While printed circuit board (PCB) costs will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, you may be able to create an estimated price range by considering the scope of your project. There are several ways to develop a cost estimate; however, you should have some information readily available before attempting to get a quote or create an approximation.
Consider All Aspects of Your Design
The first thing to consider when creating an estimate of your printed circuit board costs is your design. Once you are able to determine approximately how much a single circuit board will cost to produce, you will have a much clearer idea of overall costs. It will also make it easier to determine the best ways to lower the costs associated with your project. In addition to materials and components, the manufacturing, assembly, and testing processes will also contribute to your costs. Packing and shipping is a consideration for your final price point, as well.
Do You Have a Bill of Materials (BOM)?
A bill of materials, commonly referred to as a BOM, is a list of everything your printed circuit board requires during the manufacturing process. Your bill of materials is often automatically generated by the software used to create your printed circuit board design and may offer a list of alternative components that you can use to save costs or if there is a distribution issue. Your bill of materials is essential when creating printed circuit boards.
Is Your PCB Single-Sided or Double-Sided?
If your printed circuit board design is double-sided, rather than a single-sided board, your manufacturing and production costs will increase. If your printed circuit board is double-sided, however, you are able to fit more components in a smaller space, so they are if you are creating a particularly complex circuit board with many components.
How Many Layers Does Your Printed Circuit Board Have?
It seems like common sense to say that more layers on your circuit board are going to be more expensive, which is true for the most part. However, if your printed circuit board has an odd number of layers (excluding one), it is often cheaper to add an additional layer. This is because to achieve an odd number of layers; it actually takes extra steps in the manufacturing process. If you have an odd number of layers in your printed circuit board and cannot reduce the layers, add one on.
What is Your Minimum Trace Width?
Your minimum trace width is the smallest distance possible between two conductors on your board. The smaller your minimum trace width, the higher your costs may be due to the higher complexity.
What is Your Minimum Hole Size?
Your minimum hole size is the smallest hole size on your circuit board. You will want to make all of your hole sizes standard per your printed circuit board manufacturer’s specifications. If your hole sizes are extremely small or not a standard size, you will have to discuss what it will cost with your printed circuit board manufacturer.
What is the Size of Your Printed Circuit Board?
The size of your printed circuit board will determine a significant portion of your costs. This is because the amount of copper in each board will change according to its size, as well as having the issue of only being able to fit a certain number of printed circuit boards per panel. If you are able to maximize the number of circuit boards that can be printed on a single panel, you will substantially decrease your costs. You may have the option of producing more than one type of circuit board on each panel to reduce waste, but this typically comes with an extra fee.
How Many Printed Circuit Boards Does Your Project Require?
Both the total amount of printed circuit boards you need to produce, as well as the batch size you want play a role in the overall cost of your project. Your printed circuit board manufacturer should be able to tell you what the numbers need to be for you to reach a price break. The more printed circuit boards you order, the lower the cost will be per board. Similarly, if you are only requesting small batches, you may see your costs go up.
Your lead time will also play a role in your costs; the faster a manufacturer has to produce your printed circuit boards, the higher your costs will be. If you are able to give ample time, you will avoid any rush fees.
What Materials are You Planning to Use?
The materials you are planning to use usually make up around half of the total cost of your printed circuit boards. The other half comes from the manufacturing, assembly, and testing processes. You should evaluate your material choices to see what the total cost will be of all the components to get a better idea of your overall costs.
While the vast majority of printed circuit boards are made with a basic base material called FR4. FR4 is sturdy, flame retardant, water-resistant, and inexpensive, making it an extremely popular choice. However, certain types of printed circuit boards may require other base materials for specific purposes or environments. For instance, if your printed circuit board will be exposed to extreme temperatures or if it will be operating at a high frequency, FR4 is not the best option. If you need an unusual base material, you will have to factor in the cost of the material, as well as any manufacturing processes that are considered specialized.
The exterior finish of your printed circuit boards is often a cost that goes overlooked during the design process. Every circuit board begins with exposed copper, which easily corrodes and oxidizes and is difficult to solder components to. There are several types of surface finishes, the most typical being hot air solder leveling (HASL). With hot air solder leveling, the entire circuit board is dipped in molten tin solder (with or without lead) before having the excess blown away with air. Sometimes nickel or gold may be used instead, usually, if the printed circuit board requires press fit pin insertion or plated through holes. The lowest cost option is hot air solder leveling, which also has excellent durability, and can be easily reworked later if necessary.
Thickness of Copper
Copper is an expensive material, and the thickness of the copper layer on your printed circuit board will have a direct impact on its cost. Make sure you have chosen the correct thickness needed for your application.
The components that you choose vary in price, not just by type, but by brand or manufacturer. You may be able to view an auto-populated list of possible replacement components and their costs, depending on the type of design software you used for your printed circuit boards.
Packing, Shipping, and Storage
Printed circuit boards are fragile pieces of equipment, so packing, shipping, and storage costs are going to be higher than other more durable goods. Printed circuit boards must be properly and carefully packed, handled with care so that they don’t experience drops and shocks, and they need to be stored in a climate-controlled facility with low humidity. New companies often overlook the costs of packing, shipping, and storage, which eats into their bottom line.
Do You Need Specialized Testing for Your Printed Circuit Boards?
Certain types of printed circuit boards require specialized testing, which can increase the end cost of your boards. If you need in-circuit testing (ICT), for instance, you will need to add the expense to your overall costs. Since some types of testing procedures are not only expensive but also take more time, such as in-circuit testing (sometimes referred to as “bed of nails” testing) and burn-in testing (which verifies load capacity), you may also need to factor in the added production time.
Use a Printed Circuit Board Cost Calculator
If you don’t have all of the information that you need to get a more accurate quote directly from a manufacturing company, another option is to use a printed circuit board cost calculator. You will be able to get a ballpark figure by inputting your board size, layers, materials, quantity, thickness, amount of copper, and more. Keep in mind that numbers from printed circuit board cost calculators are not always correct, so don’t use them as a hard-and-fast rule before speaking with your printed circuit board manufacturer.
Consult a Reputable Printed Circuit Board Manufacturer
The most accurate cost estimate is always going to come straight from the manufacturer. Be sure to do your own research on any manufacturing company you are considering in order to verify that they are reputable. Not only will you have a clear number as to what your printed circuit boards will cost, but they will also be able to tell you how many you will need to order to receive price breaks and if there are any cost-saving measures you may be able to take regarding your design.