Don’t break the bank – save money with these ten practical PCB manufacturing tips.
Getting that PCB of yours manufactured is no easy feat, and there’s a boat load of machinery, human labor, and processes that make it all happen. But your list of concerns is probably different and involves getting your board back promptly while saving some money. That’s why we’re here — to help you avoid any unnecessary complexity and errors in your PCB design that can take a huge amount out of your wallet come manufacturing time. So without further ado, here are ten practical PCB manufacturing tips that are guaranteed to save you money on your next trip to the fab house.
Two Quick Disclaimers
First, this guide is for members of our community who are just venturing out into PCB design and manufacturing. We won’t cover anything super complex related to high-speed design impedances, blind/buried vias, etc. Second, any of the values we listed in this blog post should be verified with your manufacturer, since every fab house uses their own machinery and processes. Measure twice, cut once!
1. Keep Your Board Size at a Minimum
While this one might be the most obvious, it’s also the one factor that can take a huge chunk out of your wallet. Always try to keep your completed board size to a minimum, as the bigger it gets, the bigger your costs get. This also works the other way around. If you make your board too small, a manufacturer will need very precise equipment to put everything together, also costing more. So at the end of the day it’s a balancing act for you to navigate between size and complexity, but try to err on the side of less is more.
2. Don’t Skimp on Quality Materials
Before you go and tell your manufacturer to use one of those cheaper, substitute materials for your layer stack, hear us out. Think about when you get that board back. What if it fails within days, weeks, or months after you power it up?
If you skimp on materials now, you’ll probably wind up losing more money in the long run when you find that your boards are glorified coffee coasters. So when it comes to selecting materials for your layer stack, use the standard, quality stuff — it’s there for a reason.
3. Stick with Standard Board Shapes
Unless you have a crazy looking enclosure to fit your design in, always design your board in the standard square and rectangular shapes characteristic of most PCBs. Doing anything out of the norm will skyrocket your manufacturing costs significantly. Also, don’t’ bother adding any internal cutouts to your PCB unless you need it to mount to an enclosure. Keep it simple!
4. Stay Within Your Minimum Spacing Requirements
This one works just the opposite of your board size. As the spacing between your copper objects like pads and tracks decreases, the more your manufacturing costs will increase. The reasoning behind this is fairly simple. The more stuff you pack into a smaller package, the more precise the manufacturing machinery will need to be. Many fab houses have a standard set of spacing requirements, which is somewhere around 8-10 mils minimum spacing between pads, tracks and track widths.
Always check with your manufacturer to see their specific spacing requirements. And save yourself from some added worry about adding design rules in your PCB design software for these spacing requirements so you don’t need to think about it while you design.
5. Use the Biggest Diameter Possible for Holes
The smaller your holes and annular rings, the higher your manufacturing costs will climb. Again, it comes down to smaller spacing needing precise machinery. Many fab houses will even charge extra if you need holes that are smaller than 0.4mm, so be sure to give your manufacturer a call to avoid any unnecessary costs.
6. Use the Right Via for the Job
There are three types of vias: through-hole vias, blind vias, and buried vias. You’ll only use the last two for high density and high-frequency PCBs. So this one is simple: if your design doesn’t need these types of vias, leave them out to avoid any extra manufacturing costs.
7. Chill Out on the Extra Layers
Before you go adding a bunch of additional layers for more routing space, power planes, or performance, think again. The difference between a four layer board and a two layer board is double! Keep things clean and compact on your next design, and only use as many layers as needed to get the job done, even if that means a little more in board size.
8. Set Your Design Up for Panelization
At a fab house, PCBs are made on a giant panel with a bunch of other PCBs, or just yours depending on how many you ordered. You can save yourself a ton of money at this point by using the largest panel size available from your manufacturer. Getting all of your boards on one panel means that rapid-fire pick and place machine can get all your parts placed in one go without requiring any additional setup time.
9. Use Only Industry Standard Sizes and Components
There’s a reason why the electronics industry uses a standardized set of sizes and components — it makes everyone’s job easier and more efficient. It also adds some potential for automation in all of those high-tech pieces of manufacturing equipment. To avoid any wasted money required from having your manufacturer assemble your weird components by hand, stick with the industry standard specifications, which may differ between each fab house.
10. Stick with Surface Mount Components If Possible
Last but not least, unless you’re building a mega complex design, it’s best to stick with standard surface mount components (also called Surface Mount Devices, or SMDs). Why? A few reasons:
- Using surface mount components will reduce the amount of holes that need to be drilled on your board that are typically used for through-hole components.
- This will also reduce the number of processes required to get all of your parts soldered onto your board.
- You will likely get your board back in less time, as through-hole components require hand assembly by a certified person.
If you decide to go with a mixed-component technology with both surface mount and through-hole parts, prepare for some added costs. These type of setup will require multiple passes through the soldering oven and some manual hand assembly.
Enjoy Your Saved Money!
So there you have it, ten practical PCB manufacturing tips that will save you loads of money on your next PCB design. A reminder: do your homework by checking with your manufacturer to see what their specific requirements are for spacing, hole diameters, panelization, etc. And you never know, your fab house might have some cost-saving tips of their own to offer.
Ready to get started? Try out these PCB manufacturing tips in Autodesk Fusion 360 today!