Questions to Ask a PCB Manufacturer Before Hiring Them
When you need something as critical as Printed Circuit Boards for your electronic product, the ability to ask the right questions can be a game changer. First things first, asking the relevant questions will help you find out the manufacturer’s capabilities and whether they suit your requirements. Areas such as quality, processes, certifications held can be assessed at this stage. Importantly, it will also lead to a healthy exchange of ideas. A professional PCB manufacturer will be armed with industry best practices that will ensure you do not have to reinvent the wheel.
Let us look at some critical questions to ask a PCB manufacturer that will help you build confidence that you will receive a quality product:
Questions to ask a PCB manufacturer
1. Which PCB files are required before starting assembly/fabrication?
While this may sound like a trivial question, it is anything but that. It is essential to be on the same page as the manufacturer to avoid communication errors. Ensuring that information is sent in a format that the manufacturer can read is a critical piece when it comes to manufacturing the final product.
2. Can you source all my materials for me?
This is a rather critical question as sourcing the components keeping lead times in mind, can make or break your project. With time-to-market being a critical piece when it comes to competitive advantage, this is a must-check piece. A professional manufacturer will also have ongoing relationships with component suppliers helping him achieve economies of scale. The right sourcing, therefore, will help you control costs & improve cost-efficiency.
3. Is there any refund policy?
It is best to check if the contract manufacturer has a refund policy & if so, what does it entail. That way you can be prepared for eventualities.
4. Can you work with my board specifications?
The technology that they use, their ability to review boards & product designs and more are all crucial elements in determining whether they will be the right partner in your project.
5. How do you test PCB?
Error detection is especially important, especially as the electronic device’s functioning depends on the PCB’s working. A robust discussion on the efficiency & effectiveness of the PCB therefore needs to focus on the quality control procedures adopted.
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6. How long will it take you to validate the BOM (Bill of Materials)?
This is a critical question as validating the BOM as also sourcing the components keeping lead times in mind, at the right cost, can make or break your project. With time-to-market being a critical piece when it comes to competitive advantage, this is a must-check piece.
7. What is the company’s manufacturing policy & what makes you unique?
An in-depth analysis will help you understand what their competencies are. You could be dealing with manufacturers that place a premium on quick deliveries & low costs. On the other hand some manufacturers may pride themselves on the fact that they undertake a through stakeholder analysis & hence can customize the product.
8. Can you explain your full PCB manufacturing process?
Process control is an especially important aspect of maintaining PCB quality. It will, therefore, be worthwhile to understand the detailed process & sub processes of manufacturing. These processes, must in turn, match the design specifications that you have- whether it is creating multilayered boards, drill vias or apply the required finish. If you need a PCB for an aerospace or medical application, for example, which is mission critical, you may also want to spend time discussing the specific board cleaning procedures.
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9. Does any part of their process take place offshore?
This is an oft missed but important question. You may not be comfortable with an offshore process as that could have quality implications. Also, it could have a bearing on the shipping costs as well as your timelines.
10. Is your quality management system (QMS) in compliance with ISO 9001?
Check compliance with proven quality management standards like ISO 9001 is imperative. If the manufacturer is in complaint with ISO 9001, you can rest assured that they follow a robust quality management system that is comprehensive and that includes but is not limited to operations, support, performance management & more. Additionally, you may also want to check for compliance with RoHS standards in the manufacturing process.
11. What kind of experience do they have when it comes to the circuit board technology required by you?
It is imperative that you map the contract manufacturer’s capabilities with your own bespoke requirements. While most contract manufacturers may be able to deliver a standard circuit board requirement, if you need a hybrid or flex PCB design or if your circuit board must operate under harsh environmental conditions, you need to make sure that the contract manufacturer can do justice to your requirements.
Similarly, if you want to have a prototype developed, you will want to make sure that the contract manufacturer deals with prototype quantities. You also want to know that they are agile to any changes required in the prototype. Going forward, when you want to get into a full production run, you want to make sure the contract manufacturer can handle that too.
Additionally, a fair idea of their facilities and equipment can give you the confidence you need to know that they will be able to handle your circuit board requirements.
12. What certifications do they carry?
If there is one thing you cannot sacrifice when it comes to custom printed circuit boards, it must be quality. Particularly in mission-critical operations, you cannot risk circuit board failure as you cannot afford to have any downtime. To have a fair idea of the contract manufacturer’s commitment to quality, it will be good to look for their certifications. You would want to find out if the contract manufacturer has ISO 9001 certification. Beyond this, you may want to look for specific certifications depending on your industry, whether it is medical equipment or industrial electronics. You would also like to find out if the contract manufacturer conducts regular training programs for its staff and if they keep their certifications up to date. These will be the much-needed confidence boosters for you before you hand over your project.
13. What engineering resources do they have?
Particularly when it comes to developing prototypes and new product introductions, engineering expertise is invaluable. The following expertise is a must-have, not just good-to-have:
- Component engineering
- Purchasing agents
- Design engineering
- Layout engineers to ensure adherence to design for manufacturing requirements
- Test engineering
- Documentation control
14. What kind of customer handling do they display?
It will be great to deep dive into the contract manufacturer’s process controls as well as their handling of problems and changes. The kind of communication protocols that they follow and how they keep the customer updated on progress are all issues that you need to be aware of at the outset, to avoid any rude shocks later.
15. What kind of company culture do they have?
Last but definitely not least, it is fairly important to determine if the contract manufacturer broadly has the same business values and ethics as you. With common value systems, it will be much easier to work together without any friction.
Points to Note While Choosing PCB Manufacturer
- Shipping time
- Their PCB technology and machine
To Sum Up
A professional PCB manufacturer can go a long way towards the success of your product. From making recommendations to the design team to ensuring prototype requests they can handle such requests deftly. It is incisive questioning that can determine whether they are equipped to handle all such issues.
With over 4 decades of experience, we provide fast and reliable PCB manufacturing services. Mer-Mar Electronics has become the go-to solution for all kinds of PCB assembly and manufacturing service and highly appreciated by various industry leaders for quick turnaround time, error-free, and consistent quality for small to large volume services in the USA. All the applications are carefully manufactured with specialized support, reliability testing and certified workmanship.