When buying electronic gadgets, it is always the aim of most buyers to check out for cheaper and quality device alternatives. Thus, as a PCB engineer, having tips that could help you cut on the cost of manufacturing PCBs would consequently boost your electronics’ sales.
Then again, when you want to invest in printed circuit board manufacturing and assembly, questions like: “How do I reduce the PCB cost?” or “Where do I find the cheapest PCB manufacturing service?” are bound to loom out large.
Primarily, making PCBs for could at times be expensive when some best manufacturing practices are ignored. Reducing the cost of Printed Circuit boards is not Rocket Science; it is all about keeping things simple and straightforward. In this edition, we will focus on a few tips that could help you save on the cost of manufacturing PCBs.
In this guide, we’ll highlight some seven critical steps to reducing the cost of printed circuit boards.
- Value PCB Cost and Learn to Reduce
- PCB Cost Reduction Starts from The PCB Design
- How Can You Reduce the PCB Cost of a PCB and Simplify the Manufacturing Process?
- Tips to Save Money during the PCB Manufacturing Process
- Smart Ways to Reduce PCB Assembly Cost
- How WellPCB does to reduce the PCB and Assembly Cost to a reasonable consumer price.
- Finding a reliable PCB Supplier
1、Value PCB Cost and Learn to Reduce
To anyone interested in PCB manufacturing, understanding the fact that PCB making can incur some unnecessary costs is the first step towards reducing the manufacturing cost. You will have to understand the value of the PCB itself. And put on the mindset of lowering PCB cost as much as possible without making compromises of the printed quality.
But PCB Manufacture is a highly labor-intensive industry. It continually faces stiff competition and regulations. The PCB Manufacture processing itself is driven by a lot of variables that can independently affect the overall board price.
Manufacturers and the users control some of the factors that affect the cost. But then, some elements are beyond the reach of both. Among such factors are like conditions like exchange rates, utility tariffs, material cost, among many others.
So, understanding all these factors helps you to know the value of the printed circuit board by evaluating the manufacturing process.
Sometimes, however, the users can also make decisions that can influence the cost from his/her side. The most obvious ways of reducing cost are like: making the boards as simple as possible, using fewer components, and reducing the board complexity. At times, you might also consider using basic shapes as much as possible, ordering a large batch quantity, and of course, using the least expensive service available.
PCB Cost reduction is something that you have to consider as from the earliest stages of the board, and layout design. Once the board is printed, factors that can influence cost reduction are limited. Little can be done on a finished product.
In the remaining chapters, I will illustrate some critical factors to consider during board designing, PCB quoting, and assembly stages. We will showcase the factors that affect pricing at these individual stages.
In the preceding chapters, we will outline some of these cost-saving techniques and offer a realization that some factors (we esteem highly) are beyond our control. With this realization, it will be possible to work towards achieving an aggressive PCB price with little or no compromise to the overall performance of the final product(s).
2、PCB Cost Reduction Starts from The PCB Design
A good design is everything. A great product is easy to predict with excellent product design. In PCB manufacturing the first process of cost reduction is at the PCB design itself. The more optimized a PCB design is, the better the chances of it having a reduced PCB cost.
When beginning a PCB design, it is best to have a clear idea of the final idea. This pre-knowledge will significantly help you to figure out the parts you will need for the design.
An excellent way to go around this issue is to look at similar products (especially going for the open-source versions). Not only will this accelerate the time to deliver, but it will also reduce the likelihood of making costly production mistakes.
Next, you will have to consider the choice of through-hole components or surface-mount components. Making this decision early enough would significantly minimize your cost of PCB production.
By using through-hole vias as much as possible rather than laser vias or buried vias, PCB production becomes cheaper than using HDI technology.
For the through-hole pads and vias, it is best to keep the minimum annular ring at a minimum. The ring covers the minimum distance between the pad’s border and the holes’ border. It needs to be uniform throughout the board designing process.
The choice and usage of vias (including buried vias, blind vias, or even micro-vias) in a board improves a circuit’s interconnectivity. It also achieves this aspect by condensing the minimum space possible but using as many as can increase the cost.
Basically, with more vias comes at a higher price. This pricing remains high despite the size of the hole diameters.
The board layers’ layout is another aspect that can help to reduce the cost of the board. PCB cost increases with the addition of layer count. Addition of more layers onto the circuit board amplifies the expense of printing the circuit board.
A simple 50 by 50 mm PCB using two layers and standard layers might cost around $16. But if the board is redesigned to use only one layer, the cost of production will decrease to about $10 on WellPCB. The change from a two-layer to single layer alone brings down the price by $6.
Picking the right footprint during the design stage will not only save in design cost, but also in the lead time. On the other hand, using the wrong footprint might delay board production significantly.
