Printed circuit board assembly, ranging from prototyping to large-scale assembly, is often a complex process. It requires expertise and experience that spans numerous years. The complexity involved in the assembly of printed circuit boards requires high levels of precision to guarantee zero defects. Therefore, picking a suitable PCB assembly manufacturer becomes non-negotiable to ensure high-quality PCB assemblies.
The fact that plenty of PCB assembly companies exist all over the world makes the selection process difficult. Coupled with the realization that not all PCB assembly manufacturers are reliable and worthy of trust makes it even harder. You cannot afford any margin of error as an original electronic manufacturer (the same applying to an electronic contract manufacturer as well) when it comes to the assembly of electronic PCB products. Any slight error leads to losses (resources, time, etc.) which pushes up the assembly costs.
As RayMing PCB and Assembly, the experience amassed over the years has provided a better insight into what PCB assembly customers go through. Not once or twice have clients shared their terrible experiences picking a suitable PCB assembly company before meeting us. It often encompasses a miss-and-go or trial-and-error approach, especially when new to the industry. The advent of the internet and accessibility to technology has improved the situation. It is now easier to access and discriminate upon potential PCB assembly service providers.
But before getting into the selection process, understanding what PCB assembly houses do becomes pivotal. It not only gives valuable insights into what to look for based on your printed circuit board assembly needs but other valuable details as well.
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Important PCB Assembly Types Performed by Assembly Manufacturers
Printed circuit board assembly covers a wide range of activities. It includes prototype PCB assembly, flex PCB assembly, partial or full turnkey PCB assembly, PCBA testing, PCB box build assembly, low volume PCBA, etc. Different assembly companies will offer different services based on their capabilities and specialities. Understanding what these various PCB assembly services mean becomes pivotal in knowing if a company can suit your assembly needs. This section will focus on the various PCB assembly services offered by different PCB assembly manufacturers.
But before getting into the details on the various PCBA types, it is vital to know that printed circuit board assembly happens via one of two processes. It can either occur through surface-mount technology or through-hole manufacturing. Surface-mount technology is a predominant technology for the assembly of most printed circuit boards. The tech is instrumental in assembling small PCBs (a third the size of the through-hole circuit board and a tenth of the through-hole board’s weight. It is faster and characteristically cost-effective than through-hole technology. Additionally, it allows for a higher connection density.
Conversely, through-hole technology represents an older approach to printed circuit board assembly. It entails placing units in the drilled circuit board holes before soldering leads on the other end. Through-hole assembly ensures stronger bonds between the circuit board and the components, ultimately leading to more durability. Additionally, it is essential for products whose application entails considerable environmental and mechanical stress besides high voltages. However, it is more expensive and time-consuming compared to SMT.
Types of PCBA
Flex Circuit Assembly
It is markedly different from the typical rigid PCB assembly. It stems from the absence of rigidity in flexible printed circuits. While the assembly process of flex PCBs is essentially the same as that of rigid PCBs, some operations are different. It mainly arises due to distinct technical requirements. The process entails BOM preparation, baking, silkscreen printing, mounting, inspection, and reflow soldering. After that, optical inspection, electrical testing, punching, FQC, packaging, and storage ensue.
Some of the crucial considerations during the flexible PCB assembly process include the following.
- Flex circuits get deformed from issues of thinness and light weights besides incapability to get assembled directly on SMT like rigid printed circuit boards. Therefore, fixing flex PCBs on rigid carriers is vital to ensure a seamless surface mount technology process. Additionally, aspects like positioning accuracy, flatness, and board carrier consistency become important in flex PCB assembly.
- Low component density on flex PCB assembly due to the expensive nature of flexible PCBs needs consideration as it is instrumental for deployment in connecting modules.
- A large panel number gets utilized during the assembly of flexible PCBs to enhance efficiency. After the assembly, the panels get punched to get separated. The need for such panels arises due to the miniaturized nature of devices upon which flex PCBs apply besides the low component number needed (to get assembled).
- The large number of secondary fixtures involved in the assembly process of flexible PCBs also needs consideration. Such fixtures apply because of the FPC’s damage and deformation features.
- High-quality standards needed on FPC products due to their challenging operating environments require component adherence during the assembly process.
- The high cost of assembly also needs consideration.
Partial or Full Turnkey Assembly Services
PCB assembly can get classified into two main categories; partial turnkey assembly and full turnkey assembly services. Full turnkey assembly entails the whole process, including preparing PCBs, procurement of components, constant monitoring of quality, online tracking of orders, and the ultimate assembly. On the other hand, partial turnkey assembly entails the client providing the printed circuit board and specific components to the PCB assembly house. The PCB assembly manufacturer then offers the rest of the assembly services.
Both processes apply for both flex and rigid PCBA based on your printed circuit board assembly needs. However, in most instances, the assembly prices will differ depending on whether the assembly involves a full or partial turnkey assembly—other aspects like whether the process entails low volume PCB assembly or prototypes will influence the assembly price.
