Ten Considerations for Outsourcing PCB Designs


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Outsourcing your design work is a big deal. How do you know that the end-result will be as you envisaged? Will you have full control of your design? Will it be done to the quality you expect and within the time frame required?

Outsourcing can pose some fairly scary questions, so what are the key things to consider and what are the pitfalls to avoid?

1. Will outsourcing work for you?

Outsourcing of PCB design work is done by a wide variety of companies, in numerous industries ranging from one man operations to large design bureaus and equally there is no blueprint for the type of company that outsources or the reasons given.

Many small organisations may not have the capacity to employ PCB professionals or have sufficient design work to allow them to employ someone full-time. However, when new product development occurs, the need for these skills increases and, in order to innovate and adapt, these skills suddenly become a hot commodity. In these situations the ability to have these skills on-demand becomes a critical part of the potential success or failure of a project and outsourcing this crucial element can prove a worrying issue for many companies. However, many of the design bureaus and freelance designers can provide a vital lifeline in getting the product to market on time, keeping costs down and enabling small organisations to be lean and responsive to customer/client needs.

But outsourcing isn’t just for those organisations without in-house personnel. Often, outside PCB design support is sought by organisations because the skills required are beyond that of the in-house electronic design professionals. It is also the case that sometimes the in-house professionals require additional support and advice especially if they have had limited exposure to the latest industry developments in design, software or manufacturing. High-speed signals, matching track lengths and signal propagation varieties are just a few of the elements making PCB design more challenging. The complexity is often driven by the requirement for smaller and faster technology.

PCB design bureaus are also able to step in during periods of high turnover, multiple projects or periods of staff absence, holidays or during interim periods between full time staff. Whatever the reason behind considering PCB outsourcing, the reasons are neither new nor insurmountable. PCB design bureaus are accustomed to working to tight deadlines and fulfilling the required project specifications catering to a range of industries and criteria.

2. Hello, is it PCB you’re looking for?

First thing to understand is exactly where the sticking point lies, and what elements you actually need to consider outsourcing. Is it schematic entry and library work, component placement, track routing or is it the complete end-to-end process from design through to manufacture and testing?

When considering outsourcing it is important to consider how much work is required and the process. The five stages of design are: initial design review and integration; mechanical definition; placement and review; routing; and pre-delivery and review. All are all critical to the success of the job and these stages need to be understood by you and your PCB designer/bureau so that timescales, costs and design time can be factored in. 

To read this entire article, which appeared in the July 2015 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here.

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