How does high-mix low volume PCB contract manufacturing benefit your NPI (New Product Introduction) electronics?

By | Date posted: | Last updated: August 21, 2023
High Mix PCB Contract Manufacturing

The growing demand for customized electronics is driving OEMs to add exclusive products to the market continuously. The conventional method of bulk-producing similar items is getting replaced by low-volume manufacturing of diverse products on the same shop floor. This process of producing a mixed variety of electronic products in small build quantities is known as high-mix low-volume PCB manufacturing. This method offers ‘make-to-order’ products with enhanced customer acceptance. But not many contract manufacturers are capable of providing such a service. The constant change in product types and assembly setup requires precision control and a flexible production line. If you are looking for an electronics manufacturing partner to support your NPI process, then find one that provides a high-mix low volume PCB manufacturing service.

The NPI process translates your design idea into a reproducible product starting from prototype to mass production. The process involves design iterations to refine the circuit functionality and transforms it into a manufacturing-ready PCB. So, in the initial stage, the build quantity required is quite less. If you have multiple products running together and plan to test them simultaneously, hiring a high-mix low volume contract manufacturer turns out to be highly beneficial. Large-scale manufacturers will not support prototype volume and are not flexible for quick changes common in NPI (new product introduction) runs. Small-scale manufacturers may not have the latest equipment and experienced staff to build complex PCBs. Usually, medium-scale manufacturers offer high-mix low volume services to build small quantities of different PCB technologies parallelly.

The high-mix low volume PCB manufacturing requires frequent changes in the materials used, machinery settings, and jobs performed in the assembly line. The constant variation in the process can lead to product faults or performance inconsistencies. The agile production method needs an optimized flow and an effective plan to predict possible outcomes. Strong communication among the working staff and adaptability to recurring deviations are the essential features of a high-mix low volume contract manufacturer.

Benefits of High-mix Low Volume Contract Manufacturing:

Electronics contract manufacturers who adopt flexible processes for PCB run gain advantages like production efficiency, cost saving, and delivery for varying demands. They develop and optimize their process for the unique requirements of high-mix low volume manufacturing. The controlled process and inspection methods ensure the excellent performance of your NPI electronics.

Their assembly shop floor is dynamic and configurable for different projects. CMs keep the equipment and resources busy with precise planning, thereby making efficient use of time and inventory. The easy switchover between build sizes, design complexities, and product types results in a shorter lead time for your product launches. This assists you in further demand estimation and order placement.

Customized products using high-mix low volume manufacturing can expand your user base. Also, your improved responsiveness to customers will boost your brand image. As inventory storage is minimized, you can set competitive pricing for your product. The same shopfloor repurposed for diverse product types improves space efficiency and reduces overall manufacturing costs.

High-mix low volume manufacturing is frequently used to build complex and pioneering products. The OEMs require a bunch of other services to achieve market launch success. Along with PCB fabrication, assembly, and component procurement, there is a demand for engineering expertise and mechanical capabilities in the NPI process. Thus, high-mix low volume contract manufacturing is ideal for NPI electronics producers.

Challenges in high-mix low volume PCB manufacturing:

Despite the advantages discussed above, high-mix low volume manufacturing has its own set of challenges to overcome. Supply chain management is one such critical task to consider. There is a possibility of component changes for PCB prototypes due to circuit modifications, DFM guidelines, etc. Your CM should have a strong network for sourcing genuine components at reasonable rates.

The manufacturing technology requirements are diverse as different types of PCB products are built and tested simultaneously. There may be a requirement for additional services like x-ray inspection, automated optical inspection (AOI), burn-in testing, safety testing, etc. Your CM should be equipped with the necessary machinery and staff to perform these supplementary tasks.

CMs are expected to handle fluctuating market demands. Their ability to make effective decisions on procuring new materials and managing excess/waste supplies is crucial to keep expenses under budget.

Building different product portfolios also needs support for the industrial certification process and associated testing methods. CMs should be capable of providing such test assistance to their customers.

One of the important challenges is to establish clear communication among the stakeholders. Since the products are built on a quick time-to-market schedule, any miscommunication can cost both time and money. Hence a defined protocol for milestone tracking must be implemented in the production process.

These challenges make it difficult to choose the right contract manufacturer for high-mix low volume NPI electronics. As an OEM, you must search for a partner who has a workflow complimenting your product domain. Availability of the latest equipment and manufacturing processes, well-trained staff, a robust supply chain for component procurement, and support for quick changes are the key features needed in high-mix low volume contract manufacturing. The CM should be ISO certified, demonstrating quality control in their manufacturing processes.

