Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are essential components in most electronic devices and products. However, PCB assembly can be expensive, especially for prototypes, small production runs, or hobbyists. This article explores strategies for getting affordable, high-quality PCB assembly when you’re on a tight budget.

Finding the Right PCB Assembly Partner

Choosing the right PCB assembly partner is key to getting good boards cheaply. Here are some tips for selecting a PCB assembler:

Check Reviews and Reputations

Look for assemblers with positive reviews praising their quality, service, and pricing. Sites like Google, Yelp, and PCB assembly forums contain useful reviews. Avoid assemblers with many negative reviews.

Compare Quotes

Get quotes from multiple assemblers. Legitimate assemblers will provide free quotes. Only compare quotes on equal requirements – some will quote incomplete work.

Ask About Their Capabilities

Choose an assembler capable of handling your board’s complexity and your order size. Some only handle simple boards or high volumes.

Evaluate Their Quality Control

Ask about their testing and quality control procedures. Good quality control ensures consistent, functioning boards.

Consider Lead Times

If you need boards quickly, find assemblers with short lead times. Lead times range from 24 hours to 4 weeks+.

Optimizing Your Design for Cost Savings

Your PCB design significantly impacts assembly prices. Here are tips for optimizing designs to save money:

Minimize Layers

Use the fewest layers possible. Each additional layer increases costs. Two layers are ideal for simple boards.

Avoid Dense Packing

Spread components out instead of dense packing. Tight spacing makes assembly difficult and time-consuming.

Design for Automated Assembly

Standardize polarity, part sizes, and use machine-placeable components when possible. Custom or incompatible parts increase manual labor.

Minimize Component Types and Counts

Using fewer different component types and only as many as needed reduces kitting complexity and materials costs.

Avoid Large BGAs

Big ball grid arrays (BGAs) with 100+ connections add complexity and increase costs. Avoid if possible.

Choose Standard Thickness

Standard 1.6mm boards are cheaper than thinner/thicker boards which require special handling.

Comparing Quotes Between Assembly Services

When comparing PCB assembly quotes between vendors, pay attention to these key details to ensure equivalent pricing:

Comparison FactorDetails to Match
Board specificationsSize, layer count, thickness, material
Component types and countsBill of Materials parts list
Compliance testinge.g. quality inspection, flying probe test, functional test
Special requirementsRoHS, lead-free, etc
Lead timeStandard or expedited assembly
QuantityPrototype, pre-production, or production volumes
Shipping and handlingWho handles and pays for shipping

Quotes that don’t match the above factors aren’t equivalent. Re-quote any unclear or mismatching details.

Cost Saving Tips for DIY PCB Assembly

For prototyping or very small production runs, you can sometimes save substantially by performing PCB assembly yourself. Here are some DIY tips:

Invest in Basic Equipment

A soldering iron, solder, flux, tweezers, and magnification can cover basic assembly needs for low volumes.

Use Reflow Oven Services

You can manually place components, then pay to use an assembler’s reflow oven for soldering.

Learn to Hand Solder SMDs

With practice, you can hand solder small surface-mounts like 0805s. This avoids paying for a reflow oven.

Purchase Components in Reel/Bulk

Buying components in bulk reels or packages saves tremendously over small quantities. Just confirm you’ll use extras eventually.

Salvage Components

Scavenge still-good components from discarded electronics to save on parts costs.

Consider Overseas Assembly

For medium quantities, overseas assembly can cost 70%+ less than domestic prices, even including shipping costs. Just ensure a reputable partner.

Only Assemble One Side Yourself

Doing all assembly yourself takes significant effort. Assembling just one side then paying for automated assembly of the other can be a cost-effective compromise.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are typical PCB assembly prices?

For prototype boards, expect ~$100-$500 for assembly. Small production runs under 1000 units will be around ~$10-$25 per board. Large production runs can be as low as ~$5 per board.

How can I get accurate PCB assembly quotes?

Provide detailed specifications – board size, layers, number of components, bill of materials, tolerances, lead time, and quantity. Get quotes from 3+ assemblers.

Is it cheaper to assemble PCBs myself?

For prototypes, doing it yourself can save over paid assembly. For production, specialized equipment and labor makes professional assembly cheaper for most quantities over 50-100 boards.

What are the risks of cheap overseas PCB assembly?

Language barriers, shipping delays, poor soldering quality, inferior components, lack of quality control, and inadequate testing are potential risks of the cheapest overseas assemblers. Vet assemblers carefully.

How can I design PCBs for lower assembly costs?

Use fewer layers, looser spacing, standardized parts, avoid BGAs, minimize component types, place test pads, and design for automated assembly. Reviewing the assembly quote for what’s driving cost is very helpful.

Categories: PCBA


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