The future is here now. More and more companies are turning to the complete synergistic solution, seeking companies who can provide PCB fabrication and assembly in just a few days, some in as little as five days. You send in your design on Monday and receive completed assembled boards on Friday. Can you imagine that? We are fast approaching the day when this will be a reality. Some companies are doing it right now, albeit, with simple designs and small assembly kits and the bill of materials (BOM) provided. But we are very close to the time when this kind of speedy service will be the norm.
More PCB suppliers are partnering with assembly companies to provide a complete synergistic solution. Now, there are even design service bureaus partnering with PCB fabricators and assembly companies to provide the whole package: design, fabrication, and assembly all under one purchase order. All you have to do is send in the data package, and the vendor takes care of the rest.
Talk about a great advancement in time to market. You could design a product, produce the schematic, find the right company, place the purchase order, and expect the assembled PCB in a matter of days. Again, this is not science fiction; this is happening right now. Some may ask, “How can this be accomplished when my assembly vendor takes three or four days at best just to send me the quote?” That’s a good question, but the good news is that there is a solution to that problem right around the corner.
Companies are developing quote packages where assembly quotes will be completed in just less than 10 minutes, which includes the cost for the boards, the price and availability of the components, and labor; like magic, they get you a quote in just a few minutes. This is almost ready for prime time (more on that in future columns).
In the meantime, here are five items to consider when choosing a total concept (fabrication and assembly) supplier:
1. What Are the Components of Their Supply Chain?
In other words, does the supplier own both facilities? At first glance, this might sound like the best option, but that is not always the case. What this situation makes up in security it lacks in flexibility; they will only be able to do what they are able to do. This is why it is often preferable to have a supplier with a more flexible supply chain of independent vendors/partners where they can provide you with a complete portfolio of total concept solutions.
2. What Is Their Experience Level?
Managing this kind of synergistic supply chain is not for rookies, and you don’t want to place your product needs into the hands of a company that is just getting started. You need to look for a company that has been doing this for a while and has a mature synergistic vendor/partner team.
3. What Is the Quality of the Product?
Find out how your prime vendor is controlling the quality of their vendor/partners. Are they making sure that they have all of the right qualifications, registrations, and specifications? Make sure that they are doing a full inspection of the pre-assembled bare board; this is key. Treat your prime vendor as if it was an independent vendor.
4. Define the Delivery Date
This is not as obvious as it sounds. When you are dealing with quick turnkey products, you have to make sure you define exactly what a five- and 10-day turn means; you have to do this from the beginning of the relationship. What is a five-day turn time to you might be a seven-turn time for your supplier when there is a weekend involved.
5. Meet the Team
Meet the team at all levels. Make sure your engineering staff and quality team know their counterparts on your vendor’s team. This is especially important when working on high-speed, critical time-to-market projects. Your vendor is going to need answers very quickly if they are going to maintain that all-important delivery date.
And of course, like everything else in business, communication is key. Make sure that you are working with a company that is open about communication. Some companies provide an order-tracking system so that you can watch as your product goes through their system, eliminating any chance of those very unpleasant late delivery surprises.
Imran Valiani is an account manager at Rush PCB.