Achieving success in high-mix low volume electronics manufacturing:

Automation of the high-mix low volume PCB manufacturing process brings success by reducing errors and optimizing lead times. Most of the PCB faults occur during the soldering process. A well-designed stencil avoids soldering errors during PCB assembly. Efficient switching among multiple projects is critical in a high-mix environment. A flexible and organized workflow is mandatory to decrease manufacturing costs. Digitization of the NPI process can save time and improve the quality of your electronic product. High-mix low volume contract manufacturing helps to meet the demands of mass customization in the electronics industry.

Conclusion:

For NPI electronics manufacturing, you can hire a partner who is experienced in a high mix PCB build environment. The NPI process involves frequent design changes, and the required PCB count is also less. A high-mix low volume contract manufacturer can build small to medium PCB quantities with advanced technological support. Their process agility, reduced cost, and effective timelines are the top advantages for launching your NPI electronics.

From initial design, PCB manufacturing, development, and prototype to full-scale production and after-market support, we provide you with a complete package of industrial electronics manufacturing. To get more information about NPI implementation, request a quote or reach us at sales@technotronix.us or at 714/630-9207.

Look inside the PCB RFQ process for contract electronics manufacturing!

By | Date posted: | Last updated: August 12, 2023
PCB RFQ Process

PCB manufacturing is a collaborative work between OEMs and Contract Electronics Manufacturers (CEM). Once the product design is completed, OEMs generally hire a contract manufacturer for PCB fabrication and assembly services. Most CEMs offer a wide range of facilities like PCB manufacturing, turnkey assembly, testing, and shipment. As there are several CEMs available in the market, choosing the right contract manufacturer is the key to a successful product launch. The Request for Quote (RFQ) is an important process in inviting the top contract manufacturers and evaluating their service competence.

Before proceeding with PCB fabrication, you need a PCB quote that can estimate the cost, time, and capabilities of a CEM in delivering the PCB product. The quote can be for partial service or complete design, manufacturing, and testing of the final product. OEMs have to mention their product specifications, target build volume, and expected delivery timelines while requesting quotes from the CEMs. The RFQ process is beneficial for both parties as OEMs get the best pricing with assured quality and CEMs can demonstrate their value to potential customers.

To obtain accurate quotes from the CEMs, you have to share your design documents and product information. You may sign an NDA with the CEM before disclosing such details. Also, it is recommended to initiate a Request For Information (RFI) from the CEMs before proceeding with RFQ. The RFI is a list of questions to gather data from the service providers such as:

  • How many years of domain expertise do they have?
  • What skillsets and technical capabilities do they possess?
  • What build volume they can support?
  • What industry certifications do they have?
  • What customer support do they offer?
  • What is their payment policy?

These questions will help you in narrowing down the possible CEM list. Proceed with the RFQ process to pick the best service provider for your product build.

RFQ Process in PCB manufacturing:

In the RFQ process, OEMs can invite quotes from top CEMs and finalize the best service provider based on pricing, expertise, and customer support. The first step is to outline your product specification with details including design complexity, board dimensions, and materials required. If CEM is expected to procure the components, then share your complete BoM and approved vendor list. You must include Gerber files, laminate specifications, and assembly drawings for fabrication and assembly services. Test procedure documents and quality criteria are essential for inspection and testing support.

To plan the build volume and production schedule, ask for the Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) expected by the CEM. This may vary from one contract manufacturer to another. Specify your projected build quantity per year and check for the assembly line availability. Some CEMs support high-mix, low-volume production. This can be beneficial during the prototype stage of your product development. You have to check for the sourcing network of the contract manufacturer. Having multiple vendors for critical components is essential. An accurate BoM can help your CEM to plan the procurement of long-lead components in time.

You would require industry certifications for selling your products in certain geographical locations like ‘FCC’ and ‘UL’ in the US, ‘CE’ in Europe, etc. Also, the products built for special applications like medical devices, satellite and aerospace systems (IPC Class 3/3A) have to certify with industry-specific standards. Mention your product application in the RFQ package as CEMs can suggest the necessary regulations to comply with and support you in obtaining those certifications.

Each contract manufacturer offers different pricing based on their skill set, labor cost, workstation expenses, factory location, etc. Further, your budget may be impacted by the material cost, tooling cost, certification charges, packaging and shipment expenses, and non-recurring engineering costs. Prepare an initial budget and determine the selling price of your product. Share your baseline estimate with the CEM and ask them for a cost structure that suits your budget.

