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How to Find a Manufacturer for Your PCB Prototype

One of the major problems a freelance electrical engineer often encounters is in finding a manufacturer for the PCBs they design. Sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error to find a contract manufacturer that will work with small jobs and give them the same efforts as larger orders they contract. If you are freelancing and have yet to find a manufacturer for your designs, here are a few tips to help you find the right CM (contract manufacturer) for the job.

Begin with Your Own Knowledge of Standards and Regulations

Never assume that a CM is compliant with all PCB manufacturing guidelines and standards. There is no substitute for your own knowledge of industry standards. How can you gauge whether or not a manufacturer is compliant with the standards governing the manufacturing of PCBs? For example, do you fully understand which class your particular board/design falls within? Here you would refer to IPC 6011 for:

  • Class 1 – General Electronics Products
  • Class 2 – Dedicated Service Electronic Products
  • Class 3 – High Reliability Electronic Products

IPC standards are quite rigid, and if you don’t understand or have a working knowledge of them, there is no way to ascertain whether or not a CM is compliant with these rules and regulations. It would be a disaster to design a consumer electronic device only to have it held in production for noncompliance.

Ascertain Compatibility of Design Software

Here is one of the most important qualifications you should be aware of when choosing a CM. Is there design software compatible with the design suite you work with? You can trace your circuitry with an Altium Netlist, for example, but if they are using some third world software that isn’t compatible with the Altium suite, there is no guarantee you will be getting what you paid for! When it comes to prototypes, the Netlist from Altium enables you to trace circuits to ensure components are placed correctly within the circuit. Can this CM work with your Netlist? If not, move on to the next!

Check References for QC

As the old saying goes, talk is cheap. You can read a manufacturer’s website, meet with their sales rep and everything sounds wonderful. They assure you they are IPC compliant in terms of product and component quality, but they talk the good talk and their walk is a little wobbly! It is imperative that you check references from other engineers and customers who contracted them for jobs, large or small. You can only get a real picture of a CM by checking references and so you are urged to do this prior to contracting even a small batch prototype.

Finally, there is one other issue which is a huge concern in today’s world. With so many data breaches hitting the news, you need to ensure the safety of your intellectual property. It is imperative that you question what anti-theft services they use to ensure the integrity of your design. It only takes one hack to lose months, if not years, of work, so take time to discuss safety measures they have in place. One last word of caution would be advice your mother gave you so many years ago. If you aren’t comfortable, if something ‘feels’ wrong, walk away. Someday, you’ll be happy you did!

About the author

Praveen Rajarao

Praveen Rajarao is an Entrepreneur and in his spare time blogs on his website –http://www.dailymorningcoffee.com and http://www.pbgeeks.com. His topics range from blogging to technology to affiliate programs and making money online and how-to guides. Daily Morning Coffee is also accepting Guest Posts from Professional Bloggers at this time, take a look at “Write For DMC” page for more details on the same.

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  • Hey Praveen,

    You always comes with some unique ideas and I enjoy a lot because it helps me to add more n more information regarding subject.

    Now-a-days, people are using more electronic appliances due to flexibility in their daily life. Thanks for sharing.

    With best regards,

    Amar Kumar

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