It can often seem like there is no end to supply chain disruptions, materials shortages, and cost overruns when sourcing printed circuit boards (PCBs). This makes completing projects under budget and getting to market quickly look like an impossible hurdle to overcome.
However, there are some key strategies businesses can follow to source PCBs faster and more reliably.
Let’s review the main causes of sourcing difficulties and explore tried and true ways to overcome them.
Factors Contributing to Sourcing Difficulties
There are 3 main contributing factors to the difficulty of sourcing PCBs.
1. Complex Design Requirements
IoT devices, AI-related hardware, and a rising demand for environmentally friendly devices pose unique design challenges for electronics manufacturers. PCBs for products like these often require:
Flexibility: Miniaturized products and complicated designs may require flexible PCBs. It’s one thing to source a flexible PCB capable of handling the design and another to find one that doesn’t bring prohibitive material costs and assembly procedures.
Signal Integrity: IoT devices generally require strict signal segregation between analog and digital circuits. Maintaining signal integrity like this brings unique challenges when it comes to thermal management, further complicating design and assembly.
Sustainability: There is increasing demand for sustainable materials and manufacturing processes, which can increase lead times and costs.
2. Supply Chain Disruptions
Supply chain problems caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns are still rippling throughout many industries, potentially slowing down the acquisition of PCB materials like base laminates and copper.
Beyond issues caused by the pandemic, increased demand for copper in 5G devices and electric vehicles has further strained PCB production.
3. Limited Local Suppliers
Depending on where electronics manufacturers are located, it can be difficult to find reliable local suppliers of PCBs.
Using local suppliers has many advantages, such as:
- Easier collaboration
- Lower shipping costs
- Flexibility and responsiveness
- Easier to verify quality controls
Finding a reliable local PCB supplier can save businesses time and money, but there isn’t always a wide selection. Even if manufacturers do have access to local PCB assembly, there is a chance that the assembler won’t have access to the right materials or equipment for the application.
4 Strategies for Easier PCB Sourcing
Given the potential problems with supply chains, difficulty in finding local manufacturers, and the increasing demand for specialized components to fit complex designs, it’s important for electronics makers to implement clever strategies for sourcing PCBs.
Here are four strategies we recommend:
1. Diversify Suppliers
Relying on a single supplier is unnecessarily risky. It makes you inflexible, slow to respond to market changes, and especially vulnerable to supply chain issues or quality problems.
Instead, form relationships with an array of suppliers. If one faces delays or you encounter quality problems, this will give your business adequate versatility. It also ensures you always have the leverage to walk away if quality becomes a major issue or costs rise beyond what you’re comfortable with.
2. Communicate Effectively
Clear, concise, and continuous communication with your suppliers is essential. It not only keeps you in the loop with regard to production and material availability, but it also gives you regular opportunities to check up on quality and address any concerns you may have with the production process.
Great communication means establishing clear expectations, setting realistic deadlines, and keeping an open channel for urgent issues.
Utilizing your project management team and all available communication tools can streamline this process.
3. Build Long-Term Relationships
Finding a business partner who understands your vision and wants to support it is the key to sustainable long-term growth. Your PCB suppliers should be no different in this respect.
When you focus on communication, paying invoices on time, and keeping your concerns pointed out and relevant, you’ll have an easier time building positive relationships with your suppliers.
Aside from making it easier to work with your preferred suppliers, building long-term relationships can also lead to better pricing and more reliable service, further increasing your ability to scale at your own pace.
4. Regularly Audit Key Suppliers
Trust is key in any business relationship. However, trust always needs to be earned. Even if you’ve worked with a supplier for many years, it’s critical to establish a routine audit service to ensure the relationship is still contributing to your growth.
Regular, scheduled audits also reduce the tension of performance and quality reviews: knowing an upcoming audit gives your supplier a chance to prepare. It reduces the chances they take your desire to inspect their work as anything more than routine.
Keep an Eye on Industry Trends
The PCB market can change rapidly. Developments in materials science, new electronic applications, and the global shift towards sustainability all mean that what seems predictable and reliable today might be completely different tomorrow.
This is why staying on top of industry trends is critical when it comes to sourcing PCBs.
How to Stay in Touch with Industry Trends
Assign someone in your company to keep an eye on industry trends. They should make it their responsibility to understand the market and how it’s developing on a regular basis.
Attending trade shows and industry conferences to learn about new technologies, materials, and equipment is important. These are also excellent opportunities to network and learn about new developments that are on the horizon before they hit the market.
Subscribing to industry publications and joining industry associations can give you regular insights into where the PCB market is headed. Here are a few examples:
- The Printed Circuit Board Association of America
- The Printed Circuit Engineering Association
- Imagineering’s Blog
Make Imagineering your Supplier of Choice
As the PCB market changes regularly, you’ll want a steady and reliable supplier with access to the latest technology and materials and a proven success track record.If you’re looking to partner with an experienced industry leader with more than 35 years of experience, contact Imagineering. We are happy to assist you with your next project!