The 5 Essential Questions to Ask a Contract Manufacturer

August 18, 2020 , in Blog

Aside from customer demand, creativity, ingenuity, and innovation drive every industry, and the PCB industry is no exception. However, even those who excel in creativity and thrive on solving complex problems (i.e. PCB designers) often find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to actually manufacturing their designs.

Although a single functioning prototype is a significant feat in itself, that does not guarantee that a product idea is ready for large-scale production. Luckily, that is where partnering with a contract manufacturer (CM) can facilitate the transition from a product idea or design to a production-ready product. Of course, choosing the right CM for your company’s specific needs can be a challenging undertaking. However, this process can be simplified by asking the right questions of your prospective CM to ensure a good fit on both ends.

Questions to ask a contract manufacturer

The Essential Questions to Ask a Prospective Contract Manufacturer

Before you begin searching for a CM, you need to have a firm understanding of the requirements of your design. Knowing your specific manufacturing needs will help you choose a partner that can best fulfill them. You can ascertain the requirements of your design by considering the following questions:

  • Is this a prototype or a production build of the board?
  • What is the PCB type or taxonomy to which the board must be designed, and what is its complexity?
  • What is the build volume for this board: low or high?
  • What are the certifications and industry requirements of the board in question?

Once these concerns have been addressed, you should be able to significantly narrow the focus of your search for an optimal contract manufacturing partner that supports your PCB development goals and yields the best boards possible. Now, you can ask more detailed questions to assess your CM’s specific capabilities related to five essential criteria:

  1. Quality Control
  2. Turnaround Time
  3. Design For Manufacturing
  4. AQL / Yield Rate
  5. Service Level or Type

By evaluating potential CM partners based on the following criteria, you can not only identify a partner to facilitate your PCB development goals but also optimize your design to fit your CM’s capabilities and tolerances.

1. Quality Control (IPC class)

Depending on your company's PCB requirements and the intended market for your product, you may need an Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) partner with a specific certification to meet industry regulations. For example, you might ask if they are REACH or RoHS compliant.

Industry regulations are in place for safety reasons, but being compliant can sometimes pose a problem for companies. However, the right partner can ensure that your board is manufactured to meet or exceed the requirements of the applicable standard(s).

Another concern that warrants a company's attention is the IPC classification. For example, if your product is classified as an IPC Class 2 or 3 electronics device, then be sure to ask if your CM is at least ISO 9001 certified. Also, if your product is a high-reliability electronic device (like aerospace, automotive, or medical equipment, for instance), it might be necessary that your CM be J-STD-001, ISO 13485, or AS9100D certified. Moreover, a UL508A certification is essential for the safety of industrial devices.

2. Turnaround Time

A product's turnaround time is critical to its overall success, regardless of the specific application. Turnaround time is directly linked to time-to-market, which can significantly affect your company's success. Therefore, it is important to understand your CM’s experience in manufacturing PCBs similar to your own.

Some good questions to ask your CM include:

  • What is the standard turnaround time for projects similar to yours?
  • Can they expedite manufacturing projects? If so, how?
  • Do they proactively communicate status updates?

Above all, the partnership you build with your CM must involve trust and open communication. Remember, time-to-market is critical, and a good relationship with your CM will help avoid delays that threaten your company's market advantage.

3. Design For Manufacturing

A PCB designer's goals focus on the accuracy and functionality of their designs. However, regardless of the quality of their designs, it must be manufacturable and scalable. Therefore, when a company meets with a potential CM, they must inquire about their expertise in Design for Manufacturing (DFM).

DFM is a vital discipline necessary to the success of your products. Because reviewing the PCB layout is a critical first step in the DFM process, since this allows an experienced engineer to pinpoint ways to simplify or improve your design. It also allows the CM to ascertain if the electronic components in your design necessitate special handling.

4. AQL/Yield Rate

Producing a tangible product is inadequate if the product quality is unacceptable. This is particularly true in the field of PCBs. Therefore, it is important to ask any prospective CM about their quality standards and PCB yield rates.

Acceptance Quality Level (AQL), or standard ISO 2859-1, is the quality level that is considered the worst tolerable level as an average over a period (time) covering a certain number of batches. In other words:

  • AQL signifies the highest number of defective parts, before the batch must be rejected.
  • AQL indicates the lowest acceptable quality level in a preset sample size or a specific population.

For example, an AQL of 0.60% means that there will be no more than 5 defective items in the entire order (850), on average, over multiple production runs.

5. Service Level or Type

Another essential question to ask your prospective CM concerns the type of service or level of service they provide, for example, turnkey. The PCB industry defines turnkey PCB manufacturing as when a single CM performs or is responsible for board fabrication, component acquisition, and assembly.

Turnkey PCB assembly is an ideal solution for companies with critical and highly-complex design projects that require fast turnaround times without sacrificing overall quality.

Tempo's Custom PCB Manufacturing Service
  • ISO-9001, IPC-600, and IPC-610 commitment to quality certifications.
  • Execute your full development cycle from proto to validation, NPI, and low volume production.
  • Accurate quote in less than a day.
  • Performs entire turnkey process in as fast as 4 days.
  • DFX support, including DFM, DFA, and DFT from Day 1 of design.
  • Sources components from the most reputable suppliers in the industry. to reduce procurement time.
  • Software-driven smart factory with monitoring and control throughout the manufacturing process.
  • Performs multiple automated inspections during PCB assembly to ensure PCB quality for prototyping.
  • Smooth transition from prototyping to production.

Tempo Automation’s exceptional turnkey services involve providing industry-leading turnaround times and optimizing the entire process from fabrication to component procurement and assembly. Our topmost goal is to provide you with accessible and responsive support from day 1 of design.

And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium Designer or Cadence Allegro user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software. For Mentor Pads or other design packages, we furnish DRC information in other CAD formats and Excel.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on what questions to ask a contract manufacturer before choosing one for your company, contact us.

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