Let us now illustrate other techniques of saving and optimizing the board design for PCB manufacturing and PCB Assembly.
3、How Can You Reduce the PCB Cost of a PCB and Simplify the Manufacturing Process?
Reducing the PCB cost of a printed circuit board can also simplify the manufacturing process. There are some practices you can employ to streamline the printed circuit board manufacturing process, reduce cost and also improve lead time.
Here are some cost reduction techniques to consider when targeting cost reduction:
3.1 Material Type
The choice of a PCB material is an essential part of the PCB manufacturing process. It determines the board performance, durability, and even scope of application.
It is necessary, therefore, to consider the performance of a material in regards to temperature resistance, tensile strength, flexibility, dielectric constant, and many other relevant factors.
FR-4 is the most commonly used material in PCBs. FR-4 is ideal for most applications; but then, we do have other materials that tolerate different temperatures yet graded within FR-4.
Going for the FR4-TG150, for instance, would cause an increment of about 5% of the total pricing; while FR4-TG175 will add a 10% increase in overall manufacturing cost.
3.2 Complex Shape
Complex board shape is likely to increase cost as compared to using simple shapes like a square or rectangle.
In the hopes of making the final product to look unique or different (which might not necessarily influence anything), product designers end up creating complicated shapes for their PCB boards. These shapes demand the use of equipment with more precision and additional cost overheads.
3.3 Board Size
It is apparent here: the bigger the board size, the more the cost of production. It is that simple.
3.4 Board Complexity
During the design of a printed circuit board layout, it is better to have proper clearance rather than some tedious and tricky plan. The argument here is simple: anything complex would require some special and precise equipment to handle them.
Moreover, board manufacturers usually have some minimum clearance requirements that PCB designers ought to follow to avoid additional charges.
3.5 Special Board Design (Cuts & Slots)
Some boards require unique interior designs. Such designs include things like making cuts properly to fit a device casing (or any other reason that could justify using such cuts).
However, there are some cases where board designers (in the hope of creating something unique) do add some cuts inside their PCB without any importance to the final product besides looking cool.
Such unnecessary cuts can sometimes increase the cost of producing a PCB highly. Thus, it is advisable to keep the design of the board as simple as possible.
3.6 Holes and Rings
During a PCB design, things like rings and holes might be needed for the board. Always, holes and rings should be designed to fit the board yet remain as large as possible.
Bigger hole diameters are preferable during PCB manufacturing as they require less precision during fabrication.
Smaller holes and rings usually need more control and precision to achieve. These factors demand specialized equipment that will, in turn, drive the PCB production costs higher.
Most Manufacturers already have set working standard for board designers to follow. These size ranges set up by the manufacturers are to ensure that users to do not incur more spending during board production.
In the next chapter, I will mention some key points that will help in saving money during the PCB manufacturing.
4、Tips to Save Money during the PCB Manufacturing Process
After discussing some essential techniques that can be applied when printing circuit designs to save PCB cost; We considered to showcase a few tips to save the cost of printing PCBs the manufacturing stages.
In this chapter, I will highlight some things that during PCB manufacturing that stage can help you in saving funds.
4.1 Going for Large Batches
A basic economics rule: the volume of a community dramatically affects the price of each commodity. The more popular a product is; the lower the cost of producing the product. It applies in the PCB industry as well. The higher the volume, the lesser the cost of manufacturing each printed circuit board and the board assembly.
For example, if you order for five units of a basic 50mm by 50mm 2 layer, it will give a total cost of $15.12 excluding shipping at a rate of $3.024 per unit. Changing the number of units, you ordered to about 20 units provides a total cost of $20.16 at a price of $1.008 per unit, a massive saving in production.
4.2 Board Surface Finish
The board surface finish is one of the most critical aspects of the PCB. It dramatically determines the performance and durability of a board.
The board surface finish prevents pads from oxidizing. It also enhances a better ability to solder and increases conductivity. Currently, we have different types of surface finish that can be applied to a board during manufacturing.
Think about board surface finish as trying to travel to a destination that has several ways of getting to the target. You can decide to fly a private jet and have full comfort in the air world. Fly a commercial plane, follow public transport systems like train or bus, drive your average car or go the luxury car route. Depending on the form of transportation used at the end, one will still get to the destination but at different states of time and comfort.
Such a scenario is similar to surface finish. All surface finish types will achieve the same fundamental goal, but all come in different techniques, methods, life-span, and features.
A PCB board using a standard HASL Lead-Free surface finish that cost around $20 may require about a 20-30 dollar above the ordinary cost.
In the end, it all boils down to the product requirement. HASL is the least expensive finish; however, HASL does not produce PCB’s that are flat enough for the assembly of modern BGA, CSP and MLF packages.
