Before printed circuit boards (PCBs) are manufactured in high volumes, engineers will typically create a prototype to check that their design works and performs efficiently. PCB prototyping allows an engineer to detect any errors or flaws at an early stage of development, saving time, money and sleepless nights in the long run.
For some advanced projects, an engineer might use several prototypes before they arrive at a final design for batch or volume production.
When creating a prototype, PCB, companies must decide whether to have prototypes made in the UK or abroad. In the rest of this blog post, we consider the benefits and drawbacks of each option across four key themes – cost, service, turnaround time and quality.
Cost always plays an important role in these decisions, but experienced engineers will tell you that cheaper isn’t always better.
UK PCB production houses are more expensive than those in the Far East and those in Eastern and Central Europe. Higher labour costs mean that domestic manufacturers can’t match operators in these countries.
Domestic shipping costs are cheaper and a drop in the value of the pound has made UK production slightly more appealing. In general, however, it is still cheaper to manufacture overseas, especially when you are manufacturing at scale.
For single PCB or small batch production though, the price difference between UK production and international production is far less significant. We find that most engineers are willing to spend a little more to secure a better service and outcome.
It pays to have a strong relationship with your PCB manufacturer. A PCB production house should not be treated as a commodity, but as a production partner whose input can have a significant impact on the outcome of a product.
As long as they’re brought in at the right stage, an experienced production partner could help optimise the PCB layout and reduce the number of PCB design iterations. Industry experts could also alert you to things that you hadn’t considered, such as newer or better components.
In theory at least, there is nothing to suggest that an international operator wouldn’t provide a good service to UK customers. However, in our experience, the physical distance and cultural differences between companies in the UK and those in other countries often leads to a poorer service.
Some UK companies are comfortable with the commodification of PCB prototypes, but many others are keen to get a second opinion from our experts.
Turnaround time is particularly important for teams that are battling against a rapidly approaching deadline.
UK-based operators can often guarantee faster turnaround times, not only because they can guarantee faster shipping, but also because they often have more spare capacity for rush jobs.
At Hi5 Electronics, we can guarantee a turnaround time as low as one day. And because most of our production team comes from an electronics design background, we also understand the pressures associated with a tight deadline.
If your need is not as urgent, Hi5 also offers slower delivery times at a lower overall cost. View the online store for more information.
Quality is another key issue when selecting a PCB manufacturer. There are a number of different ways to understand the quality of a PCB board, but most measurements would include an evaluation of the workmanship and the quality of the materials used.
Issues like mislocated drill holes, incorrect board dimensions, board warping and substandard materials are all things to watch out for with PCB producers. Although quality issues are not particularly common when using a reputable supplier, our experience suggests that they are more likely to come on boards that are manufactured internationally.
Hi5 Electronics specialises in the quick turnaround of high-quality circuit boards. Our UK-based PCB prototyping service is the fastest way to turn your PCB designs into functional prototypes for rapid product development. Ready to order? Use our online shop for a customised quote.