How to Choose a PCB Assembly CompanyYour checklist for finding the right PCB assembly partner
How to Choose a
PCB Assembly Company
Your checklist for finding the right PCB assembly partner
From smartphones and smartwatches to home devices and even white goods, printed circuit boards (PCBs) are being used just about everywhere, with no signs of slowing down. As consumers demand more advanced devices, the global printed circuit board market is projected to grow by 4.12%, with a total valuation of $72.72 billion by 2025.
Such a high-growth industry provides OEMs with many suppliers to choose from, making the decision even more critical.
Quality circuit boards and circuit assemblies are the lifeblood of your devices, meaning PCB components can make or break your company’s success and reputation. And the sooner you and your design team can collaborate with your PCB board manufacturer, the better off your results will be.
There are many factors to consider when sourcing a partner for your printed circuit board assembly services.
Price Isn’t the Most Important Factor
Most OEMs may focus on the lowest cost for outsourced electronic board assembly. However, procurement decisions should extend beyond the cost of the PCB assembly itself to include:
Quality / reliability
Before we get into that, let’s begin with a quick overview of the two methods used in printed circuit board manufacturing. The printed circuit board is just a commodity without the PCB assembly process — it’s where the electronic components are added to complete the circuit and enable the device to perform as designed. This process is completed one of two ways (or using a combination of the two):
the most popular way to assemble printed circuit boards because the boards are smaller, lighter, and easier to produce. The surface-mount method is where the components are attached directly to the board with automated pick and place equipment.
another way to manufacture a PCB assembly is to drill holes on the board in the appropriate place and overlay the aligned electrical components, then solder them on the leads for a more durable assembly. Because this method is more time-consuming and labor- intensive, it’s also more expensive. However, using through-hole technology is the most durable option and recommended for high-current or extreme working conditions.
7 Steps to Finding the Perfect PCB Assembly Partner
Step 1: Understand Your Needs
The first step in finding the right PCB board manufacturer is to fully understand the specific needs of your project, including:
- PCB technology – do you need through-hole, surface-mount, or both?
- Size – not all suppliers can handle the specific board size you require.
- Timing – how quickly do you need your completed printed circuit board assemblies?
- Budget – what is your allocated budget?
- Regulatory requirements – what are the safety and compliance certifications needed for your industry and device?
- Quantity – how many do you need? Some manufacturers require a large minimum order quantity (MOQ), so know your ranges upfront.
- Additional support – do you need help with wire harnesses? Ray tracing?
- Finish level – do you need box build, turnkey assembly or labor-only services?
Outsourced electronic board assembly services typically take place in three ways:
Box build assembly services
also known as systems integration, a box build is an electromechanical assembly that incorporates all steps to build out the entire box. By having one vendor handle the build of the individual components, boards, and wires, you can streamline the supply chain and make your life easier, too. The finished PCBA can be delivered within an enclosure.
Turnkey PCB assembly services
your supplier manages the PCB assembly process from A to Z — procuring parts, manufacturing the PCB, assembly, testing, prototyping, all the way through to delivering a final product to your door that’s ready to use. This option offers OEMs a one-stop-shop.
you provide the raw materials to the supplier who handles all of the assembly. In some situations, you will want to control the materials, or already have contracts in place with suppliers. Labor-only PCB assembly manufacturing allows you to outsource assembly, keep costs down and free up production capacity. Not all PCB assembly manufacturers provide this service, so be sure to ask upfront.
Step 2: Conduct Research, Including Experience and Capabilities
Once you know what your needs are, conduct an online search to find 3-5 potential PCB assembly partners.
Then begin your “apples to apples” comparison, starting with experience and capabilities.
For every potential PCB assembly partner on your list, ask:
- Does the manufacturer have experience in your industry?
- How long has the company been in business?
- What other services does the company offer?
- Which type(s) of technology do they have experience in (surface-mount, through-hole, or both)?
- Which size boards do they work with?
- Does the PCB assembly partner have the right equipment to do the job? (mounting technology, board layers, board size, coating, washing, AOI, etc.)
- Does the supplier outsource the assembly?
Confirm each prospective company doesn’t outsource printed circuit board assemblies (PCBAs)! Outsourcing the printed circuit board itself (without all of the electronics) is completely fine, since the “brains” are what happen during the assembly part.
Step 3: Take a Close Look at Quality Assurance and Testing Methods
Product quality and regulatory compliance are the most important elements of the end product, so be sure your PCB assembly manufacturer has the right testing and control measures in place, including:
ISO9001 Quality Management System
UL certification is crucial for any electronic component to ensure the product has been tested for fire safety standards and obtained the appropriate UL94 flammability rating.
For PCBAs, your supplier should also have obtained certification for the UL796 standard, which applies to rigid printed wiring boards and flexible printed wiring boards used as components in devices or appliances. VCC’s UL certificate number is: E520330.
