Answers to 9 Common Questions About PCB Fabrication
New advances in electronic device manufacturing techniques and business models have opened up the world of invention in ways we’ve never seen before. The opportunity to create printed circuit boards and use them in products was once only available to large organizations with big budgets and plenty of time on their hands. Fortunately, that is no longer the case and anyone with the talent and skills necessary can develop, produce and market innovative products.
PCB Fabrication FAQs
1. How has PCB fabrication traditionally been accomplished?
The old fashioned manufacturing model was built to support the production of massive quantities of parts and products. Under the traditional model, design specifications and bills of materials are sent to the vendor’s sales representative who reviews them and provides a quote, a process that can take days or weeks. Because the entire approach is built on the economies of scale, only large orders make financial sense for the vendor. The manufacturing almost always takes place overseas, and shipping or other production delays are common.
2. What is the new approach?
There has been a shift away from the legacy PCB fabrication model to a new, more agile approach. Modern PCB fabricators use cloud based platforms to support their customers from quote to delivery of a finished product to the customer. This technology makes it possible for modern turnkey PCB assembly and electronics manufacturing services to provide almost on-demand PCB fabrication and turn orders around in days, or weeks, not months.
3. Why is the industry making this shift now?
It is no longer only the Apples and Samsung’s of the world that are inventing consumer electronics products that the market is eager to buy. Kickstarter creators and other entrepreneurs are developing all sorts of cool stuff from wearable technology to smarter home management devices. Small businesses are flourishing with niche products, and even large companies are encouraging their engineers to work on creative projects that they care about. In the same way that eBooks have opened up the world of self-publishing to almost everyone, the world of manufacturing is becoming more assessable to anyone with a great idea.
4. Does the new model support prototyping?
Yes. Inventors finally have the option of choosing a PCB fabrication partner who will welcome their prototype projects and support them as they iterate, moving closer to a final design. They can do this by using software to combine multiple small orders into larger ones in a smart way. This helps keep costs down and makes it possible to deliver prototypes very quickly.
5. Are there still large quantity requirements for production runs?
No. There are now service providers out there what will welcome a production run of 1 – 10,000. This is great for small businesses and Kickstarter project owners who might not be able to forecast demand accurately. The great news is that this can be done for a reasonable price, and with a cloud PBC fabricator, you can expect to get a quote in minutes. They’ll also provide tools that help calculate what the price would be in different quantities so that you can make informed decisions about capital requirements and product pricing.
6. Do these types of manufacturers only fabricate PCBs?
While there are some that only offer PCB fabrication services, others provide the full range of services from the initial prototype all the way up to delivery to the final customer. They will fabricate your PCB based on your design and bill of materials. They will accept your inventory of other parts and assemble your complete electronic device. Once it is finished, if you’d like, they will hold your product in inventory until an order is placed by your customer. At which time, they package and ship it for you. With the right partner, you can get exactly the services your business or project requires.
7. Is the work still done offshore?
There are certainly offshore options out there, but they are no longer the only way to go. You can find a PCB fabrication partner that operates entirely in the United States. This helps you avoid the shipping delays, complicated communications, and potential legal issues associated with overseas manufacturing.
8. How can I track and manage my project?
Look for a vendor that provides an online portal that lets you track and report on the status of your project in real time. You should be able to get instant quotes, upload your design files, manage your bill of materials, and correct assembly mistakes all from one easy-to-use application.
9. What sets the best PCB fabricators apart?
The best vendors provide online technology that is intuitive and expertly designed. They offer House Parts to keep the cost of your PCB fabrication as low as possible. They provide the full range of services so that you have one partner that can support your changing needs and scale along with you. They make it easy to get your products to your customers with an API that integrates your ERP or e-commerce system. Finally, they make manufacturing seamless by taking care of sourcing, purchasing, and assembly.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that we are in a golden era of innovation. Awesome new ideas are turned into reality by creative minds every day. The old approach to PCB fabrication and electronic device manufacturing no longer needs to get in the way of the ingenious spirit that drives invention.