PCB sourcing: a checklist

In this article we ask DK-Daleba’s business development manager, Tony Hawkins, for a buyers’ guide to PCB sourcing.

What are the trends impacting PCB sourcing?
Two, four and six-layer FR4 boards represent the majority of PCBs and are likely to remain so. To handle thermal issues, aluminium clad IMS boards are an established product and designers are recognising the benefits of ceramic and heavy copper. Adapting designs for flex-rigids is also a recognised way of improving reliability and cost. The global PCB market is expected to grow at 4.3 per cent (CAGR) over the next five years with flex and flex-rigids growing 9.8 per cent.

How are material costs impacting pricing and lead times?
Recent material price increases have altered finished board costs. That is impossible to avoid regarding copper, CCL, prepregs, gold and other production materials. Percentage increases for some materials are reported in excess of 35 per cent. The actual board increase depends on the PCB type. A two-layer PCB will have proportionally more copper, solder mask and gold than a six or eight-layer, so increases have been typically around 15 per cent for two-layer and 8 to 10 per cent for others. Material prices can be attributed to commodity materials, such as copper and gold, being at exceptionally high levels but equally there has been a rapid increase in demand.

Asian manufacturing lead-times are also under pressure. As the world adjusts to the pandemic economies are recovering and demand is increasing. The Chinese economy has recovered strongly, with manufacturing increasing month-on-month. Chinese domestic PCB production currently exceeds exports, making it difficult for suppliers to maintain lead-times. Sea freight times are also extended. Clearance into the UK or Europe is taking longer, necessitating longer shipping lead-times.

What questions should buyers be asking when engaging a new PCB supplier?
In the current disrupted market, explore the supplier’s flexibility and whether it has the resources to offer value and a prompt, uninterrupted supply.

What accreditations does the company have? Most buyers will be familiar with ISO, IPC and UL but does the supplier have the accreditations required by the markets you serve?

How would the supplier accommodate a request for boards required within a few days? Does it have UK manufacturing for quick turn and offshore production for economy?

Is the supplier trading remotely with Asia or does it have a local office overseeing engineering, quality and supply? Local support adds value to the supply process with experts working with their manufacturing partners to ensure smooth production and supply.

Is consignment stock offered? What is the minimum batch size to secure the best price and over what period can that batch be consumed? Having price stable UK inventory which can be delivered next day is invaluable. Consignment stock sitting in your own warehouse is even more powerful.

What is the supply route to an EU manufacturing site? Is the supplier willing to import into the EU? If purchasing for EU factories, ask the supplier if they will arrange EU import for ‘free circulation’ to the factories.

Is the supplier a trading company or manufacturer developing new technologies? PCB producers are not designers but they should have engineers who can share the capabilities of new technologies. Ask about ceramics for thermal and low signal loss, heavy copper for power and flex-rigids.

Finally, flexibility is key. Value is important but ensure the supplier has the resources to offer different supply options and ensure you receive prompt uninterrupted delivery of PCBs.