As a new decade begins, the electronic components market looks set to continue to experience a high degree of volatility, with the supply of printed circuit boards (PCBs) predicted to be no exception.
The entire electronics manufacturing supply chain has been significantly impacted by advancements in new technology and more stringent regulations relating to recycling, environmental sustainability and the use of hazardous materials.
As a result, suppliers across the electronics manufacturing industry are having to rethink their choice of materials and processes.
This added complexity is placing understandable pressures on supply chain management - which means that partnering with the right PCB supplier is perhaps more crucial than ever.
The role of the PCB
With a vast array of modern technology, the PCB is sometimes referred to as the 'brains' of a product or machine. Arguably, it's one of the most vital and technically complex commodities within electronics manufacturing.
However, when you consider the PCB in the context of the entire cost of an electronic assembly, it could be easy to perceive it as a relatively "small player". Quite often, buyers view the PCB as a commodity and lowest price can be a deciding factor when it comes to placing an order.
But PCB quality is nonetheless a critical factor in ensuring the risk of equipment malfunction or product failure - and having a solid supplier selection strategy in place is key.
The importance of PCB supplier selection
Securing consistent and high quality PCB supply can make a massive difference in keeping on top of costs, avoiding the frustration of extended turnaround times and ensuring product performance.
Which supplier selection criteria matter most will of course depend on the unique needs of each business and its products. Certain considerations, are likely be a given - the supplier's time in business, their revenue and growth, the market sectors they specialize in, their industry reputation etc.
But there may also be other factors - such as their certification standards, their approach to problem-solving, their employee training initiatives or their commitment to continuous improvement - that may also feature more prominently on your list of priorities.
Quality of course, is a concept that can be considered from a variety of perspectives.
There is the quality of the production of the PCB itself - ensuring that it has been built to the right dimensions, that all holes been correctly drilled and accurately positioned, that there minimal board warping and that it passes the bare board test.
Then there is the quality of the service that a PCB supplier provides. Are they agile and responsive? Are they able to consistently produce the board to your specifications, be it required number of layers, PCB materials, tolerances etc?
Can they work to given deadlines? And do they have the capability to ramp up production or offer faster turnaround if it's needed?
Throughout the PCB supplier selection process, it will also be important to always keep your own priorities firmly in mind.
- What are the things that matter most to your company?
- What is the role of the PCB in your production process?
- Are there specific practices, corporate responsibility for example, that are especially important to you?
- Which performance metrics do your business value most in a supplier relationship?
Maintaining the stability and resilience of every touch point of the supply chain is undoubtedly a major priority for electronics manufacturers - with printed circuit board supply being no exception.
The more complex your technology, the more important it will be to identify, qualify and actively manage your PCB supply base.
While a PCB could well be perceived as a "small offering" in the larger scheme of an assembled product, partnering with the right supplier who can act simultaneously as logistics expert, advisor, and technical leader will be crucial.
Creating and maintaining a formal supplier selection strategy will undoubtedly demand considerable forethought, time and resources.
But the pay-back in the long-term - and the knowledge that you've selected a suitable partner - should greatly outweigh any cost.