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Choosing a new PCB assembler

Many electronics businesses realise how beneficial it can be to use a third-party company for producing its electronics assemblies, both as a means of saving money and improving the quality of their finished products, or where they just don't have the necessary equipment to produce the boards. Even though there are many such contract manufacturing services, though, it's important that you are aware of what to look for before partnering with another company.

Here are some of our thoughts on what considerations you might need to be aware of :

Location - some businesses make the mistake of looking overseas when looking for a contract manufacturing company. In many cases, offshore companies will charge less money for electronic board assembly services, but there's a reason for that. Offshore companies don't always adhere to the same safety and labour standards that we value in the UK. Counterfeit parts may be utilised to shave off costs and cut corners. This could compromise the quality or reliability of your boards

In terms of UK suppliers, these days, next day delivery is easy, so you might want to look further afield than the assembler next door. There are advantages for having a factory nearby, allowing your design engineers the ability to visit to solve issues or for you to pick up boards the same day. But with a bit of time and effort, you migh

t find an ideal manufacturing partner a little further afield. With video calls and 24 hour deliveries, maybe you don't need to look so close to home.

Price - don't just look at the supplier offering the best price - maybe there is a reason it’s so low. Ultimately as in life, you get what you pay for. Poor quality and support can cost you in the long run. Find a supplier willing to work with you and who can output high quality each time. Sometimes its those extra details that matter, does the more expensive supplier go the extra mile when quoting or provides more comprehensive feedback on BoM or build issues.

Experience - how long have they been in business, are they well established. Do they have knowledge of the products you make, or similar customers to yourself? Do they have they experience with the market sector or application you are involved with.

Equipment & Processes - take the time to look into how the contract manufacturers processes work, how they take a product from Goods In to

Goods Out. Do they have all the necessary checks in place? Do they provide traceability, not just at component level but through their assembly processes? Is their equipment suitable for the work you are looking at. This can often be a tricky one for someone to know, a pick and place machine looks like another. And don’t be blinded by the supplier’s statement of how many components they can place per hour. It means nothing if the boards take 1 hour to build, then spend 3 days in manual. It’s how efficient are their processes and do they achieve the lead times you require, CPH means nothing unless you are making mobile phones and every second counts.

Fit & Culture - an odd thing to say, but do you get on with the people at the assembler, can you work with them. Do you feel they will support you as you need? Ultimately - are they nice people to work with?

Scope - is the PCB assembly able to support you fully through your project lifetime, including at the concept stage. Are they able to support you with design services, prototyping all the way to production? Or do you ne

ed to deal with multiple suppliers across different stages of your project, this can impact on your time, especially if you are a small enterprise, managing multiple suppliers can be time consuming, so often the easy solution is to stick with one factory to do it all, but lose the flexibility or best cost.

Capacity & Flexibility - are they able to support the volumes you are looking for, not necessarily now but in the future. Do their future plans align with your expectations of your own projects? Will they help with prototypes in an efficient manner, or do they have a defined production schedule and you have to fit around the way they work. When you need help, will they be supportive.

Test and Box Build - do they have inhouse test or box build capability. Are they able to help you create test programs and test your boards in house? Do they have the capability to put it all together for you, and manage your ongoing supply? Do they have experienced test personnel to support you.

Reviews & References - Don't be afraid to ask for a review or customer reference. Obviously, the assembler isn't going to give you a reference for someone they have previously let down, but getting an idea of the types of companies t

hey are building for will give you some assurances of their work and where your business might fit in.

Standards - Most companies are ISO9001 these days, but ensure their certification is current. And if you are planning to need other standards in your project, ensure your supplier can support these ( ATEX, ISO13485, AS9120, TS16949 etc ), Don't assume just because they say they are planning to get it, they ever will. Are their operators trained to IPC standards, do they have in house trainers? Can they work to both IPC Class 2 and 3?

Bandwidth / Knowledge - and finally, do you have the experience or time to manage the suppliers you have identified. Are you comfortable being able to audit the factory, and understand what they are telling you? And do you have the

time to manage your own internal project as well as look after one or multiple contractors?

Hopefully this gives you some useful guidance or food for thought when looking for a new PCB assembler.

Nano Electronic Services is here to help and has already gone through these areas and has a virtual factory of 6 fully audited and checked contract manufacturing partners, giving us access to 10 surface mount lines and a range of service solutions, from rapid prototyping, design, and layout through to full box build.

If this was of interest, or to discuss PCB assembly requirements, please contact Nano Electronic Services on 01388 247152 or email

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