When printed circuit boards came on the scene, they were a technological breakthrough that quickly became a mass-manufactured product. Printed circuit boards can be found in almost every electronic device and have been essential to recent advances in technology. Professionally manufactured printed circuit boards used to be limited to standard designs; custom boards were only made for companies that needed large scale manufacturing.
Since prototypes of circuit boards are needed for new projects, engineers, makers, inventors, and students have been designing and building their own printed circuit boards for quite some time. However, now that it is easier than ever to create a single, customized printed circuit board designed to your own specifications, there are many reasons to hire a printed circuit board manufacturer rather than build your own printed circuit boards.
They Don’t Require an Upfront Investment
Whether you are trying to make a single printed circuit board for a prototype or produce a batch of printed circuit boards for a project, the upfront investment required can be substantial. The machines used to manufacture and test printed circuit boards are costly and require a large, dedicated space. In addition, some of the chemicals used in the printed circuit board manufacturing process can be dangerous to handle and require special protective gear, ventilation, and disposal.
Exposure to Harmful Chemicals
If you make your printed circuit board at home, during the etching process, you are exposing yourself to potentially harmful chemicals. These include chemical reagents that are known as carcinogens. You will also have to control toxic fumes from soldering, which are often ignored, despite the toxicity of certain types of flux being common knowledge.
Like any professionally manufactured product, printed circuit boards produced by a manufacturing company are typically more reliable than what you can make yourself. Printed circuit boards require a high level of precision and specialized chemicals, and the tools and systems available to a large company create a more accurate, dependable product than homemade versions.
When you make a printed circuit board at home, it’s easy to make mistakes. Attempting to etch a printed circuit board by hand, even with certain tricks or tools, is never going to turn out as perfect and consistent as it would with a machine. Similarly, a printed circuit board soldered by hand cannot replicate the consistency and accuracy that comes from automation.
Modern printed circuit boards often require drilling, which printed circuit board manufacturers are usually able to automate using machines. Hand drilling, on the other hand, can cause many issues that can quickly ruin the entire board, like cracking or inaccurate placement. This means that you would have to start all over again, creating a new printed circuit board from scratch. Similarly, the etching process may have inaccuracies that won’t be noticeable until the entire board is assembled. At that point, any time you may have saved by building your own printed circuit board is negligible.
Increased Product Life
Printed circuit boards produced by professional manufacturers are less prone to failure and tend to work reliably for a longer period of time. Homemade printed circuit boards often fail prematurely due to errors during the etching process, soldering issues that are caused by hand-soldering components, untested connections, and a myriad of other reasons.
They are Less Bulky
Printed circuit boards are getting smaller and smaller, which means that it is becoming increasingly difficult to create a similar level of quality at home without specialized tools and machines. Some components have connections that are so small; it is nearly impossible to correctly solder them to the board by hand.
A Professional Look for Your Prototype
Even if you are able to create a printed circuit board that is decently reliable and small enough for your needs, you can’t reproduce the look of a printed circuit board created by a professional manufacturer. If you are producing a prototype that you are going to present to a client, small touches like a professionally manufactured printed circuit board make your product look polished.
Lower Electronic Noise
A properly designed printed circuit board produced by a professional manufacturer will usually have noticeably lower electronic noise than a homemade circuit board, even if it is also a printed circuit board. While this isn’t always an important factor, if your printed circuit board is operating in MHz frequencies or higher, it can affect the performance of your circuit board.
Surface-mount components have become an essential part of most modern printed circuit boards, but they are very difficult to mount onto a printed circuit board. Surface-mount components require extremely small amounts of solder that are almost impossible to accurately place without the help of a specialized machine. There are workarounds that some hobbyists use, but those come with the increased risk of damaging components or even the entire board. Surface-mount components are getting smaller every year, making them even more difficult to mount by hand as time goes on.
They are Affordable
The cost of a single custom printed circuit board used to be much higher than it is now. Printed circuit board manufacturers typically used to have minimum orders, which left many groups, like hobbyists, makers, inventors, students, and engineers, with no other option than to build their own circuit boards. When single boards and small batches were able to be ordered, oftentimes, the price was increased so much for small runs that the economic decision was to learn to build printed circuit boards yourself.
Times have changed, however, and it is easier than ever to order a single custom printed circuit board without your project’s budget taking a hit. Printed circuit board manufacturers have opened their doors to people who need only a small number of circuit boards, allowing them to take their projects to the next level.
It Saves You Time
The time it takes you to create a printed circuit board could be spent working on your project, instead. With new advances in the industry, turnaround time on custom printed circuit boards has decreased significantly. You may be able to put a rush on your order and have it in your hands just a day or two later. Why spend your valuable time building a printed circuit board when you could send a file to a manufacturer and take that extra time to continue making progress on your project? Taking time away from your project to build the printed circuit board(s) usually ends up costing you money by adding time to the overall project.
If your project needs scalability, starting at a printed circuit board manufacturer with your prototype allows you to get feedback and knowledge from the manufacturer. You also have the opportunity to scale up quickly since professionally printed circuit board manufacturers have the space and equipment necessary to be able to take you from prototype to product line.
Just like being able to quickly scale up your project, professionally printed circuit board manufacturers are also able to customize your printed circuit boards in ways that you cannot reproduce at home. This includes placing components much closer together, creating a smaller circuit board, changing the thickness of the board, and using manufacturing processes that require specialized equipment.
Printed Circuit Board Testing
Professionally printed circuit board manufacturers have testing equipment that allows them to reduce the number of damaged or non-working boards they produce, as well as pinpoint possible design flaws in the finished product. Printed circuit board testing is something that cannot always be done in a home environment. This includes testing that utilizes X-Ray machines or automated cameras and PCB Assembly Testing.
Printed Circuit Board Manufacturers Have Valuable Experience
A dedicated printed circuit board manufacturing company is able to keep up with the latest innovations in the industry and will have not just a dedicated space to print and assemble your circuit boards but also a team of people who are able to bring a high level of expertise to every step of the process, that can only come with years of experience in the industry. They may be able to spot issues with your design that you could have missed and may even help you come up with solutions if there’s something you need to fix.
If you need a single custom printed circuit board, or if you are considering making a small run of circuit boards for a project or production model, you should first get a quote or pcb cost estimator from a reputable printed circuit board manufacturer. It is typically not worth the time, money, or hassle to build your own printed circuit boards now that buying circuit boards are so accessible and affordable. You know you will be creating an inferior product without many added benefits. Professionally manufactured, custom printed circuit boards have become accessible to everyone, making new technology and creative projects possible.