Printed circuit boards have a huge range of quality, reliability, complexity, and price points. A circuit board typically costs from 50 cents to $300 dollars to produce, depending on your needs. The price to produce a circuit board has many different factors, and may depend on the number layers, complexity, quantity and components included on the board. A typical example of a pricey circuit board is a 32-layer printed circuit board. 32-layer printed circuit boards are extremely complex and typically cost hundreds of dollars to produce.
Factors that determine PCB cost:
Printed circuit boards are assembled in one of three ways: surface mount assembly (SMA), through-hole assembly, or a combination of both. Printed circuit boards assembled with surface mount assembly are less expensive and faster to manufacture than those assembled with through-hole soldering. This is because through-hole assembly requires drilling the bare circuit board, and may require hand soldering. People often choose through-hole assembly because it creates a stronger physical connection to components. An assembly that mixes surface mount and through-hole PCB Assembly Processes usually uses through-hole soldering for important connectors, capacitors, and transformers that may need a more durable connection.
Placement of Components
The placement of your components can increase your printed circuit board costs. You may be able to reduce your printed circuit board cost by reevaluating the location of the components in your design.
Total Number of Components (SMD and DIP)
The total number of components in your printed circuit board design will also have a direct impact on the manufacturing costs. By ensuring your printed circuit board design is as efficient as possible, you will be able to minimize your PCB costs.
Package Size of Components
Using package sizes for your components that comply with industry standards will keep your costs as low as possible.
Components Packages and Processes Required
Each type of components package must be attached to the board through a specific process. If you buy circuit boards that contains complicated, delicate, or a large number of components packages, your costs and manufacturing costs will increase significantly.
Quantity and Batch Size
The overall quantity of printed circuit boards you order, as well as the batch size you request both have an impact on your overall costs. Ordering a larger quantity of printed circuit boards is a common sense way to decrease your costs, but costs varying due to batch size is often overlooked. While many companies are choosing to produce their printed circuit boards in smaller batch sizes, you should consult with your printed circuit board manufacturer to see what batch size will best balance productivity with quality and turnaround.
Special Part Preparation Requirements
If you have parts that require special preparation or processing, such as a unique lead length, minimum or maximum height, or odd spacing, your costs will increase. If you can redesign your printed circuit board to use standard components and processing requirements, you will save on manufacturing costs.
Total Cost of BOM
Your bill of materials (BOM) is a great place to see what may be costing you more money than necessary. The bill of materials allows you to see components that may be able to be replaced with a less expensive option.
Bare Board (PCB) Layers and Material
Your bare board can save you money if you are able to choose a less expensive material or thinner board for your application. Both the thickness of the board and the amount of layers matter when determining costs. There are a variety of choices for material as well; make sure you are choosing the most cost effective option that will still perform well for your application.
If your printed circuit boards require a coating, there are several options available, and you may be able to select one that is less expensive. Take into consideration whether you will need the boards to be reworked or repaired, as well as the batch size when choosing your coating material and application.
Potting is necessary for some applications where the printed circuit board will be exposed to a significant amount of vibration, moisture, or humidity. If you have printed circuit boards that require potting, depending on the application you may be able to consider a coating for a lower cost option.
If your quality control tests require checking many different components, this can also increase your costs. You may be able to choose from different options, depending on the type of circuit you are building. Consult with your printed circuit board manufacturer for the best testing options.
Shipping and Delivery
Shipping your printed circuit boards may add a large amount to your costs. Just like with the manufacturing process, the more you order at one time will cut down on shipping and delivery costs per unit.
Materials Used in Printed Circuit Boards
The materials used in printed circuit boards directly impact the circuit board’s overall cost, so it’s important to understand the purpose each one serves.
The most commonly used base material used in most printed circuit boards is typically fiberglass called FR4. This gives your printed circuit board both rigidity and thickness. You can choose several types of FR4 with different qualities, and the thickness can be increased to allow for flexibility.
Copper foil is attached to the board in varying thicknesses. Most printed circuit boards have a copper thickness of one ounce of copper per square foot. Some boards require thicker layers of copper, but generally, you will want to choose the thinnest layer that will allow your circuit board to perform reliably.
The soldering mask is typically green, but may be any color. The soldering mask is overlaid on top of the copper layer and acts as an insulator. It is needed to make sure the copper traces are insulated from contact with other metal, solder, or conductive material. There are four main types of soldering masks; if you are unsure which type of soldering mask is best for your application, consult with your printed circuit board manufacturer.
The silkscreen is the white layer that is applied to the solder mask layer. The silkscreen layer adds customized letters, numbers and symbols to each printed circuit board. A well-designed silkscreen layer will allow the printed circuit board to be both easier to assemble, and easier to understand once the circuit boards are manufactured.
How to Reduce PCB cost and save money on printed circuit boards
The best way to begin the process in lowering printed circuit board cost is to understand how your printed circuit boards are designed. The most important factors in determining PCB costs include surface type, size and shape, and the amount of layers needed.
You should consider if you can redesign your printed circuit board if it includes complex shape, an unnecessarily large board, or if it is so complex it requires specialty equipment. By keeping your shapes and board sizes standard for your manufacturer, you will significantly decrease costs. The complexity of your printed circuit board doesn’t just mean the amount of components; look for specialty cuts, slots, holes, or rings that may be able to be eliminated.
Material selection is an essential part of the pcb manufacturing process that can determine board performance and durability, as well as the scope of application. Packaging also plays a role in decreasing cost, and can vary depending on the components it uses. Some electronic components or equipment require more time and effort to properly package. Therefore, components may require more or less assembly and labor resources, which has a direct impact on cost.
Creating a comprehensive bill of materials (BOM) allows you to see a list of all the components used to manufacture the printed circuit board, which helps you determine if any materials can be changed in the future to reduce costs. A good bill of materials should include replacement parts for each component, and will show you at a glance where costs can be saved.
Manufacturing in large quantities results in lower assembly costs due to economies of scale. In other words, when products are manufactured at a larger scale, the price of each unit drops printed circuit board cost significantly. This option may not apply to people needing a printed circuit board for a product prototype or personal project, but comes into play when reducing costs in mass production.
Testing & Quality Control
To avoid diminishing costs, you must always test and inspect printed circuit boards to minimize or reduce the number of printed circuit boards that make their way to the end consumer. If your testing is not consistent you may experience reduced profits due to refunds and a loss of consumer trust. Quality control and testing will minimize long-term risk for you and your company. There are several different ways to test your printed circuit boards, and the cost of testing will vary depending upon the complexity and application of your printed circuit boards.