As a Maker, you really need a decent price, with good quality and good service. Contrary to what many people think, you don't need to look outside of North America for this. You can keep your gaze West of the Atlantic and East of the Pacific.
Like everything else in the modern world, design decisions can have a pretty big impact on your cost. So, let’s take a look at seven design decisions that can make your manufacturing more affordable.
Accept Longer Lead Times — Lead times are one of the biggest factors in electronics manufacturing. Businesses can turn a kitted assembly job overnight, but it costs a lot of money to do that. When you can, a 20-day turn-around that is much more affordable. Accepting longer lead times on PCB fab will drop your cost as well.
Avoid Leadless Packages Like QFNs and BGAs — Screaming Circuits builds tons of QFN and BGA boards — even down to 0.3 mm pitch micro BGAs. That's great if you need those packages. However, since all of the leads are underneath, we have to x-ray every part. That adds a bit of cost to the process. If you can, stick with TSSOPs and other parts with visible leads.
Use Reels and Continuous Strips — To save costs, use full or partial reels or continuous strips of at least 12 inches long.
Stick with Surface Mount — These days, thru-hole components tend to be hand soldered. That costs more than machine assembly, so use surface mount wherever possible. Surface mount components tend to be less expensive than thru-hole too. If you do need a few thru-hole parts, this is an opportunity to put in a little sweat equity by soldering the thru-hole yourself and save a bit of money.
Keep Your Surface Mount Parts on One Side — Putting surface mount parts on both sides of the pc board is a great way to better utilize space. However, if cost is more of a concern, and you only have a few parts to put on the back side, it may be more cost effective to move them to the top side. If you've got a lot of parts, the additional cost for assembling both sides may be less than the cost for the extra PC board size, but with a small number of parts that's probably not the case. Quote it both ways and see which is less expensive.
Panelize Small Boards — Sticking with a larger size makes the job easier, and, again, creates extra savings. If your PC board is smaller than 16 square inches, panelize it.
Save on Start-Up Costs — Just the act of starting out can pretty much break the bank. Look for software that offers full-featured PCB CAD systems you can get free of cost.
By following these guidelines, you can get a decent price and quality service.
Duane Benson is the Chief Technology Champion at Screaming Circuits.