Contract Manufacturers: Where Do You Get Your Boards?

Dan 8Choosing the right PCB vendor is critical to your success

Choosing the right PCB vendor is not as easy as you want to think it is. There are still many contract manufacturers out there who believe the myth that all PCB shops are the same and that in the end it’s only a matter of basing their decision on price and price alone. Oh, sure you’ll make yourselves feel better trying to know more about who you are dealing with. Some of you will actually visit potential vendors and perform surveys on them. This is a good thing, sometimes, because there are some shops who look fantastic when you visit them, pass your surveys with flying colors, and then go on to be a disaster when it comes to day by day performance. That’s because selecting the right board shop goes further than what it looks like on paper, or what it looks like period. I know some great looking shops that can’t perform worth a darn and then some of the ugliest shops you’ll ever see that are great performers.

Putting all of that aside, here are five good ways to choose the right PCB vendor for your contract manufacturing company.

  1. Ask them about their delivery and quality performance. Actually, ask them to back up what they claim their performance is. Ask to see the charts, the numbers. They are all going to tell you that their delivery and quality numbers are in the high 90’s don’t believe them, ask for proof. I mean look them in the eye and ask for proof, hard evidence, of this stellar performance they are claiming to have. Ask them how they measure this performance. An honest measurement for delivery is whether or not they meet the original date. Some companies will get a new catch-back date from their customers and then meet that date and call it on time. That is not on time. Meeting the original delivery date is true on time performance, no exceptions!
  2. Get references. Why doesn’t anyone do this? Ask them for references and then call those references and ask what their experience has been. It’s even better if you now someone who is or has been one of their customers and get their opinion of what’s it’s like to deal with this vendor. Find out for yourself. Do your research.
  3. Ask them if they are financially sound. The last thing you want is to invest in a vendor that will be out of business three months into the relationship. The repercussions of that situation are endless, especially when their doors are locked and your product is held hostage.
  4. Ask them how they handle customers issues. You will find that most customer/vendor relationships are formed in hardship. Any time you work with a PC shop there will be issues, there always are, and how you are treated dealing with those issues will end up making or breaking the relationship. Ask them to tell you about a time they had an issue with a customer and how it was handled.
  5. Once you decide to use a shop, start them off with a fairly simple order. Too often customers will lead off with their most challenging board. The one that they’ve had a difficult time sourcing, the one that everyone has had a hard time with. Do not give them that board. The first order should be an audition order. It should be simple and straightforward technology. You are checking out how their system works. How efficient their quote process is, how easy it is to place an order and of course how they perform on that order. Once you have a good feeling about their logistics, then start placing more orders and even get to the more challenging ones.

And one more, in the spirit of under promising and over delivering there is one more thing to think about and that’s the people. In the end it’s all about what you feel about the people you will be dealing with. You are after all, getting married to these people, not the company but the actual. people you will be dealing with. What kind of vibe do you get from them? Do you sense they respect their customers or do they delight in telling you some “the customer was stupid and we were so smart stories”? don’t laugh it happens all the time. Remember that your company and this company, your people and their people are going to be significant partners working towards the success of your company, so choose wisely my friends. No survey form ever tells the true story of the actual people you will be dealing with.

And, finally beware of board shops offering great price incentives, because in PCBs, like everything else, you get what you pay for. In the end a ten or even twenty percent discount will not make up for boards that are late holding up your production lines and causing late deliveries or worse yet, boards that have poor Quality causing eventual field failures on products that have your name on them, not that board shop’s. Once that happens, buying the cheapest board that money can buy will no longer seem like a great idea. It’s only common sense.

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