PCB Design Expertise–What to Look For

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Electronics Manufacturing Quality Control

Recently we discussed the potential pitfalls of PCB design. Your best bet is to work with a manufacturer with in-house PCB designers as it opens dialogue between design and production, which helps to avoid mistakes and increase efficiency. However, if that option is not in the cards and you find yourself needing to outsource PCB layout—or you are just interested in reviewing your options—there are a few important areas to consider.

Outsourcing PCB Design: Questions to Consider

Is outsourcing right for me? Not always. While there are sometimes cost savings to using an external source, there are long-term benefits to keeping the entire project in-house. Usually an in-house PCB designer like ACDi can tackle any project you provide, and it’s often to your advantage to have someone who works with your production team as they will communicate better, work together from the early stages, and minimize potential pitfalls while maximizing efficiencies. However, if the skills required for the design are beyond that of the in-house electronic design professional, or if there are additional requirements such as size, speed, and complexity that necessitate additional support, then outsourcing should be considered.

Which part of the process needs outsourcing?  You may not need to outsource the entire process. In some cases, bringing in an external resource for a specific component such as schematic entry or tract routing might be all you need. It’s important to understand the process before you sign up for an outside vendor so you can provide input on each step—whether the outside vendor takes on one part or the entire development. There are five stages of PCB design:

  • Initial design review and integration
  • Mechanical definition
  • Placement and review
  • Routing
  • Pre-delivery and review

What is important to the success of this project? Typically, your answers are: “It needs to be on time, within budget, and high quality.” Time, cost, and quality often compete so be prepared to sacrifice one to maximize the other two. Keeping your PCB design in-house may seem to forgo cost-savings, but you’ll increase the time and quality to the point where it may be worth it.

What to Look for When Outsourcing PCB Design

It goes without saying, but the quality of the design work is essential to your success. A few ways to do a quick quality check are:

  • Ensure your potential designers have the right accreditation, such as
  • Check that the PCB design professional is up-to-date with all the latest international electronics and design standards.
  • Peruse the potential partner’s website for case studies and recommendations, and look online for reviews.
  • Confirm the PCB designer is using current software and has a familiarity with a variety of resources. Make sure the designer has access to design components that comply with the set surface mount design requirements. Your designer should find the right tool for you, not force your product into the parameter of the tool he or she uses.
  • Make sure your potential PCB designer is comfortable with a non-disclosure agreement and understand what the firm will do to protect your information.

Communication is also vital to your relationship so make sure your provider is clear, concise, and responsive. Ensure the designer’s communication platform of choice is something you are comfortable with.   

Lastly, dig into how your potential partner will be providing solutions. It’s not uncommon for outsourced resources to outsource the work. Multiple designers or companies result in a game of telephone where the more people you pass a message along to, the more garbled the message becomes.  

No matter which direction you decide to go in—in-house or outsourcing—spending time researching the best partner for your PCB design is a worthwhile endeavor.

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