Turn-key, on-demand PCB electronics manufacturing services are a relatively new type of business that has been built to serve the needs of Kickstarter creators and other entrepreneurs, small businesses, hobbyists, and pretty much anyone else who has an innovative idea and the skills to build the board design. This new approach combines software technology with manufacturing capabilities to offer a painless experience that is very different than working with old-school, overseas manufacturing companies. But it is important to know that not all PCB electronics companies are alike. They offer a wide range of services, pricing, and production times. It is smart to be sure you know exactly what you are going to get. Here are 5 questions that can help you ensure that you have a good fit.
Do you accept orders for prototypes and small production runs?
Prototyping and iteration are a huge part of design, so look for an electronics manufacturing service that welcomes your prototype and can turn it around for you quickly at a reasonable price. When it comes to production, the best partners are delighted to have your board or device order whether it is for one unit or 10,000.
Do you have an online portal for ordering and project management and can I demo it?
As we mentioned, the reason that modern PCB electronics manufacturing services can keep costs low and production times quick, is that they use software to manage the entire process. That online portal is how you will interact with them, so it is a good idea to make sure that it is user-friendly and offers all of the tracking and reporting features you want. It should be quick and easy to upload design documents and Bills of Materials, and you should expect to get a quote back within the system in mere minutes.
Do you offer both printed PCB assembly and electronic device assembly?
This might not be as important if you only want the boards, but most designers eventually want to see the board incorporated into an end product, so it makes sense to look for a service that provides both. Doing so will cut down on potential miscommunication, eliminate shipping delays and expense, and ensure effective parts management.
Does your electronics manufacturing service offer inventory management and fulfillment?
Taking device assembly to the next logical level, you should consider a electronics manufacturing service that also orders inventory management and fulfillment services. This approach saves you the hassle and expense of storing your product and shipping it out when an order is placed. Better yet if the vendor has an API so that your ERP or e-commerce solution can be integrated with their platform. That way as soon as the customer buys, the product simply ships with no work on your part at all.
Do you offer “House” parts?
House parts are popular items that the service keeps in stock. The service orders large quantities of parts that they know will sell and then passes along the quantity discount to all of their customers. This way you get the advantage of buying in bulk even if your own order is tiny.
If you are happy with the answer to each of these questions, you’ve likely found a great partner for your project or product. You have lots of options, so don’t settle for anything less than everything you want.