Your successful PCB product depends on having the right design tools and manufacturing process. But all of these things can get expensive fast. On the other hand, advanced tools and tech may eliminate expensive mistakes and extra work. And you can’t afford not to keep up with industry standards. However, printed circuit board design doesn’t have to cost a fortune, no matter what you’re designing. Here are 5 ways to cut costs when assembling and manufacturing PCBs.
Keep the PCB as Small and Simple as Possible
Keep the board size to a minimum, because the cost goes up along with the size of the board. However, very small boards are more expensive, too. If you make the board very small, you’ll have to use the few manufacturers with the precise equipment required to place your components, and all of this increases the manufacturing costs.
Another matter to consider is the complexity. Complexity adds to the cost of manufacturing a board, and that has a multiplier effect if you’re trying to work on very large and small boards. Conversely, standard board shapes are cheaper just because unusual designs can’t be manufactured in large enough numbers to take advantage of economies of scale. Don’t use extra layers or buried vias unless they’re absolutely necessary.
Go with the standard square or rectangular boards unless you really do have to fit the product in a strangely shaped enclosure. Better yet, eliminate cut-outs and other modifications from the basic board. That adds to the cost, and you can probably find another solution.
Take Advantage of Economies of Scale
One example of this is to only use standard industry parts in standard sizes. Then you’re using the cheapest possible components and minimizing tooling costs. If possible, design boards so that multiple PCBs can be produced on one panel, allowing you and the manufacturer to take advantage of mass production. It will dramatically lower the price per PCB.
Invest in the Right Software
Don’t try to design advanced PCBs on software that isn’t capable of handling the project. Furthermore, you want to use PCB design software that simplifies the manufacturing process as well as the design process. For example, tools like Altium make express PCB production faster and easier, because it allows you to view Gerber files and know that your output documentation is flawless. Altium’s Gerber X2 provides access to PCB design data in a reliable file format. This reduces tooling time, eliminates errors, and ultimately reduces manufacturing costs.
Give Manufacturers Enough Space
While keeping the board as small as possible generally reduces manufacturing costs, tighter spacing between components increases manufacturing costs. This is true whether it is spacing between solder pads or circuit tracks. The more you pack into a small space, the more precise the manufacturing equipment has to be, and the more expensive the manufacturing costs. Note that most PCB fabrication houses have minimum spacing requirements. This is usually between 8 and 10 mils.
A related issue is the matter of hole sizes. Use the largest possible diameter for holes on the PCB, because the cost of drilling them goes up as the diameter decreases. You may even be charged extra for holes smaller than 0.4 millimeters.
Invest in Quality Materials
A common way of saving money on PCB manufacturing is to tell the manufacturer to use cheaper materials for the layer stack. However, we’d argue the opposite is the better choice. For example, these cheaper materials leave your boards more likely to fail during test or in the field. The better solution is to use quality materials in the manufacturing process. You’ll have fewer defects, and greater overall quality levels will improve the odds customers order from you in the future.
Do your homework before you start your next PCB design. These steps will dramatically reduce your manufacturing costs without altering the performance of the end product.