Once you share the RFQ package, CEM provides a work proposal with a quotation breakdown for each service. The quote also includes payment terms and conditions. You can pick your contract manufacturer based on the best quote received.

RFQ best practices in contract electronics manufacturing:

The common industry practice is to choose a service provider based on internal research or peer references. But in contract electronics manufacturing, an unbiased and systematic approach is recommended. A product lifecycle involves years of partnership with your contract manufacturer. RFQ process is key in picking the right partner for your electronics manufacturing. Some of the best practices in the RFQ process for contract electronics manufacturing are:

  • Understand the contract service requirements and prepare a document with complete and accurate details of your product.
  • Send RFI to a list of potential contract manufacturers who have domain knowledge of your product technology.
  • Know the general formats of quotations shared by the CEMs. Go through the quote in detail to identify inflated pricing or any hidden charges.
  • Do a detailed background check to identify CEMs who can deliver on time and with expected quality. Invite only consistent performers for the first meeting.
  • As an OEM, you have to drive the meeting with a planned agenda that covers your project requirements. Ask your CEM to provide a detailed workflow for the services required.
  • Find the top 3-4 CEMs aligning with your business requirements, budget, and timelines. A team with relevant stakeholders (design, supply chain, finance, etc) should decide on the best CEM to hire.
  • Build a good rapport with your CEM and communicate your work expectations at the beginning itself. Define the metrics to evaluate their performance. Ensure clear accountability of each task and document it.

Before signing the contract, negotiate the program’s ROI and final cost. You can use different assessment tools available in the market to evaluate your RFQ process.

Conclusion:

RFQ document is pivotal in contract electronics manufacturing. It outlines your service requirements to the potential CEMs. Include all the conditions related to the service level agreement, renewal options, payment terms, and delivery forfeits in the contract as it serves as an authorized document for the services you requested. The RFQ process helps you to find qualified CEMs by projecting your product roadmap, technical requirements, and time-to-market schedule.

Electronics contract manufacturing is a complete manufacturing process where you can get all-in-one services. Technotronix is an ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 13485:2016 Certified and AS9100 registered company with state of art manufacturing plant, highly trained workforce, industrial-leading equipment, automated tooling and commitment to quality. Request a quote for your any kind of requirements, you can also email us at sales@technotronix.us or call us at 714/630-9200.

How do consumer electronics OEMs pick up their contract EMS partner in the USA for mass production?

By | Date posted: | Last updated: July 21, 2023
Contract EMS Partner USA

Electronics manufacturing is an exhaustive process and hence most original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) focus primarily on product design and revenue generation. They often outsource supply chain and manufacturing to Electronics Manufacturing Service (EMS) partners. OEMs own intellectual property rights as they work on design innovations and product development. EMS partners offer multiple value-added services like testing, repair, and shipment along with PCB fabrication and assembly services. They are specialized in different production environments like high-mix low volume and low-mix bulk manufacturing. If you are an OEM and looking for a suitable EMS partner in the USA, then this article will provide you with key checkpoints to pick the top service provider for your consumer electronics.

Electronic OEMs can range from a small startup to a large product company. They can deliver products in diverse domains like consumer electronics, the healthcare sector, automotive, aerospace applications, etc. The OEMs have to go through a complete product development lifecycle starting from concept evaluations using prototypes to customer deployment with mass productions.

Multiple driving factors are also influencing the OEM market. For instance, technological trends like 5G, and high-end audio-video solutions have boosted consumer electronics significantly. On the contrary, a shortage of semiconductors has delayed product delivery with long lead times for ICs and other electronic components. So, choosing the right EMS partner is crucial to building successful electronic products and staying ahead in the race.

OEMs generally sell high-volume electronic products to their customers and look for EMS partners offering mass production at reasonable rates. But the OEM product development must go through different phases of its lifecycle and requires EMS support accordingly.

  • In the initial concept development stage, your EMS partner should be open to building small-quantity prototypes and adaptable to frequent changes and re-spins.
  • After finalizing the design, EMS partners assist in the PCB fabrication and assembly processes. They can source all the components of the product BoM at a cheaper cost as they procure in bulk and from multiple vendor networks.
  • EMS partners offer testing and repair services for your assembled products. They can obtain industry-standard certifications based on the end applications. This is mandatory for selling electronic products to your customers.
  • With the necessary certifications in hand, you are ready for mass production of your product. Most EMS partners offer additional services like storage, shipment, and after-sales support.

