Money isn't everything in PCB production and assembly, but you wouldn't know it looking at the behavior of many electronics manufacturers. Although large-scale production can somewhat escape blame due to the sheer size of their orders, small-to-medium-sized demands from startups and SMBs regularly turn down reasonably priced box builds for the cheapest option around.
But could per-unit sticker prices blind some businesses to potential problems costing them more later? Are costs so attractively low because they eschew value propositions beneficial to electronics makers in the long run? Rock-bottom PCB assembly costs may hide risks, so investors ought to make sure they measure cost-to-value appropriately.
What's missing from your unbelievably inexpensive box build?
"Large-scale PCBA providers consider small runs resource-intensive."
Unique considerations for short production runs
First and foremost, electronics manufacturers with small production runs may not receive the same per-unit price break from PCB assemblers as the big guys do. Never assume the costs are even across the board. Large-scale PCBA providers consider small runs resource-intensive and will likely charge hidden surpluses to stay cost-effective.
Furthermore, massive runs from big corporations have no doubt undergone extensive design considerations and proof of concept before moving into the production phase. Chances are, the average small business won't have that luxury in house. As such, SMBs may want prototyping and pre-production consultancy without knowing they want it. Why? Because they were distracted by low prices from their PCB assembler rather than the value-add opportunities implicit in a more hands-on small-batch treatment.
A seasoned partner in PCB development is well worth the price of admission, so to speak, if investing in such a relationship could save electronics companies from fixing common design and assembly errors on their own later. As PCB miniaturization makes wave soldering and cross tracing defects more likely when production speeds along, PCB assemblers working on large-scale builds may still lack the attention required to assure design integrity in low- or mid-volume runs. That's not their angle, after all - they focus on speed and quantity, not quality. And as we mentioned earlier, small production runs are not valuable to their business model. If customer service suffers because of a bad build, what incentive do these companies have to correct the matter when SMBs and startups are such small potatoes to them in the first place?
Proper component vetting
Does your business know enough about counterfeit PCB components to prevent unscrupulous suppliers from sabotaging an otherwise functional product? Even if low- to mid-volume runs performed by high-capacity PCB assemblers went off without a hitch during the production stages while still meeting the client's budgetary requirements, all that effort could be sunk by faulty, mislabeled or downright fake components.
"The five most commonly counterfeited semiconductors represent a $169 billion threat to supply chains."
The potential for financial ruin is immense - the five most commonly counterfeited semiconductors in both commercial and military electronics alone represent a $169 billion threat to global supply chains according to an IHS Parts Management study.
With that in mind, paying a little extra for PCBA that includes material management and component vetting might not seem like such a waste after all. Again, PCBA providers accustomed to large production runs typically do not have the means to inspect components thoroughly with such high throughput.
Prototyping, pre-production consulting, component vetting - these services all ensure the functionality of a product once it reaches the end consumer. But can a large-production PCBA provider be able to guarantee the market relevance of a small production run given the accelerated rate of innovation the electronic sector faces?
PCBA companies that specialize in low- to mid-volume runs have the bandwidth to provide clients with in-depth market analysis, so products won't become obsolete overnight. Large-scale PCBA won't care - they'll take your specs and roll, innovation be damned.
Here at VR Industries, we know we will never be the least expensive PCBA option a customer considers. But because we believe in continuous improvement and lean manufacturing principles, we not only look for ways to instill value in our clients but to hone our own processes and services so they're always cost-effective and innovative.