Controlling the cost of your PCBs requires rigorous initial board design, strict forwarding of your specifications to suppliers and rigour in the relationship you have with them.
To help you out, we’ve collected 8 tips from Proto-electronics technicians, our customers and suppliers which you can use to reduce needless costs when producing your PCBs.
1. Think volume and consult manufacturers
Dialogue with your suppliers, even before the technical end engineering design phase, allows you to start the discussion and become aware of your project’s production related challenges.
From the outset, consider your volumes by gathering as much information you can from your suppliers: material specificities, track technical specifications, or board tolerances. The wrong choice can lead to a considerable amount of wasted time and generate unnecessary costs which in fact are determined as early as the design phase. So take time to discuss and assess the advantages and disadvantages of all the solutions available to you.
2. Reduce your board complexity to a minimum
This is probably the simplest method to reduce PCB costs: simple design to optimise board component layout. You can reduce costs by not using any complex forms and minimising size, but be careful, in that case remember to leave enough space between each element.
Complex forms, even more so if they are irregular, increase costs. It’s best to avoid internal PCB cuts except when necessary for the final assembly. Manufacturers invoice a supplement for all additional cuts. Many engineers like an original look, but in the real world this difference has no impact on public image and doesn’t add anything to the features.
3. Define the correct size and thickness
Board format has a high impact on the wiring process: if the PCB is small and complex, more time and effort will be needed for the assembler to complete it. Highly compact sizes will always be expensive. So it’s always a good thing to save space, we recommend not reducing it more than necessary to avoid multiple operations on the same board.
Once again, remember that complex forms have an impact on the price: a square or rectangular PCB will allow you to keep control.
The more you increase PCB thickness, the higher the manufacturing costs...in theory anyway! The number of layers you select has an influence on the board vias (types and diameters). Your overall board costs can be reduced if the board is thinner, but may require more holes and some machines can sometimes not be used with thinner PCBs. What will help you make savings is to discuss it with your supplier early on!
4. Correctly size holes and rings
Large diameter pads and holes are the easiest to create because they don’t require highly accurate machines. On the other hand, smaller ones require much more delicate control: they take longer to make and the machinery is more expensive, which considerably increases your PCB production costs.
5. Communicate data as clearly as possible
Engineers or buyers who order their PCBs must be able to forward their request as clearly as possible, with complete documentation (Gerber files including all the layers, impedance checking data, specific stackup, etc.): in that way suppliers have no need to interpret and time consuming and costly corrective actions will be avoided.
When information is missing, suppliers need to be able to contact their customers, wasting precious time that could have been used on other projects.
Finally, clear documentation makes it possible to identify possible failures to avoid breakdowns and the resulting customer-supplier tensions.
6. Optimise panelling
The optimum distribution of circuits on a panel also plays a key role: every millimetre of used surface area generates costs, therefore it’s better not to leave too much space between the different circuits. Remember that some components can overlap and require additional space. If panelling is too tight it sometimes requires manual soldering resulting in considerable price increases.
7. Choose the right type of via
Penetrating vias are cheaper, whereas blind or embedded holes generate extra costs. These are only needed on complex, high density or high frequency boards.
The number of vias and their type have an impact on production costs. Multilayer boards usually require smaller diameter holes.
8. Rethink your buying habits
Once you’ve mastered all your costs, you can also review your purchase frequencies and quantities. By grouping orders you can save considerable amounts. For example, if you buy a hundred circuits twenty times a year, you can decide to change the frequency by only ordering five times a year.
Be careful not to store them for too long though because of the risk of obsolescence.
You now know how to optimise your PCB costs as much as possible. Be careful, because in some cases, making savings on printed circuit creation may not always be a good idea. Even if costs are reduced for initial production, they may be more expensive over the long run: you can never be sure you won’t have to replace boards more often... You will then also have to manage customer dissatisfaction and find a new solution later on to avoid these losses.
Whatever choices you make, in the end, the best solution to control costs is to always discuss things with your suppliers. They will be able to give you relevant and correct information to meet your requirements. They can help you anticipate the many challenges you may encounter and will save you precious time.