Business development manager for Innovative Circuits, Amir Davoud, explains what to look for when selecting a PCB supplier
Q) What should you know about a prospective PCB supplier?
A) With so many options available, it can be difficult to determine which PCB manufacturer is right for your company. In the ultra-competitive world of PCBs, asking questions is the difference between project success and failure. The most important areas to ask about are the PCB manufacturer’s stability, quality, responsiveness, cost and value added services.
Q) Does longevity help determine stability?
A) Yes. The process and experience of developing quality circuit boards is not learnt overnight. The longer a supplier has been in business, the more likely they are to have tighter quality controls, standardized best practices and an experienced staff. This increases the likelihood of on time deliveries, low return rates and a quality end product.
Q) What is the best way to judge quality?
A) When beginning your search, this will be the hardest area in which to measure a supplier. Industry compliances, certifications and customer references are all signs of a quality PCB manufacturer. Always ask a prospective supplier to provide you with documentation on their accreditations.
Q) What compliances and certifications are essential?
A) ISO certifications show that a company has a quality management process in place. IPC compliances maintain that the company adheres to standard guidelines when producing circuit boards. UL certifications ensure product safety. ITAR registration regulates a company when working with US Department of Defense technology.
Q) How do you measure a company’s responsiveness?
A) From the initial contact you will get a good feel for a supplier’s customer orientation. How quickly did they respond to your web inquiry? Were you able to speak to a representative? Were they willing to answer all your questions? Did they provide documentation on their services? Working with a manufacturer that is customer oriented and responsive often determines the success of more technical projects.
Q) Does cost relate to quality?
A) Not always. Most times pricing relates to the technology used and the production size of the circuit board. For example, there are a few speciality shops that cannot compete with the pricing of large production houses for boards with low technical requirements. Many of these large suppliers can provide high quality at low costs. If you have a high end project however, then a speciality house may provide the most for your money. A good supplier will tell you during the initial conversation if your project fits their model. The old adage you get what you pay for all depends on the technology you are using and the volumes required.
Q) Should I select a local fabricator or go overseas?
A) There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Working with a local board house will offer tighter control of the overall process. Overseas gives a cost advantage while giving up the hands on experience. The sensitivity of your project needs will determine where it should be built.
Q) What are the biggest challenges when working with a PCB fabricator?
A) Many circuit board designs today have minor production issues which, if not caught in the quoting process, can lead to time and cost delays. Pre-engineering is a value added service that separates the best manufacturers from the crowd. A good supplier will review the data and outline areas that need addressing to provide an accurate quote and more importantly, a smooth production run.
Q) What trends are driving the industry?
A) As we have witnessed for many years, smaller is better when it comes to electronics. Many board houses have to refit their old equipment to keep up with the demand for smaller traces and holes. Laser drilling is quickly becoming a requirement of the industry. Also, maintaining signal speed is critical electronics today. Over the past few years there has been an increased requirement to run high frequency RF and microwave signals through circuit boards using PTFE laminates. With these technologies it is important to select an experienced board house to ensure quality production.
Q) What advice is key for buyers selecting a board house?
A) Make sure that your research is based on the quality and time sensitivity of the project at hand. Time is one item that cannot be recovered and doing your homework up front will save potential costly and mission critical issues on the backend.