Duane Benson

Getting top-notch product doesn’t mean paying the highest price.

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. 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. If you can endure it, a 20-day turnaround is much more affordable. Accepting longer lead times on PCB fabrication will drop costs as well.

Avoid leadless packages such as QFNs and BGAs. Screaming Circuits builds tons of QFN and BGA boards, even down to 0.3mm pitch μBGAs. That’s great if you need those packages. However, since all the leads are underneath, the assembler has to x-ray every part. That adds a bit of cost to the process. Where possible, 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" long.

Stick with surface mount. These days, through-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 through-hole, too. If you do need a few through-hole parts, this is an opportunity to put in a little sweat equity by soldering the through-hole yourself and save a bit of money.

Keep surface mount parts on one side. Putting surface mount parts on both sides of the PCB is a great way to better utilize space. However, if cost is more of a concern, and there are only 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 board size, but with a small number of parts, that’s probably not the case. Quote it both ways to see which is less expensive.

Panelize small boards. Sticking with a larger size makes the job easier, and, again, creates extra savings. If the board is smaller than 16 sq. in., panelize it.

Save on startup costs. Just the act of starting out can pretty much break the bank. Some fabricators and others offer full-featured PCB CAD systems you can get free of cost.

Figure 1. The Arduino Gemma microcontroller board, popular with makers for wearable electronics.

By following these guidelines, you can get a decent price and quality service.

Duane Benson is marketing manager and chief technology champion at Screaming Circuits (screamingcircuits.com); This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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