Reducing Design Costs in Printed Circuit Boards

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At Rush PCB Inc., we advise our customers on their printed circuit board design. Being associated with the design of a PCB from the beginning has a huge advantage for us. We assure ourselves and our customers that the move from design to production will proceed without meeting any challenges. In this article, we have consolidated the advice we offer our customers that results in reducing their design and overall cost when designing printed circuit boards.

We break down the development of a printed circuit board into four areas and concentrate on these areas to cut down costs.

PCB Design and Layout Streamlining

The process of designing a circuit board is fairly straightforward—Schematic design followed by layout. However, lately, several Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software packages are available that help to streamline the process. Now, it is no longer necessary to recreate the outlines of the board from a paper drawing, as PCB CAD software packages can directly import the outline from a mechanical CAD package. In addition, newer PCB CAD packages offer several improved processes that can help in reducing design expenses. Some best practices can also help in the process:

Design Reviews: Dividing the design into several portions helps significantly. Subjecting each portion to individual design reviews and sign-off can reduce rework to a huge extent. Using a PCB CAD software package that has team-sharing features can help to speed up the design review process, especially for large board designs.

Each review meeting can be made more meaningful by enhancing and projecting views of sections of design highlighting specific components, sensitive nets, and complicated trace routing.

Design Library: We advise our customers to invest in a well-developed design library to complement their PCB CAD package. A major advantage of a library is substantial time saving as the designer does not spend time and effort in rebuilding the parts. It is preferable to use a vendor who provides a library of component symbols and footprints matching those offered by component manufacturers.

Circuit Library: Just like a design library does, saving and reusing common areas of circuitry can save a lot of time and effort.

Backup and Protection: Backup and protect design data. Proper backup can save hours of effort and cost.

Reducing Board Fabrication Expenses

Layer Count: A printed circuit board’s cost is directly proportional to the number of layers it has. Therefore, reducing the layer count can reduce the cost significantly. However, better signal integrity and circuit functionality may require a certain number of layers. Achieving the right balance between performance and layer count can lead to cost-saving.

Board Materials: Examine the materials the board will use and look for cheaper alternatives without sacrificing performance and reliability. If it is possible to use the conventional FR4, there is no necessary justification for using a more expensive material.

Design Technology: Drilling holes in PCBs is expensive. Using the lowest number of vias can cut down costs drastically—especially the blind and buried types. A different layer stack-up configuration can help to reduce costs along with a different routing strategy.

DFF: Ensuring the board follows best practices like DFF or Design for Fabrication allows smooth and efficient production operations. This can save costs substantially.

Improving Assembly Efficiency

At Rush PCB Inc., we know the design of the board can affect the way it is assembled. Following good DFM or Design for Manufacturing practices can improve the efficiency of assembling the board, thereby reducing costs. It is necessary to consider the following:

Layout Optimization: It is necessary to optimize the layout for soldering. Optimizing for a wave-soldering process is different from that for a reflow soldering process, and may cause problems for the other. Optimizing the layout for the right process can save unexpected rework expenses.

Layout Components for Automation: Automated assembly reduces assembly time and costs while increasing throughput. Layout the components such that it favors automated assembly rather than manual. For instance, mounting smaller components next to larger ones may place them in the latter’s shadow, forcing manual assembly for the smaller components, and this can add cost to the board.

Add Debugging and Rework Features: Consider adding debugging and rework space around the components. This will make them accessible to the rework technician, reducing the manufacturing costs if it requires rework.

Add Automated Testing Features: Manual testing is slow, expensive, and drags down the throughput. Adding test pads and designing the board for testing will allow the manufacturer to use their automated test machines, thereby reducing board expenses.

Reducing Component Expenses

Components can add extra cost to the board depending on whether they are:

Counterfeit: Counterfeit or illegitimate components can fall short of their required performance or even fail prematurely. Buying components from reputed suppliers have the advantage of being available most of the time and at reasonable prices.

End-of-Life: Using expensive components that are nearing the end of their life cycle may mean redesigning the board when the component is unavailable—this can be very expensive. It is preferable to use components that will be available throughout the production life of the board.

Select the Right Contract Manufacturer

The last step in reducing the costs during the design of a printed circuit board is to select the right contract manufacturer. Rush PCB Inc. is an experienced printed circuit board manufacturer and contract manufacturer that understands the business of not only circuit board design, but that of its fabrication and assembly also. We have all our technical staff available for helping our customers in the following areas:

  • Schematic Design
  • Layout Optimization
  • Board Fabrication
  • Component Procurement
  • Automated Assembly
  • Automated Testing

At Rush PCB Inc., we have been serving our client needs for the last two decades. Whether it is low-volume and high-mix, or high-volume and low-mix manufacturing, our customers are confident they are in capable hands. We understand the necessity for refining a design to reduce expenses while we maintain the highest quality levels.

Engineers and technicians at Rush PCB Inc. work with our customers to ensure that their circuit board is completed to their satisfaction and functions as intended.