When companies are looking to outsource their Printed Circuit Board (PCB) assembly, especially offshore, they may fail to consider the importance of communication and oversight in these processes. Good PCB design and assembly requires a two-way street, with a partner who's listening to you and your business needs.
If those communications break down, or if your assembly source is so far away that oversight becomes impossible, the chances of something going wrong in the design increase dramatically.
So, we wanted to talk about common problems we hear about, when dealing with clients who've gotten burned thanks to poor communication. If any of these describe your manufacturing partner, it may be time to survey the field again.
Communications Problems To Avoid In Outsourced PCB Assembly
1 - Too many cooks in the kitchen.
The boom in electronics sub-contracting has, unsurprisingly, created a boom in sub-sub-contracting. It's all too common for a low-bidding manufacturer to be outsourcing most or all of their own services, and possibly without even telling you about it.
Granted, everyone has to source parts, but by and large, you should be able to survey and oversee their manufacturing facilities for yourself. If suddenly it turns out your equipment is being assembled in five different facilities, you're likely to never be able to guarantee QA on all of it.
2 - Poor Parts Tracking
Speaking of sourcing parts, are you certain your PCB assembly service is getting the real deal? It's extremely easy for "substitutions" to be made somewhere along the line, and suddenly your Intel processor turns out to be an "Imtel" instead.
We cannot recommend enough hiring a PCB service with supply lines that track each component through the production process. Seeing as this can be achieved with dirt-cheap RFID tags, or even plain QR Codes, it's not too much to ask. It's closer to a necessity.
3 - End-User Environmental Considerations
It's the "spherical horse" problem. Systems engineers are often operating in a vacuum, creating an optimal product for an optimal environment, without considering how it's actually going to be used. We've seen a lot of failed designs come to us for fixing, thanks to a lack of communication about the target users.
As a simple example: If your electronics are only rated down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and you're trying to sell to people in Minnesota, your product will start breaking as soon as their cruel winter hits. The same, of course, could be true for high temperatures, air pressure, humidity levels, or a variety of other local factors. (If you're making a product for children, is it designed to hold up to the abuse a child would put it through?)
The design and testing of your electronics must consider the real-world environments in which they'll be used, and this crucial bit of information is too-often lost in the back-and-forth of outsourced PCB assembly.
4 - Too Few Design Reviews
Sort of as a consequence of all of this, the design reviews of prototypes and test builds will usually suffer. When the parts supply is questionable, the manufacturing sub-sub-contracted, and the engineers are cut off, the result is that your product will never get proper and effective design / QA reviews.
And those, of course, are all-important since they determine whether you "pull the trigger" on a particular batch order. If the product isn't really ready, and goes into production anyway, market disasters will likely follow.
So, the cumulative result of working with a PCB assembler with robust communication lines is that you'll know for certain that you have the right product, for the right audience, with the right quality assurances.
Ready For Superior Solutions?
Don't look overseas for your PCB assembly! Domestic manufacturers are only slightly more expensive - only about 5% - and offer far more opportunities for oversight and communication.