How to Select the Best PCB Assembly Partner
Whether you are a small business, a Kickstarter creator, an engineer, or a maker, picking the right PCB assembly partner is critical to the success of your product or project. If you don’t make the right choice, you could find yourself getting the run around from vendors who aren’t interested in small-run orders, facing unexpected delays, and spending way more than necessary. It is important to consider your options carefully, especially if you are new to the world of printed circuit board manufacturing.
If that’s the case, don’t worry. This is a complete guide to what you can expect from your PCB assembly partner.
The Emerging New Approach to PCB Assembly
For years, hardware designers with the need for prototyping and small batches have faced tremendous obstacles when it comes to PCB assembly. The old fashioned model was designed in an age when most products were developed by large companies with huge inventory needs and long delivery horizons. If you’re a company like that, waiting days or weeks for a proposal, accepting big minimum quantity requirements, and the delays involved in overseas manufacturing are no big deal. Apple and General Electric probably don’t bat an eye. But for the needs of today’s small businesses, entrepreneurs, engineers and makers, those conditions are not acceptable.
If you are looking for PCB assembly services and want to avoid these legacy manufacturers, look for these red flags:
- Quotes for PCB assembly require back-and-forth email exchanges with a representative and they take days or weeks to get done
- The service provider is not interested in your prototyping order, or charges you a fortune
- There is a minimum production order requirement or hefty fees for small runs
- They are not in the United States
- You have to send bills of materials, design documents and other files through email
- You have to call or email a person to get the status of your project
- You must source all of the parts yourself
To meet the needs of people like you, a new approach to PCB assembly is gaining in popularity. Sometimes called cloud manufacturing, or Kickstarter manufacturing, this approach takes the quoting, document sharing, ordering and project management aspects of working with the printed circuit board manufacturer into the cloud. Your interactions with the vendor are all streamlined and captured in real time. Inventors enjoy the peace of mind that they will get the results they want for the price they expect. Not all cloud PCB assembly vendors are the same, however, so look for one that can meet your specific needs.
PCB Assembly Vendor Best Practices
Getting the right partner in the beginning will determine the success of your project. Picking the right PCB assembly services provider is one of the most important decisions you will make. Watch out for those that offer very low prices, but don’t have the services, track record, and technology infrastructure to back their promises up. Insist on the following essential features, services and business practices:
Online Management and Reporting
The printed circuit board service provider’s online administration portal is the key to your experience as a customer. It allows you to easily track and report on the progress of your project, make changes, and upload design documents and bills of materials. You should be able to report on the status of your product at any time, from anywhere.
You shouldn’t have to wait days or weeks or send a bunch of emails back and forth to find out how much your printed circuit board assembly will cost. Look for a vendor that offers instant, online quotes. Giving you the price for your project is generally the first thing the vendor will do, so choose one that gets the process off on the right foot by making step one painless. It is also a good idea to choose a vendor that lets you estimate what parts will cost at larger quantities. This is very helpful for determining your capital needs and setting product prices.
Before you place your order, you’ll want to be sure that your PCB works exactly as you intended. You may also want to make a few iterations to perfect your innovation. Prototyping was a big problem under the old manufacturing model, but today, you can absolutely find a PCB manufacturer who can handle your quantity of one. The best vendors are able to keep prices down by combining low volume orders into larger runs.
No Minimum Order Requirements
In the past it was difficult to find a PCB assembly services provider that was willing and able to accept small quantity production runs. With older technology, doing so profitably was a major challenge. Today’s technologies make it much easier to combine small orders into larger ones or to switch from task to task quickly. This allows PCB assembly providers to happily accept your order, no matter how small and to do it at a reasonable price.
These days, there’s no need to juggle multiple vendors and long lead times. A modern PCB assembly solution offers a platform that lets you upload your design files, review and manage your bill of materials, and resolve any assembly issues, online from anywhere. Once you are happy with your design, the vendor handles the sourcing, purchasing and assembly. You should have access to updates via the platform and get email notifications as your project progresses. This approach makes it so that you can expect to have your product in days.
On Shore Manufacturing
Advances in PCB assembly technology have made it possible for American printed circuit board manufacturers to offer prices that are competitive with off shore options. Choosing a PCB assembly partner based in the US eliminates the complexity, cost, risks, and delays of dealing with an overseas provider.
Look for a solution that offers House Parts. With House Parts, the vendor keeps an inventory of popular select parts so that you can take advantage of the scale of the vendor’s entire customer base to purchase parts for lower than market prices even if you only need one or two. This approach also guarantees part availability, and the best vendors also offer free assembly labor on House Parts.
Beyond PCB Assembly
For most inventions and products, the PCB is only the first step. Today’s best cloud PCB manufacturers offer even more. You can find a partner who will allow you to ship in components and materials, and build complex products. In order to reduce shipping fees and delays, look for one with a warehouse attached to the manufacturing line.
If your product is destined to be shipped to customers, you can even find a turn-key PCB assembly partner that will keep your product in inventory and ship it directly to customers upon order. Some, including MacroFab, even provide an API for direct integration with your ERP or e-commerce system.
Why Choose a Single Vendor
By choosing one partner that can support the entire production lifecycle, from PCB assembly all the way through to shipping your products to customers, you will reduce the chance of garbled communications, you’ll reduce shipping costs and risk, and you’ll ensure a successful outcome. This does, of course, make it critical to choose the right partner.
Get Products to Market Faster
The best partners take the friction out of the process with easy-to-use cloud-based applications, instant quotes for PCB assembly, and fast prototyping. Enabling you to get your innovation into the hands of customers faster. It is easy to upload your design documents and Bill of Materials to get your PCB assembly quote in minutes. Your integrated fulfillment partner takes care of sourcing for you, usually passing along quantity discounts from parts suppliers. Because turnaround times are fast, you can iterate as often as you need without causing big delays to your project. All of this means that your product gets into the hands of your customers in the shortest time possible.
Focus on Innovation
You probably aren’t that interested in getting really good at inventory management and shipping, so why not do what countless businesses do with functions that aren’t core to the business? Outsource them to service providers with those functions as chief competencies. This lets you keep your focus on innovation.
Look for these services when considering a PCB assembly partner:
Electronic Device Manufacturing
You might be focused only on the PCB right now, but it is smart to choose a partner that will also be able to handle your complete electronic device manufacturing needs. This eliminates the pain of managing more than one vendor and you cut any extra costs for shipping your PCBs to the device manufacturer.
Inventory Storage and Management
If you select a printed circuit board assembly partner that supports the entire product lifecycle, you get rid of the pain and expense of inventory storage and management. Your products are stored exactly where they were made, streamlining your go-to-market approach.
Order Fulfillment, Packaging and Shipping
Your PCB assembly services partner can also handle order fulfillment, packaging and shipping. This allows you to work on more important tasks. You can even reduce shipping costs by taking advantage of the service provider’s relationships with shipping carriers. The best solutions even offer an API that connects their manufacturing platform with your eCommerce or ERP system. When a customer places an order, the product is shipped without any action on your part.
PCB assembly does not have to be complex, expensive, or time consuming. With the right partner, you can get your boards, or even completed products, quickly and seamlessly. These days, there’s no need to settle for anything less than a terrific manufacturing experience.
From the moment you get your quote for PCB assembly, your experience should be prompt, transparent and reasonably priced. You should be certain that your partner will take care of all the details, letting you focus on your products and business. There’s no need to compromise.