There are huge amounts of makers and hardware startups begun the creation of new hardware products, a simple but challenging work for them is the prototyping and small batch production. That is, making 1pcs of prototyping board for debugging is really not easy for hardware engineers, there are so much work to do for that include the PCB/components/soldering, etc. After the prototyping passed, it is also not easy for the product manager to set a 100 pcs production, to have a try if the community would be interest on the product. Traditional factories will not be interest on producing a product with 100 pcs, they want 100K~. The product manager will need to try to persuade the factory: hey, this product has good furthers, that you will got big orders as the small batch production confirmed
Thanks to Shenzhen, the Asia largest electronic markets and the plenty of electronic companies. Now, customer can get a much easier way to prototype the ideas, and produce them with any quantity that they would love to.With this “Smart Prototyping& Small batch Production”,the designers can get the design into a real board in a short lead time and acceptable price, or produce 100 pcs to have a try if they works in the market, with small investment.A standard PCBA Prototyping&Small Batch Production runs as follows:
1. Designer Requests.
Designers find one “Smart Prototyping& Small batch Production ”vendor in Shenzhen, and send a message to the vendor
, in which explanation of what boards want, what’s the quantity , and the related files:
1.1.) PCB Gerber files and the specs.
This files is for the PCB production, using the RS-274x format as it is the most widely used PCB files in Shenzhen. Remember that the Drill file(PCB name.txt ) also needed.PCB spec, include the color/pads finish/thickness/copper weight. The most popular color is green, while some other color such as blue/red/white/yellow/black available,but maybe some extra fee for those un-popular color. The pads finish can be Hasl/ENIG, or some others.
1.2.) BOM list.
This is the most important file and often the mistakes happen here. Some tips: ·List the same items in the same row;·Mouser/Digikey parts number would be help to avoid misunderstanding.
1.3.) Parting mappingfile for soldering.
This is not mandatory.distinct silkscreen on the PCB would be also works for hand soldering. If thereis no , or not enough silkscreens, a mapping file is needed.2
. Vendor Quotes
. As receiving the request, the vendor will estimated the total product cost. For a PCBA production, the main cost includes:
based on the PCB spec and production difficulty. Normally, the PCBA vendor will not produce the PCB by themselves, the PCB will be produced by the PCB factory. there are some “express PCB” factory in Shenzhen, such as the HQ PCB and JLC PCB, that can provide the PCB with low starting fee(Less than 10$)and short lead time, but the quantity relative lower, just fit for those prototyping productions and lower spec requirements. If the customer needs the PCB quality higher,or the PCB spec is high, for example, 6 layer PCB, the minimum trace interface 4 mils, some industry-level PCB factory maybe needed. The starting fee would behigher, and the lead time normally 7~10 days.
2.2.) BOM List Fee.
It is indeed there are some PCBA vendors can auto analysis the BOM list, if the customer provide standard BOM list with Mouser/Digikey code or vendor internal codes for all the components, but the disadvantage is obvious: it needs the customer provides all the parts numbers, but it is time-cost for customer to do this when a simple components needed such as a 1uf 0603 resistor, and also the price will be high, as the system will fetch price from Mouser/Digikey directly. Actually in Shenzhen, for some components, much lower price than Digikey/Mouser is available. A more ensured, but low efficiency way is reviewing the BOM list by human. For some IC, the Shenzhen price would be much lower than that of Mouser/Digikey, that a more completive price can be given to the designer.
2.3.) Soldering&Assembly Fee.
Soldering and some other works such as programming and testing. In Shenzhen, there are plenty of the soldering factory dedicated on this,but the starting fee is high for prototyping or small batch, as actually there are lot of works to start the production. The special prototyping &small batch production vendors organize all the small productions together and make this kind of production “Smart”, with lower cost and shorter lead time.
2.4.) Shipping Fee.
In Shenzhen, the DHL/Fedex/UPS are allavailable with completive price. Besides, as Shenzhen not far from HongKong,some company use the shipping service in HongKong, with even more lower shipping cost.3
. Negotiating and Customer Paying
. After negotiating, the designer pay the money. It is more safe to us the PayPal for the buyers, as thePayPal would be a good 3-rd party to ensure the money is safe. The disadvantage the PayPal charges about 3.5%~4%, so for larger transaction and trusty parter, some other payment methodis also popular used such as the wire transfer.4. Production Start.
It is really not a simple work to explain this process, very rough steps:
need to firstly check how the PCB production and panelizing, and how the boards will be soldered, and if there is any special requests, how the boards testing…. That is, a detailed production guideis needed to control the whole production.
4.2.) Start the PCB production
, normally 3~5 days for prototyping and 5~8 days for small batch production, based on the PCB spec and quantity.
4.3.) Preparing the components
. This is the most important step in the whole production that absolutely unlike the traditional mass production. In mass production, all the components is stable, the related sourcing man can check again and again the price, the certifications, slowly. But in the prototyping &small batch production,this must be done quickly, it needs really experienced components engineers,and stable& reliable vendors, to provide these components with low volume and completive price, and of course the most important, ensured quality. This is not a work for one day, need a long time to find& cooperate the most proper vendors.
4.4.) Soldering& Assembly.
The vendor may solder all the PCB themselves or find some other “bare soldering factory” to help, with human soldering or pick-n-place machine. This is really a long story, that we will discuss in a separate article later.
4.5.) Washing and visual checking.
Wash the boards to keep them good looking, and check if there is anything wrong. This step needs experienced QC workers for this. If there is functional checking request, do them here.
. It is almost impossible to ensure 100% pass rate in the production. If 100 pcs were produced, it is a good production if 95 pcs passed. An experienced soldering man needed here to repairthe failed boards.
. For international shipping, it is important to package all the boards safety. Remember the package will be thrown back and force by the DHL workers, it is better to ensure all the boards in safe with good package.5. Ship
the package to customer, and track the shipment until the package arrived to the buyer. This is not the end, get the feedback of the buyer and if any mistakes happened, analyze the reason and take the related responsibility!