A variety of factors can greatly affect the bottom line of OEMs when outsourcing printed circuit board assemblies — both positively and negatively. That’s why extensive due diligence must be undertaken before deciding whether a printed circuit board assembly (PCBA) provider is right for your business. When discussing potential partnerships with PCBA vendors, it’s best to have a standard set of questions that you can reference and use to evaluate each vendor. Here are 10 questions to help you get started with developing your PCBA vendor evaluation checklist.
1. What industries is the PCBA provider experienced in?
Your project will go much smoother if you work with a PCB Assembly provider that has in-depth knowledge of several different industries, including the industry that your organization is in.
2. What type of equipment and capabilities does the PCBA provider have?
PCBA providers’ ability to deliver an order to the exact specifications of the client depends on the assembly equipment that is available. For example, if a PCB design necessitates surface-mount components, then the ideal assembler will own pick-and-place machines, reflow ovens, 3D BGA inspectors, and rework equipment. By reviewing the assembler’s repertoire of equipment and capabilities you can forecast the quality of the end result.
3. What processes are set in place to protect your intellectual property?
Intellectual property is a very valuable asset, which sets OEMs apart from one another. Knowing exactly how a PCBA vendor protects their clients from possible infringements is a must. Ask shortlisted PCBA vendors what they do to secure IP information from data system or personnel breaches.
4. Will you be provided with a dedicated point of contact, other than a salesperson, to handle your account?
Most PCBA vendors known for high levels of servicing provide a single point of contact that client partners can contact at any time. Compared to the typical salesperson, this point of contact’s primary responsibility lies in addressing your concerns or questions, and streamlining the project management process.
5. Is a design for assembly review offered during the introduction phase?
PCBA vendors that don’t provide thorough design reviews before actually beginning the assembly process put OEMs at serious risk of incurring additional costs related to change orders and project delays.
6. Does the PCBA vendor have a sound quality control process, with certification to match?
Be sure the PCBA provider that you’re considering has a quality management system in place to control PCB materials, processes and verification activities. They should hold certifications that demonstrate their high quality standard such as ISO 9001:2008. They should also be able to detail how frequently they conduct quality checks and final inspections during the assembly process.
7. Can the PCBA vendor support you in locating difficult to find parts and materials?
High quality PCBA vendors rely on their strong relationships with well established, reputable suppliers to avoid delays caused by late part arrivals or defective materials and parts. The reputation of parts suppliers often hints at the quality OEMs can expect from PCBA vendors. The provider you choose should source parts exclusively from certified component suppliers who abide by industry standards on overages and counterfeit material.
8. Do they offer prototyping services?
Best in class PCBA providers have the capacity to provide prototypes of assembled printed circuit boards with quick turnaround. They understand that OEMs often need to review a finished product before signing off on a new project. Using such a prototype they can predict with reasonable confidence that their specifications will be met.
9. Can you receive a copy of the PCBA vendor’s last quality audit?
A clean quality audit (no major findings) is evidence of a well-controlled plant environment and indicative of the attention to detail that a PCB Assembly provider will give your project.
Each of the above questions can provide OEMs with invaluable insights on PCBA vendors before engaging with them. Protect the success of your project and quality of your product by ensuring that the PCBA vendor you choose has the right combination of technical know-how, equipment, quality control and project management processes to support your business.