Buying Printed Circuit Boards Should Not Be Difficult!

Do engineering questions drive you crazy? 

Here is a common scenario:  You have a quote for 3 different part numbers and place a purchase order for delivery in 5 days.  A few hours later, you receive the dreaded email listing issues with the designs that need to be cleared up prior to manufacturing.  Then it takes a day or two of emails with your customer or your design engineer and your supplier to resolve the issue.  Then you are informed that your delivery will need to be pushed out for the 2 day delay in answering the questions!  Ugh.  Now the schedule has to be adjusted, the components you are paying a premium to receive in time for the build schedule will be sitting there, and your customer is NOT HAPPY.

This scenario occurs time and time again across a range of suppliers and a range of technology.  Nobody is really surprised, but MOST ARE FRUSTRATED! 

Sadly, at least 90% of designs that go through CAD/CAM and tooling at a PCB fabricator have questions that must be answered to manufacture the PCB properly.    Some are minor and can be answered quickly; others can require a partial or complete redesign of the PCB. 

Chapters could be written on ideas to improve this situation, but for today, I want to offer a few tips to keep in mind when working on a very tight schedule with critical delivery requirements.

  •  Work with your supplier ahead of releasing the PO.  A good supplier will be happy to run a design for manufacturability review to catch any issues prior to the purchase order being released.  This may not catch everything up front, but it will catch the major issues that will cause delivery delays.
  •  When you receive questions from the CAD/CAM tooling group, ask if this includes all questions associated with the design.  Sometimes two different engineers may be working on the same design to meet a quick turn delivery and both may have questions in their portion of the process.  Other times, when the initial issues are encountered, the job is set aside only to find additional issues when work is resumed.  The process can be streamlined by taking all questions to your designer or your end customer at one time.
  •  If the questions are fairly involved, it is always best to try to schedule a conference call between your fabricators tooling group, your designer or end customer and yourself to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.  Email offers a great documentation trail for any changes, but can drag the process out longer than is necessary.  Just make sure someone is responsible for documenting the discussion.
  • Once the questions are answered, follow up with your supplier to confirm that the questions involved in the tooling process have not impacted your delivery schedule.  You do not want to be surprised on the day you are expecting your printed circuit boards!

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