Respect Your Board Builder


Do you know how to buy PCBs? Do you know how a PCB is built? Do you know the difference between a great PCB supplier and a mediocre or lousy one? Are you one of those companies that hate buying PCB’s, hate even dealing with PCB shops, equating them to dealing with your local DMV, or worse yet, the IRS. Does it seem that buying PCB is always a problem, a real consistent pain in the neck? Does this sound familiar, too familiar? If so, then I have news for you…it could very well be your own fault. Really.

Okay, now that you’ve gotten over your apoplectic fit, take a deep breath and read on. Because, here are four guidelines, that if followed diligently, will assure you of a good and productive relationship with your PCB vendors.

  1. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.: That’s right, respect. I have been around PCB shops for many years and the one thing that is always obvious is that shops don’t get much respect. Despite being the most intensely complicated link in the electronics food chain, PCB shops get the least amount of respect, behind their vendors, behind the assembly companies and of course behind the designers, (who by the way are taught to never listen to PCB shop engineers because they “don’t know what their doing”) yes, the PCB shops are in dead last place when it comes to respect for their technology.
  2. Learn the product: If you take the time to learn how a PCB is built, if you take the time to walk through a board shop, taking not the Nickle tour but  the five dollar tour so that you can get a complete understanding of what it takes to build any board; never mind a 28-layer blind and buried board you will be impressed, and I can guarantee that you will gain newfound respect for what these guys do to build just one board and then a hundred and then thousands of boards. And, you might learn something as well. Something that will make you a better vendor, or contract manufacturer and yes most definitely a better designer.
  3. Value what they do: Once again, the more education you get about building circuits boards the more you will value what they do. Always remember how important that PCB builder is to your success. You can’t assemble boards without, well, without boards, to put the components on. You cannot deliver your end product without boards, and you can’t complete any hot project without getting your boards in on time. Value what your board builder does for you.
  4. Create a true partnership: Unfortunately, up to now the word “partnership” reaps fear and anger from the PCB shops. When a customer starts talking partnership, most board shops want to run for the hills. The history of partnerships between customers and board shops has been wrought with extreme pain for the shops. From years ago, when IBM loaded up shops with thousands, if not millions of boards for their new personal computers, all in the spirit of partnership, mind you, only to later cancel millions of dollars of orders, literally bankrupting many of those shops, to Intel who famously created a partnership with two of our largest American shops having them invest their own money to develop a very difficult  technical process for a very difficult board. Only to have Intel break their promise of giving them the business, instead taking that process, the very one the two shops had developed, and the business offshore, leaving those two shops high and dry. So, if you approach a shop in the spirit of partnership, if had better be a true partnership where both parties benefit.

And in the spirit of under promising and over delivering, here is one more, perhaps the most important tip of all.

  1. You get what you pay for:  Stop beating the heck out of the shops for price. If you have any pride of product at all you are going to want to use the best possible PCBs available on the market today, and those will not be the cheapest. If you want the cheapest PCBs money can buy, you are going to get an inferior PCB. If you are happy putting these boards in your product, a product you are calling the “best on the market”, then good luck with that. When you are pricing PCBs, please take into consideration the value of getting the boards on time and defect free. Please take into consideration the technical expertise you are buying. And yes, remember that your dollars are allowing your vendor to not only stay in business but also be equipped to take care of all your PCB needs, not just today, but into the future. Consider how valuable those things are when doing your costing exercises.

There you have it. By following these guidelines, by taking the time to understand how a PCB is built, you will develop a very good relationship with you PCB builders. And who knows, you might even become partners. It’s only common sense.

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