5 Questions to Ask Before Throwing Money at Your First PCB Manufacturer

 

So you just completed your first PCB design? Congrats! But while you were off high-fiving your computer in a glorious moment of celebration, there must have been a tiny part of you wondering if it’s supposed to be that easy.

 

What about getting your board made? Oh, yeah…

 

The PCB manufacturing process can be another journey of its own. And when it comes to choosing between the hundreds of PCB manufacturers across the globe, it can be tough to know who to choose. So how exactly do you go about choosing your first PCB manufacturer without losing both your mind and your money?

 

First Things First, Some Guidelines

If there’s one guiding principle to live by when scouring the web for your first PCB manufacturer, it’s this – not all are created equal. There’s a ton of options out there, from inexpensive overseas manufacturers to the more costly domestic-based services. The truth is, there is no ‘best’ PCB manufacturer (AKA fab house), and it really just comes down to how much you’re willing to pay vs. your design specs.

 

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Not every manufacturer is created equal, including its machinery.

 

Before you go running off to swipe your credit card, consider asking your potential PCB manufacturer these 5 questions to see if they’re the right fit for you and your newly completed PCB design:

 

Question 1 – When am I going to get my board back?

The answer to this question comes down to that one ruling principle of life – how much money do you have? While some of the lower cost fab houses might advertise a quick turnaround, reality can turn out to be quite different, often taking several weeks just to build and ship your PCB.

 

In this instance, you really get what you pay for. Need your board delivered in 3-5 days? Then definitely plan to budget a little more money to make this happen. Here are some PCB manufacturers to check out that will get your board back within a decent time frame:

 

OSH Park – An excellent option for keeping costs low, OSH takes designs from a bunch of engineers, sticks them on one panel, and saves everyone money along the way. Their delivery timeframe is 12 days for a 2 layer board. Advanced Circuits – One of the biggest and well-known fab houses around in the US, these guys offer a 1-5 day delivery on boards with 1-10 layers. Euro Circuits – For those in Europe, Euro Circuits is another highly rated fab house that delivers within 2-7 days for 1-16 layer boards.

 

Question 2 – Can you source all of my materials for me?

You will want to save yourself a few hours of spreadsheet madness and avoid the hassles of managing a Bill of Materials (BOM) So check to see if your chosen PCB manufacturer has an in-house purchasing department that can handle all of the BOM busywork for you.

 

If you go this route, do expect to pay a little extra for the added luxury. But man, being able to hand off your BOM and let someone else

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