Based on the requirements, OEMs can pick a suitable EMS partner and collaborate. Before interacting with any contract EMS partner, OEMs need to summarize their product specifications, generate a competitive timeline, and make a baseline budget for their project. There are many service providers available in the USA. Identifying the right partner depends on certain key factors. We shall discuss these checkpoints in the following section of the article.

Selection drivers for OEMs to pick their right EMS partner:

  1. Ensure your product type and specifications matches the EMS partner’s experience and capabilities.
    As a consumer electronics manufacturer, your products are built for dedicated services (IPC Class 2). The features may include different technical complexities. So, the EMS partner should have experience in handling consumer electronics design. You can ask for their previous customer references to understand their skills and domain knowledge.
  2. Check if the EMS partner can scale up their production support
    As consumer electronics are built for industrial applications, entertainment, communication, or personal usage, they are always in demand. Hence, the required build volume is very high. OEMs have to check if the EMS partner can support mass productions and maintain the required quality. Their technical capabilities and robust supply chain management are crucial in fulfilling bulk orders on time.

    Checkout how contract manufacturers eliminate the challenges of supply chain management.

  3. Ask for the geographical location of the EMS partner
    For quick delivery of consumer products, it is recommended to hire an EMS partner in the same geographical location as your end market. So, ask for their factory locations. If they are placed nearby, you can have quick site visits during New Product Introduction (NPI) process.
  4. Know the baseline and total cost involved
    Go through the quotation and understand each pricing detail clearly. Compare it with your baseline budget and ask for details on any hidden or exorbitant charges. Ask for the total cost involved for all the services including delivery to the customers. Based on the lead time, the pricing may vary. Find out the available options before placing your order.
  5. Decide on component sourcing and supply chain stakeholders
    If you want your EMS partner to source all the components, then share the complete BoM and AVL (Approved Vendor List) in advance. Check if they have multiple vendors to procure critical components. EMS partners procure long lead-time components in advance and track the component’s lifecycle. While building consumer electronics, your EMS partner’s supply chain must be efficient and seamless.
  6. Evaluate the company and its team’s competence
    Along with the technical capabilities of your EMS partner, do check the strengths and weaknesses of their team. Are they adequately trained to handle your product’s intricacies? Their quality policy and staff’s competence will determine the customer experience of your consumer products.
  7. Ask about NDA and your IP protection
    Many OEMs are competing in the consumer electronics industry. It is vital to safeguard your intellectual property from other players. So, ask your EMS partner about their legal policies and sign an NDA agreement before sharing your design.
  8. Get to know about the financial position of the EMS partner
    To ensure a long-lasting collaboration with your EMS partner, you need to know their financial status. They should be capable of adapting to market changes. Are they open to procuring new machinery or support with software upgrades if required? These questions can help you to pick a reliable EMS partner.

Conclusion

Consumer electronics is one of the rapidly growing sectors in the electronics industry. An EMS partner must support bulk manufacturing to meet this demand. OEMs have to evaluate the process quality, domain expertise, pricing, timelines, etc. This article provides all the key drivers and assists in selecting the right EMS partner for your successful product build.

We are an ISO 9001:2015, ISO 13485:2016 & AS9100 Rev. D Certified company with focus and unique ability to provide you with exactly the PCB manufacturing services you require at the best price! From design and concepts to complete turnkey products, we work our clients to deliver the right PCB industrial solution for aerospace, electronics, Defense & military, telecommunication, medical, renewable energy and more.

Gerber files for PCB: How are they important in manufacturing your printed circuit boards?

By | Date posted: | Last updated: June 20, 2023
Gerber Files for PCB

Gerber files are the most commonly accepted design file formats to fabricate and assemble printed circuit boards. They ensure an efficient manufacturing process by standardizing the design data transfer from engineers to PCB manufacturers. Once you complete the circuit design and proceed to order placement, your contract manufacturer will ask for the design files to accurately build your PCBs. If there are any errors in your shared data, then defective boards, extra costs, and time delays are inevitable. To avoid such consequences, Gerber files play a crucial role in PCB manufacturing.

What is a Gerber file? What information does it include?

Gerber files are a set of ASCII vector format files that are used to define the PCB design specifications. They are generated using Electronic Design Automation (EDA) or Computer-Aided Design (CAD) tools to provide information on board configuration parameters, aperture descriptions, XY coordinate locations, and drawing commands. The configuration details are the size and shape of the PCB to be fabricated. Each board layer information is captured in separate files defining the circuit board components like copper traces, pads, vias, solder mask, silkscreen, logos, etc. The position of each geometrical shape as X-Y coordinates are mentioned in the Gerber files and commands are used to draw these shapes on physical boards.

