9 Key Things to Look at When Choosing a PCB Fabricator
Often times it’s easy to decide whether you want to outsource your PCB fabrication or do it by yourself (And we’ve already examined some of the advantages of outsourcing that step). What IS tough though with a plethora of manufacturers out there, is selecting the best one for the job.
Whether you’re a professional engineer, a start-up or a hobbyist in the maker community, here are 9 things to consider when picking an external fabricator.
#1. The two exp’s: expertise and experience
These don’t guarantee quality, but they can be an indicator of knowledge. If something is wrong with the Gerber file or there’s a hardware/software issue, the amount of technical support they can provide will come in handy in terms of receiving working prototypes in a timely manner.
#2. MOQ or, the minimum order quantity
MOQ might be an important factor to consider if you are creating as a hobbyist and don’t need many PCBs to test or validate the market. Luckily, many manufacturers offer low MOQ amounts, so you can order only what you need and avoid feeling a pinch in your wallet.
#3. The price is right
With many Fabricators competing in the market, prices have steadily gone down in the market and now affordable prices are a must for manufacturers. Of course, the most economical price doesn’t always mean the best option or guarantee quality. Sometimes an economical price is just that, cheap.
#4. IP security
This is the main concern of many creators and innovators, with good reason as China’s unfortunate reputation of copycat has undeniable truth to it. Check the manufacturer's website for their policy on IP security, especially if they accept uploadable Gerber files as part of their online quotation and ordering system. Reputable fabricators didn’t become reputable from leaking or copying customers’ designs. If it’s not intended to be open source, consider patenting the design or drafting an NDA.
#5. Turnaround time
A quick turnaround is vital to most businesses and in the age of instant gratification, it’s also an important factor for those creating as a hobbyist. Geographical location of the manufacturer might have some effect on turnaround time, but nowadays even slow shipping from afar is highly competitive with a closer factory, especially when considering the price.
#6. Services you need are fulfilled
For some projects, you might need more than just PCB prototyping. PCBA, BOM, 3D printed housing, sourcing for other parts etc., are other services you might need someone to handle.
For PCB fabrication, you might also have special requirements that not all fabricators are prepared to handle, especially on small orders.
#7. Customer service
The type of customer service the manufacturer has can impact your experience as a customer and how smooth the process goes. For example, poor English ability can result in miscommunication; how fast they respond can indicate turnaround speed; CS with knowledge can offer better technical support, etc.
The failure or success of a product can rely on the quality of the PCB and quality control, so it’s necessary that you use a manufacturer who is sensitive to quality needs and has thorough QC. Nuff said.
This factor ties in quality, customer service, expertise, turnaround, and IP security. What are other customers saying about the fabricators and were the fabricators able to satisfy similar needs to yours? Were the fabricators helpful, knowledgeable, and able to deliver?
After you’ve tried out a manufacturer, be sure to rate them after your order has been completed so creators coming after you have a better understanding of what they can expect.
A lot of manufacturers offer PCB prototyping, so sometimes it’s hard to cut through the mass to find the fabricator for you. But the right selection can be vital to the success of your project and your experience in building it. Check out what you can expect from us in prototyping your PCBs!