PCB assembly cost drivers

What Are the Key PCB Assembly Cost Drivers for Your EMS Project?

What seems to elevate the blood pressure of many executives are the dreaded unknowns—especially costs that are difficult to quantify. For example, it is not a simple matter to compare or balance quality and celerity. Nevertheless, the ability to accurately relate value to various factors that drive costs can significantly improve your bottom line and ROI.

When building circuit boards and electronics systems, identifiable costs can inform your design selections for straightforward elements like raw materials and components. However, other factors that influence the final product are not as easily defined in terms of cost. By knowing the most important PCB assembly cost drivers, you can devise an effective strategy that optimizes the cost management of your board development.

The Primary PCB Assembly Cost Drivers

Decades of innovation in PCB assembly (PCBA) design and manufacturing have encouraged consumers and end-users to expect a more Ambient Intelligent environment where electronics enhance or improve our quality of life. This expectation has led to an expanding range of PCB applications requiring greater capabilities and increased performance from smaller and more complex board designs with advanced functionality. Leading manufacturing processes have embraced these changes and responded with the increased deployment of software-based technologies that employ robotics to improve the cost-effectiveness of the PCBA development process.

PCB assembly—during prototyping or production—is the most important stage of circuit board manufacturing because this is when design embodiment is validated. However, to adequately address PCB assembly cost factors, fabrication and component procurement stage factors that directly affect the assembly process must be included.

How Fabrication Impacts PCB Assembly Costs

  • Flex and rigid-flex boards may increase assembly costs
    • Flex boards tend to require stiffeners that increase assembly costs
    • Flex boards require additional lamination cycles that increase overall manufacturing costs
  • Additional fabrication factors increase overall manufacturing costs
    • Board size can increase costs
      • Large boards cost more because they require more material and tend to require larger panels
      • Very small boards may cost more as they tend to have higher layer counts
    • Choice of material
    • High number of layers can increase costs
    • Heavier copper traces increase costs
    • Number of drill holes can increase costs
    • Small drill to copper spacing increases costs
    • Via types can increase costs due to drill pair requirements
      • Drill pairs that require sequential lamination
        • Buried vias tend to increase costs
        • Stacked microvias increase costs
    • Soldermask color can increase cost
      • White tends to cost more than common colors like green, black, red, etc.

The factors listed above are not exhaustive; however, they clearly indicate how PCB assembly cost and overall manufacturing costs are influenced by board sizes and design complexity.

How Component Procurement Impacts PCB Assembly Costs

  • Component package type affects costs

Direct PCB Assembly Cost Drivers

  • Picking and placing THT components tend to increase assembly costs
  • Processes such as staking, underfilling and coating increase assembly costs
  • Specific cleaning—to meet minimal ionic contamination levels, for example—can increase assembly costs
  • Additional inspections and in-circuit tests (ICTs), such as flying probe, increase assembly costs

As shown above, fabrication and component procurement, as well as the assembly process itself, all possess PCB assembly cost drivers that affect the overall cost breakdown for your board development.

Understanding PCBA Complexity: Designing for Trouble Free Manufacturing

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How to Best Manage Costs for Your PCBA Development Process

When developing designs for new product introduction (NPI) that require custom PCBA manufacturing, your choice of CM partner will not only determine how well and how fast your boards are built, but also which factors in the process are driving the costs. The following guiding principles will aid you in optimizing cost management for your development process.

Guidelines for Effectively Managing PCB Assembly Cost Drivers

➔ Work with a CM whose standard QC and turnaround meets your requirements

Insist that your CM places as much emphasis on quality as you do and that they demonstrate it by the QC integrated into their manufacturing process.

➔ Do not overspec

You can lower the complexity of your board build by only specifying parameters are important or must be met precisely. For other choices, your CM is in a better position to make decisions that can lower costs, while not sacrificing quality.

➔ Do not try to design speed into the development process

There is a natural tendency when under deadline to attempt to rush the manufacturing process by design decisions. More often than not, this strategy will backfire and result in unacceptable board quality, which may even increase turnaround time due to the elevated risk for common failure modes.

Avoid adding unnecessary testing

Just as simulation can improve PCBA design, testing can help ensure your boards

satisfy physical or mechanical objectives. However, both of these add time to the development process, and testing may add substantial costs. Therefore, you should only perform necessary tests based on your board’s IPC classification and application.

Tempo’s Software-Driven Smart Factory Delivers the Industry’s Leading Custom Turnkey PCBA Manufacturing Services
  • Virtual PCBA Contract manufacturing.
  • Rapid, accurate quotes.
  • DFM support from Day 1 of design.
  • Digital Thread Processing with real-time monitoring.
  • Fastest turnaround times in the industry to maximize ROI.
  • QC certified Agile Manufacturing process to support risk management.
  • Standard and Advanced QC testing.
  • Worry-free supply chain continuity.
  • Specialization in rapid prototyping and low-volume production.
  • PCBA development optimization for complex critical system industries like Aerospace, Medical Devices, Automotive, and Industrial.

Tempo Automation leads the PCBA industry in manufacturing high-quality boards with the shortest turnaround time. By leveraging advanced technology and a software-based digital thread that maximizes transparency, we integrate QC concepts throughout the manufacturing process to achieve the best quality-speed balance.

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 how to best balance the key PCB assembly cost drivers for your board development, contact us.


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