Depending on your target market, additional certifications may be required, such as REACH, RoHS and CE.
Step 4: Determine How Quickly Can You Receive Delivery
Getting your custom PCBA installed so you can go to market faster is a crucial element of success. Speed can be impacted in several ways, including:
- Complexity of the design – of course, the more complex the assembly, the longer it may take to produce. Note: not every supplier has the capabilities or equipment to handle highly complex projects. Be sure to ask the right questions about capabilities early on.
- Quantity needed – running small batches could help save time if you have a short timeline for partial delivery. Confirm that your supplier will accommodate smaller runs.
- Your supplier’s capabilities – Our in-house capabilities and state-of-the-art PCB manufacturing equipment allow us to perform custom PCB design services and delivery in as little as one month.
- Location & logistics – location of the facility is crucial, at it impacts:
- Shipping / delivery times – if products must arrive via ship, those delays must be accounted for. North American manufacturers deliver products faster via truck and don’t have the added risk of customs backlogs. Be sure to check your prospective partners’ history for on-time delivery, too.
- Communication – when the design and manufacturing teams are based in North America, there are no significant time zone delays when communicating for feedback and approvals.
Step 5: Make Sure Reviews and Customer Support Are Solid
Go beyond reading company websites to determine what real customers have experienced — from customer service to quality and support.
- See what other customers have to say – check out the company’s reviews on the website, social media, and other channels.
- Determine if there’s a single point of contact – having one person to reach out to with all communication can help streamline and avoid things getting lost in the shuffle.
- Ask to review project management processes – when it comes to PCB assembly services, the procurement process should be simple and transparent.
Step 6: Get Quotes and Finalize Your Comparisons
Once you’ve narrowed it down to your final list of potential PCB assembly manufacturers, request quotes for your project. Then compare how each prospect stacks up in all the areas that add up to successful PCB assembly:
Price per unit
Shipping (include any applicable tariffs)
Note: The size and scope of your order can dramatically impact the price. Make sure your manufacturer has the flexibility to deliver the right order size, whether you need a smaller batch, or thousands of PCB assemblies.
Step 7: Choose the Best PCB Manufacturer for the Job
Now that you’ve done the homework and compared the PCBA manufacturers on your shortlist, it’s time to select the right partner for your project. You should have a good idea of how the process will work and what’s required for kickoff and next steps.
For example, getting started with VCC looks like this:
Our design service process begins with understanding more about your lighting challenge. We will set up a meeting to understand your project, goals, and key objectives for your project.
As soon as we know your needs and understand how we can help you, we will provide you with a statement of work (SOW) for your review. The SOW will clearly state our deliverables for example:
■ Simulation/analysis of CAD model
■ Optimization of geometrical optics for light pipe
■ Optimization of LED quantity and location
■ PCB design
■ Run ray-trace study on light pipe
■ Initial design review
■ Approval of design concept / creation of Gerber files
■ Print SLA (rapid PCB prototype)
■ PCB prototyping
■ Approval of final design
From there, we will hold meetings with all project stakeholders and our optical engineering experts and we will begin our product development process together with you as the customer. With a focus on transparency, communication and collaboration, there’s little room for error from start to finish.
Ultimately, supplier quality determines the outcome for your printed circuit board assembly production. Choose wisely and you’ll save a lot of time, money and headaches. By comparing multiple providers and asking the right questions, you have a greater chance of selecting the ideal partner for your PCB needs.
VCC at a Glance
What to Expect When Working with a PCB Assembly Company
Collaborative Electronics Manufacturing Partner
We quickly uncover your exact needs by asking the right questions and thinking of everything up front.
- Box build services
- Labor-only PCB assembly manufacturing
- Turnkey PCB assembly services
- Surface-mount PCB assembly
- Through-hole PCB assembly
- Rapid PCB prototyping
- Leader in light pipe and indicator design
- 30,000+ square feet of manufacturing space
- 5,000 square feet of dedicated PCBA space
- Production runs 5 days/week in 3-4 shifts
- Light modeling
- Connector installation
- Cable crimping
- Final product assembly
- Manage UL certification process
- Supply chain optimization
Diverse PCBA Industry Experience
Reliable PCB Assembler
VCC has a 95% on-time delivery record
30,000+ customers worldwide for over 40 years
Streamlined Project Management
A single point of contact will guide you through our proven, tested and ISO-certified approach from start to completion.
Capabilities for Any Quantity
We can handle volumes of any size and quantity, and allow smaller runs
Speed without Compromise
Because we own the process, we can get a custom PCB assembly manufactured in as little as 4 weeks
Certified for Quality and Safety
PCB Electronic Assemblies Built in North America
With operations in California and Mexico, we provide:
- Tariff-free transactions as a USMCA-certified provider
- Shorter supply chains — no transoceanic travel
- Faster delivery times
- Less risk of disruption
- Reduced transportation and shipping costs
- Greater control and transparency
- Cost savings
- IP protection