While printed circuit boards are continually getting less expensive, they can be a significant cost for any company creating a product with electronic components. Printed circuit board manufacturers who offer notably cheaper services often have similarly lower standards for the products they are producing. So, is it possible to cut costs on printed circuit boards without sacrificing quality? Yes! It’s not only possible; it’s fairly straightforward. While every project is different, reducing your costs on printed circuit boards nearly always begins with a simple design, using industry-standard sizes and practices, and increasing the quantity of circuit boards in your order.
Engineering that Values Simplicity
The design and engineering process is the first step to decreasing your costs. Don’t be tempted to minimize expenses at this stage by rushing to create your printed circuit board design. By spending the extra time to make sure your printed circuit board is properly engineered to keep costs as low as possible, as well as avoid defects and failures, later on, you are able to avoid expensive pitfalls that plague companies who don’t take the time to consider all of their options carefully. Some of the best ways to engineer a less expensive circuit board include:
It usually goes without saying that the fewer components your printed circuit board has, the less money it will cost to produce. However, during the design stage, it can be tempting to over-engineer your circuit boards. By minimizing components and keeping everything oriented at 90-degree angles (either vertical or horizontal), you are able to dramatically simplify the manufacturing process, which will, in turn, save you money. Keeping your components to a minimum also means that you can choose higher-quality materials without increasing costs, which leads to a lower rate of failure.
Likewise, drilling less holes results in less cost to you. However, there is usually a flat fee for drilling that only increases if you exceed a certain number of holes per area. Communicate with your printed circuit board manufacturer to find out their policies before you dramatically change your design.
Using Less Layers
Although this involves some pros and cons, if you are looking to cut costs, you can often reduce the amount of layers in your printed circuit boards. If you must use additional layers, try to design your circuit board so that it has an even number of layers, as an odd number of layers requires extra steps, which will increase costs.
While it may seem counterintuitive to add an additional layer to your design, an odd number of layers increases the work needed to manufacture your circuit board, as well as creating an increased risk of warping and twisting. If you cannot decrease from an odd number of layers, it is usually better to add on another layer than to leave it at an odd number.
Skipping Rounded Edges
Rounded edges have become more popular lately, but they are often an unnecessary add-on that raises the costs of your printed circuit boards. If the only reason you prefer rounded edges on your printed circuit boards is to avoid sharp edges or for aesthetic reasons, it’s probably a good idea to stick with standard shapes and save the extra cost.
While the ongoing trend has been to make printed circuit boards as small as possible, this can increase your production costs by a considerable amount, and you can typically use a slightly larger printed circuit board for the same task — in fact, you may notice that your circuit boards are performing better with a lower risk of bridging, shorts, and damage from electrostatic discharge. You also don’t want to make your circuit board larger and more complex than it needs to be, since overengineering can cause your price point to skyrocket.
Use Standard Sizes Over Custom Whenever Possible
Using standard sizes rather than custom sizes will significantly reduce your costs. What is standard may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so make sure you check with the manufacturer who will be producing your printed circuit boards.
If a printed circuit board manufacturer has to cut your boards to a custom size, try to ensure that it is both simple to cut out, and allows for the maximum number of circuit boards per panel. However, keep in mind there are also added costs for an excessive number of circuit boards per panel, which is another reason to make sure that your design team and printed circuit board manufacturer are in close communication.
Try to Use the Entire Panel Board
By utilizing all of the space on the entire panel board, you are able to cut down on costs considerably. Try to fit as many units as you can on a single panel board, particularly if you only have a single circuit board design.
Fitting multiple circuit board designs onto a single panel board has pros and cons, especially if there is a defect that is found after production begins. You will have to compare the benefits of faster production and saving money by using the entire panel board to the risk of having production issues with multiple circuit boards, should there be a problem with a single one.
Adjust Your Order
Clearly Communicate Your Needs Upfront
Sometimes, unforeseen issues mean design changes are required at the last minute, and that often comes with a high price tag. The earlier you are able to communicate your needs to the manufacturing team, the better. If your printed circuit board manufacturer is aware of your needs and application, they are able to notice design issues that may be problematic later on. You will also be able to itemize your costs up front and won’t have to deal with hidden fees or surprises.
Increase the Number of Units
As with most products, the more printed circuit boards you order, the lower the price becomes. Talk with your printed circuit board manufacturer about how many units you need to order to receive a price break.
You will also want to make sure you are able to keep your orders consistent or increasing so that you can maintain your profit margins and keep costs down. Try to anticipate your own production needs so that you can balance price breaks with your own supply and demand. For instance, if you place a bulk order because the PCB cost goes down, but you then have to store them for an extended period of time, it may negate any savings you would receive.
Avoid Rush Orders
Rush orders cost much more than an order placed in advance but also may lead to unexpected expenses if there are design or manufacturing issues. Rush orders also mean that you may have to pay more for components and other materials, as well as shipping if they are not available locally.
If you give yourself plenty of time, you will be able to find the best sources for materials and components. Finding multiple manufacturers to source materials from is also prudent when you are ordering a large number of circuit boards, so if there are any parts that need to be reordered, there will be less chance of a delay or problem that could cost you additional money. You don’t want to be faced with having to choose between subpar components or exorbitant shipping fees.
Use a Reputable Printed Circuit Board Manufacturer
If you are drawn to a printed circuit board manufacturer because they claim to be able to manufacture their circuit boards at unbelievable prices, be sure to get a quote for your exact design and needs since there are often hidden costs and fees that quickly snowball. When choosing a printed circuit board manufacturer, you should look into their manufacturing process to see if they’re taking precautions to prevent defects during production and what services they include with the cost of your order.
Maintaining ongoing relationships with a printed circuit board manufacturer and suppliers can save you a significant amount of money over time, as they will be able to anticipate your needs and may even offer you additional discounts and savings. Sticking with the same printed circuit board manufacturer also means that you won’t have to endure the stress and extra cost of starting from scratch with a new manufacturer. The extra time and money involved in switching from one manufacturer to the next might mean that choosing a reputable company is critical to the success of your project.
Although you may be tempted to assemble your printed circuit boards in-house, hiring a printed circuit board assembler can save you both time and money, especially if you are ordering a large quantity of circuit boards.
Ultimately, there is no secret formula when it comes to saving money when buying circuit boards since every project has different specifications and requirements. Typically, however, increasing your order, designing your circuit board with an emphasis on simplicity, and using standard sizes and techniques is a good place to start.