Turnkey printed a circuit board assembly is a fresh approach to PCB assembly that impacts onshore PCB assembly and manufacturing. It utilizes a cloud-based software program in generating emerging PCBs seamlessly. It is significant for manufacturers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and emerging or small enterprises. You only need to upload your PCB assembly design files to get instant quotes and get your PCB assembled or fabricated by the electronic contract manufacturer.
Low-Volume PCB Assembly
It is a PCB assembly that focuses on small PCB quantities, often ranging from 25 to about 5000 pieces. The assembly service comes with DFT (design for testability) and DFM (design for manufacturability). Different PCB assembly houses will have different approaches to low-volume PCB assembly. However, those who accompany it with DFM aim to avert various engineering issues that can hinder fabrication. DFM scrutinizes the engineering files like BOM, Gerber files, circuit diagrams, and assembly drawings. Further, DFM panels the PCB and scrutinizes the accuracy of components before getting ordered.
On the other hand, DFT facilitates your printed circuit board examination process by giving suggestions on points to test throughout the circuit board. It provides references regarding fixtures, probe types, and testing restrictions. As a result, it validates that the testing requirements, problem-solving instructions, problem detection mechanism, besides other references, prove well-designed.
It is a crucial quality assurance and control process of the PCB assembly process. PCBA testing determines how the final product performs post-deployment. It always includes the following tests.
- ICT tests. It primarily entails circuit continuity, current values, voltage, amplitude, noise, and fluctuation curves.
- FCT tests. It needs IC program-burning and simulate-tests the whole PCBA, especially on the functionality of the board. It also aims to discover software and hardware problems. FCT testing comes equipped with the required SMT processing tests racks and fixtures for production
- Ageing tests. It energizes the PCBA board for a protracted period as it constantly keeps the PCB in operation besides detecting any failures.
- Fatigue test. It aims to test the PCBA board for failures and the test-fail probability of the boards. It accomplishes this by taking samples and performing long-term and high-frequency operation tests. The test provides valuable feedback on the PCBA operational performance in the electronic device application.
- Environmental tests. It subjects the PCBA board to punishing or extreme environmental conditions. It can include excessive humidity, temperature, vibration, splashing, etc. The test often takes a random sample of the PCBA to provide an insight into the reliability of the whole PCBA batch.
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Factors to Consider when Picking a PCB Assembly Manufacturer
PCB assembly often comes after a comprehensive application of time and resources into your PCB project, including design and fabrication. As a result, it is instrumental to ensure that the process proceeds seamlessly and the outcome justifies everything put into the entire process. If you are outsourcing the PCB assembly services, it is crucial to pick the ideal assembly partner.
In understanding your PCB assembly needs and the appropriate approach (whether through-hole or surface-mount technologies), you set the background for picking the right assembly partner. However, the many alternatives and the significance of selecting a suitable company can still make the process daunting. How then can you choose a top and suitable PCB assembly manufacturer for your assembly needs?
Sticking to an Appropriate Timeline
The allure of hastening the selection process of a PCB assembly house can prove too strong. It mainly happens when the need to keep the project moving or get your PCB product to the market quickly is overwhelming. While trying to maximize profit by doing all these (getting product to the market quickly) is alluring, rushing the process can prove fatal.
It is essential to take time to understand what a PCB assembly company offers first before committing your business to them. But it also does not mean allowing companies that are too slow with responses to hamper your progress. Whenever you need to reach out to a potential PCB assembly manufacturer countless times to get the information required, like a quote or updates, it may serve you better to look elsewhere.
Large companies have no significant problems with such delays, though the same may not apply to smaller companies or startups. The impact could be substantial and may result in huge losses. Therefore, pick a PCB assembly partner that will work with you in line with your timeline, provided they are reasonable.
Take your time in collecting information and vetting potential PCB assembly companies. It will help you decide on the right fit for your PCB assembly needs. Remember, no one-size-fits-all timeframe exists for PCB assembly, and picking the most suited PCB assembly company will set you on the right business path.
It is critical to work with an assembly partner possessing the matching experience to your printed circuit board project’ needs. Look for information relating to the following either by asking a company representative or checking their website.
- What type of experience does the PCB assembly partner have regarding working with other industries?
- What standard batch size does the company typically work with?
- Does the company offer other services besides PCB assembly?
- What type of PCB product has the company assembled, and what kinds of components or parts did the PCB projects have?
- Is the company experienced enough with through-hole, surface-mount, or both assembly approaches?
While a suitable assembly partner will always prove one that can match your PCB need, getting a partner with experience in all the assembly approaches can prove beneficial. Additionally, picking an assembly partner with experience working with a wide array of PCB unit types besides diverse sector applications is a plus. For instance, a company with experience and proficiency with through-hole and surface-mount technologies cannot compare with one specializing in a single assembly method. Additionally, suppose such a company has demonstrable experience with diverse PCBs such as PCB assembly for commercial equipment, electronic systems, telecom and medical industries, etc. In that case, it can suit your assembly needs better.
Therefore, it is prudent to ask fundamental questions about their activities, like how long they have worked in the sector. You need a company with considerable experience (with a fair amount of time in the business). It proves its capability and that it has the staff capable of delivering reliable and quality assembly service.
