It's little wonder than when a company is looking to get into electronics manufacturing, they usually look to hire a manufacturing facility rather than trying to build their own plant. The up-front costs of maintaining a production center are simply too high for most operations to consider, especially if it needs to be versatile enough to handle PCB prototype creation.
This is one area, however, where a business needs to proceed with caution. Once you choose a partner for your PCB assembly, you're putting a lot of trust -and responsibility- in their hands. It's easy for a business to choose manufacturing facilities based solely on low up-front prices, and all too often, costs they hadn't considered began creeping into the mix.
For example: Recent studies of the entire manufacturing process shows that going overseas is only five percent less expensive than staying domestic. That easily demonstrates just how many extra fees and costs involved in hiring PCB manufacturing.
Warning Signs Your Electronics Assembly Partner May Not Be A Great Deal
1 – Outright “Hidden” Fees
Before signing, it's vital to read the contract carefully. A lot of manufacturing centers like to nickle-and-dime their customers with a pile of fees for things such as file format conversion, or hand placement of parts. It may be reasonable to request these fees, depending on the circumstances, but a partner who isn't up-front about them may also be looking for other ways to skim.
Their sales representative should always be totally open and honest about ALL your costs in dealing with them.
2 – Security Guarantees
There is serious money in black market prototype designs, and there have been major problems over the years with contractors “accidentally” letting CAD files or other design documentation leak out to other partners. Occasionally a company has even found itself competing directly against knockoffs made from its own schematics.
Whoever you partner with should be offering full assurances, in writing, complete with penalties and restitution for non-compliance. Ideally, this is paired with an auditing system that you have access to.
The security of your IP should be one of your biggest concerns when dealing with a PCB assembly service. Don't simply assume they're secure; ask for hard proof.
3 – Inflexible Supply Lines
This is one of the biggest “gotchas” that too many businesses don't see coming. If your PCB prototyping is going to move into full production, are the supply lines feeding it going to be able to shift to meet your needs? 6- or 12-month contracts are common, but they cause a business to be heavily “locked in” to a single manufacturing plan.
A major market shift a few months down the road could leave a company behind the curve, and with months of work before they can retool their processes. So, your prototyper and other production contracts should either have leeway, or be with partners with flexible processes that can adapt quickly to change.
4 – Counterfeit Parts
If your PCB assembler doesn't have database-oriented parts tracking, you may be at risk of seeing counterfeit parts make their way into the supply chain. It's all too easy for a manufacturer without sufficient oversight to cut corners on components, or even for their own outsourcers to do the same to them.
Poor-quality parts can ruin a prototype. Worse, it leaves your designers in an impossible situation, where they cannot determine why the prototype failed. Your PCB manufacturing partner needs to be able to offer true assurances that your products will have nothing but genuine, guaranteed parts.