Printed circuit boards sell extremely well. In fact, the global PCB market will likely reach $70 billion by as early as 2024. And since so many different industries use them, it’s no wonder that both retailers and manufacturers want to know about the average PCB assembly cost. So, if you’re looking to get into the PCB business and would like to learn how much assembling these boards will cost you, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, I’ll help you figure out what the average PCB assembly cost might be. Moreover, the article will provide you with helpful tips on how you can reduce the expenses while maintaining an optimal level of quality. But before you and I go into any of that, let’s first cover what a printed circuit board actually is.
The Ins and Outs of PCBs
A PCB is an electronic circuit board that provides mechanical support when installed in an electronic device. It usually contains ICs, chips, sockets, metal circuits, plastic laminates, and cables. Ever since they appeared, they’ve been a mainstay of several different industries, including:
- Maritime transport
- Consumer electronics
- Automobile industry
- Industrial electronics
When they are being made, PCBs go through several key processes, which are as follows:
- Computer-aided manufacturing
- Patterning using copper
- Additive, Subtractive, and semi-additive processes
- Etching with chemicals
- Applying the solder resist
- Silk-screen printing
- Bare-board testing
As you can see, assembly is one of the most important processes, since it involves placing all of the electronic components onto the bare board. That’s why it’s extremely important to assemble the PCB correctly AND to save some money doing so.
In order to calculate the average PCB assembly cost, some people resort to using online assembly calculators. And while these tools can be instructive, they can’t cover the fine details that go into the production of these boards. At best, you can get a ballpark answer and adjust your numbers.
How do you calculate the average PCB assembly cost, then? Let’s find out.
The Different Elements of PCB Assembly
Generally speaking, there are five factors that can determine your PCB assembly cost. They are:
- Labor costs
- Turnaround Time
- Packaging of parts
A lot of assemblies are generally done as a combination of human labor and automated machinery. So, the cost of your PCB assembly will differ widely depending on who your workers are and the country where your factory is.
Broadly speaking, any assembly in North America or Western Europe will cost you a pretty penny. In fact, in the US alone, it might come up to $1100 for a 3-day turnaround time. On the other hand, the cost is less than half of that in Southeast Asia and China. Of course, there’s a risk to moving your assembly line to one of these countries; all the money you might save on assembly you could end up spending on shipping or handling, and there might be some financial losses due to late shipments and communication delays.
When you manufacture a product on a large scale, the price of each individual unit tends to drop. It’s a basic principle in economics called economies of scale, and it definitely applies to PCB manufacturing.
Naturally, you can’t expect to see this reduction in unit costs when you start assembling the boards. The initial prices of programming and start-up costs, for example, will inflate the prices of units. However, the more units you make over time, the more the costs will decrease and you’ll be able to cover all expenses. In order to achieve that, make sure that your manufacturer can handle large volume orders of PCBs.
Turnaround time, or TAT, refers to the time span required for a manufacturer to make and deliver a finished product. Obviously, if you want to satisfy your client’s needs, you will try to manufacture your PCBs in the shortest TAT possible.
However, short TAT will drive up the price of your units. For instance, if you manufacture other IT products and the client specifically wants PCBs, you have to halt production and focus on one specific product. That already loses you lots of money from making and shipping something other than the boards. In addition, you will have to rely on expedited shipping to reach the client faster, which costs more than regular shipping, especially if you have to ship to small markets like Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America, or the Middle East.
Lots of companies used to go with something called through-hole technology to assemble the boards. Of course, most modern manufacturers use surface mount technology or SMT, which is highly automated, hence reducing the PCB assembly cost by a lot.
Packaging of Parts
The cost of packaging will differ depending on what part you’re trying to pack. For example, QFNs and BGAs have a really high assembly cost. These parts have electrical connections, so they require a specific type of packaging in order not to damage them. In addition, they have to go through an X-ray inspection in order to see if any of the pins short-circuited.
How to Reduce Your Average PCB Assembly Cost
Now that you know some of the basics of PCB assembly, let’s discuss how you can reduce some of the costs that come with it.
If you want a quick TAT and a high-quality unit production, you need to put the extra effort in at the very first step, i.e. the PCB design. If you have an optimal design, you will manufacture spectacular boards ready for shipping within days.
The most important factors that determine a good PCB design include:
- Size and shape of the board
- Type of surface finish you’re using
- The number of layers
- Via technology
Order Time and Quantity
Based on how much of the product you’ll need and the shipping deadline, the price of a single unit can vary a lot. Generally speaking, you’ll need to cover large orders in order to sell more low-cost units. However, you’ll also need to go for lenient order times, since any short-notice order might result in increased costs.
Bill of Materials (BOM)
In order to craft the most high-quality PCB, you will need all of the proper components. That’s why it’s a good idea to make a comprehensive, detailed list called the bill of materials, or BOM.
A typical BOM ought to cover raw materials, assemblies, sub-assemblies, items, components, etc. Moreover, it should cover all of the relevant product data such as names, part numbers, reference designators, and so on. It’s vital that you include both the regular and spare parts for every single component.
Testing and Inspection
What happens if your product breaks down right after being used? Well, you might have to endure refunds, cover repair costs, and in extreme cases even go through lawsuits. All of those things will siphon money out of your pockets. To avoid that, always invest in proper product testing and inspections; that way, the product you ship will have top-notch performance and you’ll minimize the cost of potential repairs and replacements.
The average PCB assembly cost will differ wildly based on the elements listed above. Sometimes it can be $10 per unit, other times it can go well over $50. However, you can always reduce the cost if you approach the assembly process the right way. All it takes is some proper investment and planning upfront.