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Choosing the right PCB supplier is not as easy as you want to think it is. There are still many contract manufacturers 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 alone.
Sure, you’ll make yourselves feel better trying to know more about who you are dealing with. Some of you will actually visit potential suppliers and perform surveys. This is a good thing sometimes, but 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-to-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 supplier for your contract manufacturing company.
- Ask about their delivery and quality performance. Ask them to actually back up what they claim their performance is. Ask to see the charts and the numbers. They are all going to tell you that their delivery and quality numbers are in the high 90s, but don’t believe them, ask for proof. Look them in the eye and ask for proof, hard evidence, of this stellar performance they are claiming to have. Ask how they measure this performance. An honest measurement for delivery is whether or not they meet the original delivery 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!
- Get references. Why doesn’t anyone do this? Ask for references and then call those references and find out what their experience has been. It’s even better if you know someone who is or has been one of their customers and get their opinion of what’s it’s like to deal with this supplier. Find out for yourself. Do your research.
- Ask if they are financially sound. The last thing you want is to invest in a supplier 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.
- Ask how they handle customers issues. You will find that most customer/supplier relationships are formed in hardship. Any time you work with a PCB shop, there will be issues, 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.
- 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 underpromising and overdelivering: There is one more thing to think about, and that’s the people. In the end, it’s all about the people you will be dealing with. You are, after all, getting married to these people who you will be dealing with, not the company. 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 10% or even 20% discount will not make up for boards that are late, or worse yet, boards that have poor quality, causing 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.