that specializes in PCB assembly knows how to keep your costs low since it has the capability of minimizing the costs of assembly set up and distributing the cost of production by spreading the production job between several clients in order to maintain the total cost for manufacturing small run PCBs very low.

Lead Times

When choosing a vendor to outsource your PCB assembly to ensure you understand the factors that influence lead time. If your PCB design consists of materials or dimensions (i.e., thicknesses) that are not common, the vendor will need a longer lead time because their will be fewer other customers who have these same requirements therefore it will take longer for the vendor to schedule your production run. An online quote system will vary the price of the quote relative to the lead time you desire.

File Formats and Design Services

The file formats you use for your electronic circuit designs are relevant when selecting a PCB assembly vendor. Most vendors use the Gerber format so, if you use other file formats, ensure the vendor can work with these other types of formats. This is why a PCB assembly company that offers design services in addition to contract manufacturing services is the ideal choice because the company has the technical capabilities and in-house expertise to deal with any problems that may occur in the pre-assembly process.

Package Types

Take a close look at the span of package types that the PCB assembly manufacturer can accept for production. The quality vendors will list this vital information on their websites. Not all companies can accept special ball grid array (BGA) or chip-scale packages. By contacting the PCB manufacturer’s technical support team to verify their capabilities for assembling your prototype PCBs, you can avoid problems prior to the commencement of production.

These are the six main factors a printed circuit board designer needs to consider when outsourcing their designs to a PCB assembly vendor to produce prototype PCBs.