The essential elements of a Gerber file are the board dimensions, outline, top assembly, top silkscreen, top mask, top paste, top copper, inner signal, inner plane, bottom copper, bottom paste, bottom mask, bottom silkscreen, bottom assembly, and fab (giving details of stack-up, drill details, cut-outs, etc). Gerber file extensions generated by Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) tools can be selected by the user. Typically, project names with extensions such as “.TOP” for the top layer, “.BOT” for the bottom layer, and “.drl” for drill hole data are used.

Importance of Gerber files in PCB manufacturing:

A PCB designer has to create the Gerber files using an EDA tool compatible with the PCB manufacturer’s system. Any mismatch in the format or tool version can cause a delay in the fabrication process. The primary purpose of Gerber files is to deliver a reliable PCB order within the expected timeline. There are multiple advantages of using Gerber files in PCB manufacturing as follows:

  1. Gerber files offer intricate design details that can assist PCB manufacturers in building high-quality circuit boards. Contract manufacturers can rely on these files to determine the precise dimensions, pad locations, trace widths, and silkscreen legends to be printed on the board. The accurate data provided by the Gerber files can minimize potential manufacturing errors.
  2. They are compatible with a wide range of CAM tools used by PCB manufacturers. The Gerber files are easily exported from most EDA tools and ensure a smooth transition from design to the production stage in the PCB development cycle. Further, the flexibility of the data format allows contract manufacturers to implement different fabrication and assembly methods, supporting advanced technologies.
  3. The standard format of Gerber files has a key role in establishing a seamless PCB manufacturing process. These files are readable and easily used by different stakeholders like design engineers, layout experts, and assembly line technicians. So, there is reduced ambiguity and minimal reworks in the overall PCB manufacturing process.
  4. Usually, contract manufacturers use Gerber files to run Design for Manufacturability (DFM) checks that allow them to assess the production yield. Also, the same files are used to create fixtures for board inspection and testing. Thus, Gerber files help in the quality control of PCB production.

With the evolving PCB manufacturing processes, design output files have also been upgraded. There are different output files available for PCB fabrication, but the Gerber files remain the most compatible and versatile file format so far.

Gerber file versions and other output formats:

Usually, the board specifications and complexity determine the type and number of Gerber files generated. Different Gerber file formats vary in their data structure but are used to create stencils for PCB fabrication.

RS274-D is the standard Gerber file format and is denoted in the numerical control format. It consisted of XY coordinates and drawing codes. This format is represented with an extension “.gbr” and gained a lot of popularity in the initial days. But this variant requires manual assigning of the aperture codes to generate accurate Gerber files. So, the extended Gerber format was created.

RS274-X is the revised version with an extension “.gbx”. It is in ASCII format and includes all four components of Gerber information (configuration parameters, aperture drawings, XY coordinates, and drawing commands) in one file. In this format, aperture positions are automatically updated.

Gerber X2 is the latest version of Gerber files with additional data like layer stack details, via and pad attributes, impedance-controlled traces, etc. The supported file extensions are “.top”, “.bot” and more. This format is backward compatible with the RS274-X version, yet includes a big set of manufacturing data. Gerber X2 largely eliminates issues like file errors and data ambiguity.

Open Database (ODB) ++ is another data exchange file format that includes the complete information necessary to define a PCB layer in one file. It enables the designer to capture all the data required for DFM checks. For instance, it includes board stack-up, Bill of Materials, dimensions and drill details in one file. It is supported by major CAM and DFM tools.

IPC-2581 is the latest standard for PCB data organization and exchange from CAD to CAM systems during the fabrication and assembly process. It is an open standard for data transfer with no manual intervention. An XML-based file is used to provide all the manufacturing data required by the CAM systems. This standard allows the extraction of design data without any interpretation into CAM systems.

Conclusion

Gerber files are the universal data transfer formats used in the PCB manufacturing industry. They enable high-yield mass production of your PCB products. The latest version, Gerber X2 is popular among PCB manufacturers for delivering high-performance and reliable PCBs. These Gerber files reduce fabrication errors, increase profits and boost product-to-market timelines.

Technotronix is one of the leading providers of PCB manufacturing services to all the dominant industries. Having a strong manufacturing unit with a strong tool room and a team of experts, we are the one that provides cost effective solutions with keeping quality at the nucleus in each stage of PCB manufacturing.

For any kind of PCB requirements, feel free to contact us or drop an email to us at sales@technotronix.us or call us on 714/630-9200.