Does Outsourcing PCB Assembly or Fabrication Impact Turnkey PCB Manufacturing Service Quality?

May 31, 2018 , in Blog

One of the hardest decisions to make in business is whether or not to delegate important tasks to others. After all, would another company bring the same amount of dedication and commitment to the table? Although this question may be hard to answer, perhaps a better one is: will your overall service improve by allowing an outside entity to perform tasks that fall outside of your area of expertise? If a service provider can answer “yes” to this question, then they may benefit from outsourcing. Although once frowned upon, outsourcing is no longer a “dirty” word in business. Actually, the smartest leaders and managers effectively leverage outsourcing to improve the quality of their products and services.

There can be many advantages to outsourcing a portion of your operations. For example, outsourcing can spare you from purchasing and maintaining expensive equipment and facilities. This is certainly true for PCB manufacturing. For companies that specialize in fabrication, it can be quite costly in terms of equipment, materials and expert personnel to also perform assembly. Therefore, most fabricators providing turnkey PCB manufacturing services choose to outsource assembly. Likewise, assemblers that provide turnkey PCB manufacturing services typically outsource fabrication to optimize operations while reducing costs. As a PCB designer, an important question is whether your product would benefit most from having your turnkey contract manufacturer (CM) outsource PCB assembly or fabrication. Let’s examine both possibilities to see if there is a clear option that best suits your product.

Is Outsourcing PCB Assembly Better?

For high volume circuit board production, there are turnkey PCB manufacturing companies that perform both fabrication and assembly in-house. However, for lower volumes and prototyping, this is usually not the case. At these manufacturing unit levels, most turnkey PCB manufacturing companies are either fabricators that outsource assembly or vice versa, with companies outsourcing assembly far outnumbering their counterparts.

There are many possible reasons for a CM to complete fabrication in-house and outsource PCB assembly. First, the equipment and expertise needed to perform fabrication are simpler and less varied; therefore, getting started in the industry is quicker and requires minimal facilities. Performing board assembly for a reasonable number of units is also more complicated and acquiring adequate expertise on the necessary equipment can be timely. Finally, there is no shortage of CMs that are well-qualified; therefore, partnering with an established assembler is often much easier than starting your own operation. The downside to outsourcing PCB assembly, however, is that the final manufactured board rests in the hands of an external PCB assembly company instead of the fabricator who is the responsible party as far as the PCB designer is concerned.

Is Outsourcing PCB Fabrication Better?

Although there are advantages for CMs to outsource PCB assembly, it may be preferable from the PCB designer’s perspective to designate the assembler as the responsible turnkey PCB manufacturing provider. This is because board assembly is far more involved and difficult to perform than fabrication. Assembly also requires more equipment, including a pick-and-place machine; selective solder machine; solder paste printer; reflow oven; manual solder station(s); rework station(s); and depanelizer, along with reliable computing equipment and software. Due to the need for experienced personnel, supplies, overhead and facilities, PCB assembly is more costly than fabrication. However, board assembly is more precise, which maximizes quality control and enables multiple inspections to be performed. Having the final product in the hands of the assembler, where the completed board can be thoroughly inspected by the ultimate responsible party, enhances opportunities to verify board quality, as shown in the table below:

Therefore, when deciding between turnkey CMs that outsource PCB assembly versus fabrication, it may be wise to consider the attributes of the in-house provider, as shown above, as they bear the ultimate responsibility for the final product.

You have the option of picking a turnkey PCB service provider that outsources both assembly and fabrication to other companies. In this case, your turnkey provider would assume the responsibility of delivering a quality product despite not directly participating in the manufacturing process or performing in-process inspections to verify quality. However, you are ultimately best served by a CM that can ensure that your boards will adhere to your quality standard and can perform in-process inspections.

Tempo‘s Custom PCB Manufacturing Service

  • Performs entire turnkey process in as fast as 3 days.
  • Emphasizes DFM to eliminate time-consuming back-and-forth design corrections.
  • Performs BOM verifications to reduce possibility of component obsolescence issues.
  • Sources components from the most reputable suppliers in the industry to reduce procurement time.
  • Performs multiple automated inspections during assembly to ensure PCB quality for prototyping.
  • Provides support throughout the PCB manufacturing process, beginning with design.
  • Smooth transition from prototyping to production.

Tempo Automation is an industry leader in turnkey PCB manufacturing. Our unique precision approach to PCB assembly is grounded in our usage of advanced equipment and robotics driven by custom software tools. We recognize the advantages of partnering with industry leaders in PCB fabrication and component sourcing. By outsourcing to companies that excel in board fabrication, we are able to leverage their expertise for our turnkey PCB manufacturing service. To ensure the highest quality, we perform QA prior to and after fabrication, as well as throughout our assembly process.

To help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. For more information on outsourcing PCB assembly and why it may not be the best option for your turnkey PCB manufacturing, contact us.

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