Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are essential components in most electronic devices and products. Choosing the right PCB manufacturer is crucial to get high-quality boards produced reliably and cost-effectively. This guide will help you understand what to look for when selecting a PCB production partner.

Overview of PCB Manufacturing Process

PCBs consist of traces or copper tracks laminated onto a non-conductive substrate. Components like integrated circuits and resistors are soldered onto the PCB to form a complete circuit. The PCB fabrication process involves:

PCB Design

The PCB layout is designed using CAD software like Altium, KiCad, or Eagle based on schematics and requirements.


Prototypes are produced to test the PCB design before full production. Prototypes help validate the design and allow design changes if issues are found.


Once the prototype testing is complete, full production volumes are manufactured. High-volume production involves solder masking, silkscreen printing, testing, etc.


Components are soldered onto the PCBs either manually or using SMT assembly lines. The assembled PCBs are then tested.


The finished PCB assemblies are delivered to the customer for integration into products.

Key Factors to Consider when Selecting a PCB Manufacturer

Choosing the right PCB production partner is key to getting high-quality boards delivered on time. Here are some important factors to evaluate:

Technology and Capabilities

  • Equipment: The manufacturer should use modern equipment like direct imaging, laser photoplotters, automatic optical inspection (AOI), etc. This results in better quality and accuracy.
  • Materials: They should be able to work with common PCB materials like FR-4, Rogers, ceramic, Teflon, etc. Special materials may limit options.
  • Stackup: Ability to fabricate multi-layer boards, flex PCBs, HDI, and other complex stackups.
  • Tolerances: Extremely tight tolerances (<10 mil line/space) require specialized processes. Confirm the manufacturer can meet your tolerances.
  • Testing: Rigorous testing like flying probe, boundary scan, etc. is needed to ensure PCB quality.

Volume Production Capabilities

  • Scalability: They should be able to comfortably scale from low-volume prototyping to higher volume production.
  • Lead Times: Experienced manufacturers can deliver faster turnaround times for production runs.
  • Quality: Manufacturing processes should be optimized for repeatability and consistency even in high volumes.
  • Assembly: End-to-end manufacturing including PCB fabrication, component sourcing, and assembly.

Quality and Reliability

  • Certifications: Look for quality certifications like ISO 9001, ISO 14001, IATF 16949, AS 9100, etc.
  • Process: Quality checks should be integrated throughout the fabrication process, not just end-inspection.
  • Traceability: Lot traceability allows tracking boards back to specific production runs in case any issues are found.
  • Failure analysis: Root cause analysis should be performed thoroughly in case any defects occur.


  • Pricing: Quoted pricing should provide good value without compromising on quality.
  • NRE Costs: Upfront NRE charges for prototyping runs should be reasonable.
  • Reductions: Manufacturers may offer volume discounts or other ways to reduce costs for higher quantities.

Customer Service

  • Technical support: There should be knowledgeable engineers to support the design and fabrication process.
  • Communication: Response times for queries should be quick, with dedicated account reps if needed.
  • Language: For overseas manufacturers, English-speaking representatives are preferred.
  • IP protection: They should have non-disclosure agreements and measures to protect your IP and designs.

Finding the Right PCB Manufacturer

Here are some tips on how to find a reliable PCB production partner for your specific needs:

Define Requirements Upfront

Document your PCB requirements, design files, tolerances, quantities needed, lead times, quality expectations, etc. Be as specific as possible.

Research Industry Leaders

Search for top PCB manufacturers in your region known for quality and reliability. Review their capabilities and expertise.

Get Referrals

Talk to others who have built similar products. Ask for referrals to PCB production partners they have worked with successfully.

Evaluate Multiple Options

Solicit quotes from at least 3-4 different manufacturers. Compare their pricing, capabilities, quality, lead times and other parameters.

Check Certifications and Reviews

Verify quality certifications and read online customer reviews. Visit some facilities in person if possible to inspect firsthand.

Prototype First

Test a PCB prototyping run with a short production batch first before committing to a full production order.

Negotiate Contracts

Negotiate contracts, volume discounts, payment terms, deliverables schedule, etc. to meet business needs before production starts.

By carefully vetting manufacturers and validating quality, you can find the ideal partner to produce your PCBs reliably and cost-effectively.

Leading PCB Manufacturers to Consider

Here are some of the leading global PCB manufacturers worth evaluating:

Advanced Circuits

  • Location: Colorado, USA
  • Capabilities: Quick-turn prototyping and medium volume production
  • Key Features: Next day turnaround on prototyping, rigorous quality testing

TT Electronics

  • Location: Stafford, UK
  • Capabilities: High mix/low-mid volume manufacturing
  • Key Features: Flexible processes, focus on prototype-to-production


  • Location: Leoben, Austria
  • Capabilities: High-tech HDI,rigid-flex, IC substrates
  • Key Features: Excellent technology and quality leadership

San Francisco Circuits

  • Location: California, USA
  • Capabilities: Medium-high volume production
  • Key Features: Wide material offering, quick delivery


  • Location: Mechelen, Belgium
  • Capabilities: Prototyping, low-medium volume production
  • Key Features: Competitive pricing, reliable quality


  • Location: China
  • Capabilities: Low volume PCB prototyping
  • Key Features: Low minimum order quantities, user friendly

This list covers manufacturers with varying strengths – some are better suited for prototyping while others specialize in volume production. Evaluate whom to engage depending on your specific needs and project parameters.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions people have about choosing PCB manufacturers:

Q: How long does PCB manufacturing usually take?

A: Lead times depend on complexity and order quantities. Simple prototype boards can ship in 2-3 days while complex production boards take 15-20 days on average. Discuss realistic timelines with your manufacturer.

Q: Should I choose manufacturers located closer geographically?

A: Not necessarily – some of the highest quality manufacturers are located overseas in Asia. Geographic proximity does help with shipping costs and times.

Q: How do I check a manufacturer’s quality before placing orders?

A: Ask for samples of previous customer boards and read testimonials. Get independent audits done if needed. Start with small test batches first before committing higher volumes.

Q: Are local/smaller manufacturers unable to meet quality of large manufacturers?

A: Not always – some excellent manufacturers cater to niche applications in lower volumes. Evaluate each based on expertise, not size alone. But large manufacturers usually offer more scale.

Q: What CAD file formats do manufacturers accept?

A: Gerber and ODB++ are standard. Also provide original CAD files, BOM, netlist, drills, layer stackups, etc. to avoid errors. Discuss preferred file formats.


Choosing the right PCB manufacturer requires thorough due diligence across a range of factors from capabilities to quality and pricing. Work with reputed industry leaders that have demonstrated expertise. Clearly specify your requirements and validate capabilities through initial prototyping runs before committing full production. With the right partner, you can get high-performing PCBs delivered reliably for successful product development.

Categories: PCBA


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