Anyone wants a PCB assembly manufacturer that can provide quality PCB assemblies. It is therefore pivotal to pick a partner that can guarantee quality. But judging the quality without the finished PCB product can become troublesome. Lucky for you, several methods exist that you can deploy to estimate the potential PCB quality. It could also help order a prototype with an unknown company to judge their quality before making mass assembly orders.
Equipment. The type of equipment a company uses in assembling their PCBs speaks a lot to the quality of their end products. If an assembly company deploys state-of-the-art machinery, its PCB assembly products are likely of high quality. It is an incredible parameter to deploy in evaluating the quality of their assembly service.
Certifications. Every company need to undergo autonomous reviews carried out by competent third parties to earn their respective certifications. It is a parameter that can offer you some comfort that you will end up with quality PCB assembly products. For instance, a certification like ISO 9001:2015 indicates the presence of a validated (QMS) quality management system.
Feedback from clients. Another excellent quality indicator encompasses the feedback the PCB assembly company has got. It requires you to dig deeper into some of their previous work to get some idea about the kind of quality to expect.
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Explore the Testing Options
It is prudent for a PCB assembly partner to offer testing services when undertaking your assembly project. Sufficient quality testing becomes critical to avert potential failures and their subsequent repercussions on money, reputation, and time. Therefore, ask about the testing alternatives available for your PCBA products before partnering with a PCB assembly manufacturer.
Look for PCBA companies with a broad testing approach or procedures besides company-wide quality assurance and control processes. The assembly partner should provide visual inspections besides more intricate testing options. It also helps if the company is open to partnering with you to develop a custom testing strategy.
Testing services offered by most PCBA companies entail AOI (automated optical inspection), in-circuit verifications, and component-level checks. Whenever the FDA registers a PCBA company to supply medical device testing solutions or possesses the ISO 9001 certification, you can always have confidence with their PCBA testing.
Enquire about Customer Care or Support
While the PCBA product quality and the technical capacity of the PCBA Company are essential, customer support equally matters. You want an assembly partner that will care for your needs by finding proper solutions, answer your questions promptly, besides fixing any arising problem.
It is possible to find the type and quality of customer service or care of PCBA companies by talking to their representatives. You then have to gauge their knowledge, helpfulness, and politeness, besides their promptness when responding. Additionally, you can get a better insight when you check for testimonials and reviews online. It can happen through third-party review websites or their own. It also helps because you can gauge their attitude through responses and their interaction with clients. Ask the assembly company reps about the type of customer care services they offer to clients. Will the company accept partnering in coming up with custom testing and assembly routines? For instance, if you encounter problems with your PCBA, how will they help? Is the company sufficiently flexible in dealing with and providing solutions within a specific timeline?
It is always essential to consider cost when picking a potential PCB assembly manufacturer. After all, you want the best value for the lowest possible price as it helps enhance your baseline in consistently offering quality PCB products to clients affordably. The cost of PCBA can vary based on the following.
Order size. The cost of large orders is always steeper than small orders, though you can capitalize on bulk pricing to save on every unit.
Requested services. The type of assembly service you request has an impact on the assembly price. For example, the cost of surface-mount and through-hole assembly technologies differ. If you need the company to assist you with designing or producing components, the prices will also shoot up.
Resources provided. It mostly happens with a partial turnkey assembly where you supply the assembly company with the concerned components. As a result, the company can forgo the need to buy them and thus lessen the assembly price. It is a cost-effective option most people take advantage of.
Shipping costs. The distance of the location of the PCBA company from you will influence the cost of transporting or shipping the PCBA products. The order size and frequency of back and forth movements of the PCBs will also influence the costs.
Advanced and absorbing PCB assembly projects will likely charge more when it comes to labour costs.
While necessary, costs should not solely account for your selection preferences. Sometimes, spending slightly more guarantees higher PCBA product quality.
Spot any Red Flags
Plenty of PCB assembly manufacturers exist, though not all prove a good fit for your assembly needs. Consequently, always watch out for red flags like unresponsiveness, long timelines, limited flexibility, and the absence of references, besides arbitrarily punitive costs.
Importance of Selecting a Top PCB Assembly Manufacturer
The benefits of picking a top and suitable PCB assembly supplier or PCB assembly manufacturer are undeniable. You not only get to experience quality customer care service but other vital advantages. For instance, you get guaranteed high-quality PCBA products as high-quality materials get used. Errors also get spotted early during the assembly process to reduce chances of mishaps later on upon deployment. It also guarantees a reduced time-to-market period besides reduced costs of manufacturing, which increases your competitive edge. What’s more? You also get to enjoy direct shipping of your PCBA products to your doorstep.
To enjoy the benefits of working with a suitable PCB assembly manufacturer, you have to recognize beforehand your expectations with the PCBA Company. Some of the aspects to expect includes project discussion, .providing the necessary resources, and staying in constant contact. Other elements you can anticipate can include receiving your PCBA product and customer support whenever you need some.
Identifying a suitable and top PCB assembly manufacturer is critical in ensuring a successful assembly of your printed circuit board products. It is important to have the diligence in checking out the available PCBA companies. So do not waste your incredible effort directed into designing and fabricating PCBs, only to get everything messed up by an incompetent PCBA partner.