Selling PCB Design Services in a First-World Country

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Quality PCB design is an evolving breed of services in first world countries. As North American and European companies squeeze the skilled designers out of their own workforce, pushing more of the work into Eastern Europe and Asia, those who remain with the skills either opt for retirement, career change or consolidation.

As the business operations manager for Better Boards Inc., I see our company at the focal point for consolidation: a gathering of skilled board designers to create a center of excellence. It is at this point that we have the critical problem facing a PCB design services company: How do we effectively sell these services back to the companies that cast off their own skilled employees? How do we sell PCB design services into small companies that can barely afford the one overworked electrical engineer that they hired last year?

In addressing these key questions, we evaluate the three key challenges and embrace the three tantalizing opportunities. Doing this well gets our foot in the door and positions us to sell these services in the hardware design teams that would prefer to be designing circuits rather than layouts.

The Challenges

The first challenge is the price competition from both overseas labor and the designer working from home. PCB design layout service rates in Europe and North America remain relatively high for companies who know the value of the skill that designers bring. Meanwhile, small companies in the Czech Republic, Poland, India, Russia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and China can offer layout services for about half of those domestically. Likewise, the designer in his bonus room has very low overhead (sometimes quite literally, thanks to knee walls), and can often undercut the hourly rates of a proper services company.

The second challenge is that of being multilingual in CAD tools. Between the customers demanding that we use Cadence Allegro, Altium, Mentor Graphics Xpedition, Eagle, KiCAD or many other cheap and free tools, it’s enough to drive a designer mad. No person can reasonably support all of those. To support multiple customers means to support multiple tools. This is difficult to achieve with just one or two designers, since most professional designers are great at one tool, fair with another, and merely aware of the rest. Being successful means establishing a team of designers with varying skillsets—a matrix of designers with a mix of tool knowledge that can support any type of RFQ that comes in.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the January 2017 issue of The Printed Circuit Design Magazine, click here.


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