How to Order Printed Circuit Boards: A Step-By-Step Guide

January 18, 2024
How to order printed circuit boards: A step-by-step guide
PCB

When it comes to producing a complete printed circuit board (PCB), there are two main essential stages involved in the process: the fabrication of the empty board and the soldering (assembly) of all the board’s components. However, many complicated steps are necessary to complete both of these stages.

Unless you have extensive experience and expertise with soldering, it is not advisable to assemble your own PCBs by hand. With this method, there are many opportunities for mistakes, especially when dealing with more complex designs. Thus, trying to resolve these issues could end up becoming incredibly costly and time-consuming.

To avoid dealing with such problems, it is crucial to work with professionals to manufacture your PCBs. They will have the knowledge, tools, and facilities to help you develop high-quality PCBs in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

What steps should you take when ordering printed circuit boards?

If you have never ordered PCBs from a professional manufacturer before, you may not know where to begin with the process or what will be required of you to get the ball rolling.

In order to ensure that your PCBs are manufactured according to your exact needs and to make sure this process goes smoothly, there are a number of important steps that you need to take, which are as follows:

1. Prototyping or full production?

One of the first factors that you need to consider and communicate with your manufacturer about is whether you want a prototype build or a full production run. The aim of a prototype build is to verify the functionality and quality of a PCB design and to test its manufacturability before committing to full production.

Thus, this process generally only involves the production of 1-10 units and has a faster lead time.

On the other hand, a full production run involves a bulk order of hundreds or thousands of boards, meaning it requires tighter tolerances and requirements and will have a longer lead time.

2. Providing key information

Before a PCB manufacturer can generate a quote for your particular services, you must provide a lot of information. This mainly falls into the categories of CAD data, material specifications, and board specifications.

Providing this design data and your procurement specifications upfront will ensure you receive an accurate quote and help guarantee that all of your expectations are met.

For CAD data, they will require your Gerber files, drill files, BOM/assembly drawings, layer stackup diagrams, and mechanical specifications.

For material specifications, you must provide your desired board thickness, layer count, material type (e.g., FR-4, polyimide, Rogers, etc.), copper thickness (1 oz, 2 oz, etc.), and copper finishes (ENIG, HASL, etc.), as well as your impedance requirements and details pertaining to any exotic materials.

Regarding board specifications, you will need to give requirements relating to board quantity, panel sizes, hole sizes and tolerances, line/space widths, solder mask colour, silkscreen text, thickness tolerances, and electromechanical testing needs.

3. Confirming additional requirements

Sometimes, you may have additional requirements that go beyond the standard services provided by the manufacturer. It is, therefore, important to communicate these requirements to your manufacturer early on to ensure that they can fulfill them and so that they can plan accordingly.

For instance, if you require material certifications (i.e., IL or IPC), your PCB must adhere to ITAR regulations, you have specific qualification testing needs, you have special handling requirements, or you require a DFM analysis or proof of DFM checks, then these are all things that your manufacturer needs to know about upfront.

If you require expedited lead times, this is also something to work out early on.

4. Deciding on component sourcing

Another major consideration to discuss with your PCB manufacturer is your component sourcing preferences. There are generally three options available to you: turnkey, kitted, or combo.

If you choose turnkey, this means your PCB manufacturer will source and supply all of the components. Kitted means that you will have to supply all of the components to your manufacturer.

Lastly, as the name implies, combo is a combination of these two options, meaning you may provide certain components, and it will be up to your PCB manufacturer to source others.

What to Expect After Providing All Necessary Information to Your PCB Manufacturer

After you have provided all of the key information mentioned above and have worked out various details pertaining to your order, the manufacturer will provide you with a quote based on your specifications.

After accepting the proposed quote, there may be an engineering review, which is one more opportunity for you and your manufacturer to clarify your specifications before your order is placed. Following the confirmation of your order, its fabrication process will ensue.

Next, after the manufacturing process is complete, in most cases, testing will take place in order to validate the quality of the PCBs. Then, they will be transferred to a shipping forwarder or shipped directly to you.

The final step usually involves paying for your order (although, depending on your manufacturer’s terms, this step may take place earlier on).

Throughout this entire process, it will likely be necessary to maintain ongoing communication and collaboration between you and your PCB manufacturer to ensure that everything goes according to plan.

How Circuits Central Can Help With Ordering Printed Circuit Boards

One of the most essential factors in ensuring that your PCBs turn out as expected is working with a reputable manufacturer. Therefore, if you require electronic manufacturing services in Waterloo, you should get in touch with Circuits Central.

We have a track record of significant success that stretches more than 25 years in helping customers manufacture high-quality PCBs.

As a world-class electronics manufacturer, we offer a full spectrum of electronics and PCB manufacturing services that include full turnkey manufacturing, material procurement, prototyping, assembly, testing, and system integration, among others.

Our team of seasoned experts will work closely with you to ensure that all of your PCB manufacturing needs are met, no matter what your particular requirements are. With our flexible-by-design production facility, we can handle the production of your PCBs in a timely and efficient manner, whether you need a massive volume of PCBs all at once or just a small run of prototypes made.

When you entrust the production of your PCBs to us, you can be confident that the outcome will always meet and even exceed your expectations.

For more information about our electronic manufacturing services in Waterloo, or to learn more about the other PCB-related services that we provide, call Circuits Central at 1 (888) 602-7264 or email us at info@circuits-central.com.

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