By adopting on-board panelization, you could save a few bucks. For instance, when printed circuit boards are framed into panels, they produce PCBs that work faster and better. They also waste fewer PCB materials, and they decrease the lead time.
During the process of manufacturing, the points highlighted above would help in saving cost and improve manufacturing lead-time.
At times, you might decide to go for a printed circuit board assembly from the supplier. How should you go about it? The next chapter highlights some smart ways you can employ to reduce the PCB Assembly cost.
5、Smart Ways to Reduce PCB Assembly Cost
PCB Assembly involves auto-populating a printed circuit board with its needed components and parts. PCB Assembly is usually costly when ordered for small batches as compared to large batches. Board assemblies get drastic price changes during large volume production of boards.
A single board assembly can go as high as $300 depending on the board parts while 100s of the same order might be around $450. So, should you choose to go the PCB assembly way, don’t do small units like five or ten; make it range between hundreds and thousands.
Smaller device sizes during PCB manufacturing might save the production cost, but they add more complexity during the PCB Assembly. When a board is too small, it will make components to be all packed together making it harder to assemble the parts on the board.
Smaller Board Size might reduce the PCB manufacturing cost, but it could make the board design quite complicated. Such complication would end up increasing the value of assembly because of the required precision equipment needed during assembly.
Clearance of a board might not fully impact on the cost of the PCBs as it will impact on the board’s assembly cost. A small and congested board clearance would require more time and manufacturing resources during assembly.
The placement of polarized components is similarly a vital consideration. Placement should only feature two-orientation (maximum) for the assembly machine to lessen the time spent on attaching components onto a board. Improper documentation of the BOM (Bill of Materials) can also result in extra cost due to misinterpretation.
For example, most components on a PCB assembly are fitted to the top side of the board. But there are cases where some parts get mounted to the bottom side. If BOM does not state the side a component goes to, the simple error could make an element to be attached to a wrong side. This act could result in additional costs of reworking.
Reliance on a PCB assembler could also cut down the cost of productions as the production of PCBs will be priced for large-scale production. But then, if you are limited to individual supply, it is best to have multiple component sources. With various sources, one gets better cost leverage and availability.
In regards to the components used, the unique components count is significant because it directly influences the overall cost. The more unique components you have, the more the value. The individual components count is the number of BOM line items.
For example, a PCBA service for 50 quantities with about 30 unique parts should cost around $295. Reducing those individual components to 20 components count will cost about $248 (a reduction of about $47).
WellPCB is a PCB manufacturer that offers PCBA services on sight. That seamlessly integrates these two functions and keeps responsibility for the quality of the product upon a single supplier. In the next chapter, we will further discuss how to reduce costs through the assembly process.
6、How WellPCB does reduce the PCB and Assembly Cost to a reasonable consumer price.
In the previous chapters, we highlighted ways that can help you to reduce the cost of printed circuit manufacturing during assembly. Often, a reputable manufacturer can help you to incorporate some reduction techniques during the manufacturing process that will lower consumer prices. As WELLPCB, we take pride in such acts to our clients.
WellPCB reduces production cost by manufacturing and delivering directly from our factory. In so doing, we cut out any middlemen like agents or distribution agencies. This nature of operation cuts on lead time for our customers’ orders.
WellPCB also offers a general low-cost PCB fabrication for prototypes when compared to other competing PCB manufacturers and assembly accompanies. Thanks to our improved pass rate and efficiency in making PCBs, we can cut on the cost of both small and large quantity orders.
Tools like a cost estimator are available on the WellPCB website to give our prospective customers a clear picture of the cost implication of their PCB projects. A client can also know what options are enabled or disabled to save him/her from an unnecessary expense.
7、Finding a reliable PCB Supplier
As a beginner, finding a PCB manufacturer is hard; finding a reliable one is even harder. From experience, finding a reliable supplier would involve careful internet research of PCB manufacturers.
It might also involve attending electronics trade shows, traveling to China, among other such acts.
After finding a viable PCB supplier, checking their reliability might involve finding out their reviews. It is an act of digging a little deep to see the content they publish and asking for factory images.
As WellPCB, we have consistently strived to remain as a trusted PCB and PCBA supplier that you can work with and trust for your manufacturing works.
When considering the tips highlighted, it is also good to take note of the device quality. Sacrificing quality over cost might be expensive in the long run due to returns from your consumers. It is advisable to strike a balance between both factors.
In summary, saving cost in PCB manufacturing and Assembly is easy with this simple rule – if it’s not needed don’t add it.
If you have questions on any of these methods (in case you need engineering help to make sure your PCBs better priced), don’t scratch your head too much; reach out to WELLPCB. We will guide you through and ensure your project succeeds. Get started by creating your low-cost PCB and PCBA today.
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