PCB Fabrication

Essential Factors to Consider When Choosing a PCB Fabrication

PCB Fabrication Manufacturer

Picture yourself in a scenario where you are receiving multiple complaints due to defective PCBs. You then arrange shipment of the defective parts and facilitate endless meetings to analyze, contain, correct, and prevent the issue. If done right in the beginning of PCB fabrication, these time-consuming and expensive fixes could have been avoided.

There are various issues in the finished products that are being pinned down to the gaps and weaknesses in PCB fabrication. With the advent of automation where low-cost mass production products are being offered, PCB fabrication manufacturers in China have also grown in numbers that you will most likely start with a long list of potential suppliers. Choosing a reliable PCB supplier is a key step in your decision-making process. We will itemize the significant factors that you need to weigh and evaluate to single out the best PCB supplier for your project.

  • PCB Quality
  • Cost
  • Delivery and Leadtimes
  • Technical Know-How and Capability
  • Customer Service
Printed circuit board fabrication

Printed circuit board fabrication

PCB Quality

You will hear Quality as the most-used marketing pitch among suppliers and we cannot overemphasize more. Quality is defined based on compliance to certain international standards. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is a broadly known certifying body that validates and tests the safety and reliability of PCBs. UL has several test methods that vary according to end-user hazard such as electrical shock, flammability, and mechanical strength. This certification ensures that components are compliant with requirements. So we should also find a PCB fabrication manufacturer with a UL certificate.

IPC is also an association that have set of standards for electronics industry suppliers. They have set out standards in PCB design, assembly, inspection, and testing. Adhering to the IPC standards means that the supplier has control over quality. The widely used IPC standards for PCB fabrication are IPC-A-600 and IPC-A-610.

Another standard that is globally recognized is ISO certification. If you are looking for a PCB supplier that has stringent quality management systems and policies, ISO certification is a must-have. If you are eyeing for the best PCB supplier, these certifications from their external auditors must be evident. Aside from external auditing being done in regular frequency, the supplier must also have a system to internally audit their assembly facility. These types of audits must be openly discussed to you with the findings, root cause and corrective actions that are to be implemented. ISO9001 certification is important to ensure that a PCB fabrication manufacturer will follow a quality management system in their PCB board fabrication. And besides, ISO13485 is qualified management system for medical PCB fabrication.

A quality PCB also means that the product has undergone a series of quality inspections prior to shipment of the PCB. You can start to assess the PCB fabrication manufacturer by asking them to respond to a self-assessment checklist. The checklist should ask the type of inspection methods and testing that they are implementing to ensure only good parts are shipped to their customer. Only the qualified operators and inspectors should be placed on each process during fabrication. Souring teams must jointly assess the production line together with a technical expert and engineer.

Cost

The PCB needs not only to be working based on its intended performance, but it also needs to be price competitive. As there are increasing options for PCB fabrication manufacturers in china, you must consider the one with reasonable quotation that fits right into your allocated budget. Cost is a metric that can quickly be compared among suppliers. This sourcing phase is called Request for Quotation or RFQ wherein the scope of the pricing is put into details such as minimum order quantity, board specifications, quality requirements, delivery lead-time and validity period of the quote. The review of suppliers’ costing is very crucial and must be put into well-stated and airtight contract to avoid misunderstanding and re-costing in the future. Depending on your business strategy, cost is often the first-to-second consideration in shortlisting a supplier list.

Delivery and Lead-times

A PCB fabrication manufacturer that is resilient against changing customer demands has greater advantage. Being able to deliver on time speaks volumes about a company’s assembly facility, logistics system and resource utilization. Know the suppliers’ average lead-time and expedite rules to ensure that your expectations are met. Logically, transportation and logistics will be more complex if the PCB supplier has farther proximity from your location. There will be higher chances of delay in the shipment. You must also probe the supplier’s relationships with shipping services and logistics providers in your area. To have an easy communication, check if the fabricator has local support that can monitor shipment and has the means to expedite if necessary. The fabricator should also have contingency plans to mitigate and address potential supply chain or logistic issues.

PCB fabrication

PCB fabrication

Technical Know-How and Capability

With the recent advancements in electronic assemblies, PCB designs have become smaller, denser, and more complex. The right PCB supplier is the one equipped with technical capability and sufficient expertise in executing and interpreting your design requirements. During the beginning phase, you can ask the supplier to accomplish a capability matric for you to have an immediate assessment and comparison among fabricators. The technical information may include minimum conductor width, via width and spacing, lead pitching, tolerances and process flow. You can also take a hint during prototyping services and engineering about the PCB design and manufacturability.

If not done right, redesign of PCB layouts implies reprogramming of component placement machines and revision of production instructions. The best supplier is not the one that always accept and agree with your requirements but also the one that foresees potential issues and risks. As there are specific design rules in every assembly house, design and manufacturing engineers should work collaboratively to understand the technical details.

Customer Service

Customer support should be consistent throughout the lifecycle of the product. The responsiveness of a PCB supplier can either be technical or non-technical and must be carefully assessed to avoid headaches prior, during and after production. As there are unavoidable situations where you need to communicate product issues, requests and improvements, the PCB board fabrication supplier must be able to respond to your requirements actively and effectively. The supplier should also be transparent and open to site audits to help you verify their quality systems and capability. These attributes of the supplier’s responsiveness give you higher confidence and better reference on the performance of various potential suppliers.

A Short Summary

There are many decision-making tools and methods that you can employ to determine the best supplier for your PCB project. One popular technique is by listing down all the factors that contribute to your objective and putting weight to each factor. The total score can be obtained by summing the individual score for each essential factor. The factors that we listed are the most critical considerations and must be scrutinized elaborately to ensure you have a logical and practical conclusion when choosing a PCB fabrication manufacturer. Another step to consider in your supplier analysis and selection is through actual plant visits. You can verify on-site the manufacturer’s quality management systems, capability, and line controls rather than just having a supplier fill out a written checklist.

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