Column Standard of Excellence: Seven Things Your PCB Vendor Can Teach You

Written by: Anaya Vardya on February 21, 2019

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One of the great things about having a good PCB vendor is that they can teach you and keep you informed about when it comes to their technologies, products, and business. Just as you and your company are experts in your technology, they are experts in theirs. And if they are true partners, they will be happy to keep you well-informed about everything related to PCBs.

There is a motto in the PCB industry that goes something like this: “More informed customers are the best customers.” Of course, this is true for all technologies. So, why not use your PCB vendors to keep you informed about their products? The more they do this, the more valuable they will be, and the better a customer you will be.

However, you must trust your PCB supplier. Some suppliers will not give you the best answers about their technology but rather the answers they want you to hear because they know it will lead to a sale in the end. You have to be discerning enough to know when you are getting straight industry-based answers, and when you are getting skewed company-based answers intended to drive you to buy boards from them.

Here are seven things that your trusted PCB vendor and partner should always keep you informed about:

  1. The latest in laminates: There are so many new products issued every year that a good PCB vendor will take the time to keep you informed about what they are and what they do as well as which ones are good and which ones can be interchanged. This is especially important for your designers to know.
  2. New equipment: It’s vital that your vendor tells you about any new equipment available to them, what they have bought, why they are buying it, and how it will improve their capabilities to produce your products better.
  3. Changing trends in their supply chain: Is the price of gold or copper going up? Are they having a hard time getting laminates? Anything that can affect their supply chain will affect their ability to provide you boards, so they need to keep you knowledgeable about any changes in the supplies they buy to build your boards.
  4. New trends in technology: Your vendor should inform you of new technologies and how they apply to your products such as HDI, heavy copper, microvias, etc. This is especially vital if the changes and improvements will directly affect your PCBs.
  5. General market trends: Are all the shops busy or empty? Is this a good time to place annual buys so that you will not have to worry about shortages later in the year? Or maybe you need a reminder about how Chinese New Year could affect your offshore PCB buys. Your vendor should tell you about anything that is going on in the market that you need to know about to keep your PCB supply chain running smoothly and successfully.
  6. New laws and regulations: For example, think about how lead-free laws affected your PCB supplier and yourself since the industry was forced to remove the lead from end products very suddenly. You need to know about these kinds of rules well in advance.
  7. How to pretreat your PCBs: We all know that you’re supposed to pretreat your PCBs before assembling them, and a good supplier will make you aware of this. They will tell you about the shelf life of her boards whether your company is located in arid Arizona or the humid Everglades of Florida. This makes big difference how long your boards can be on the shelf, what you need to do to them when you take them off that shelf, and how to prepare to use them.

Overall, there are going to be times when what your PCB supplier has to tell you will hurt them, and they should tell you the truth for your own good no matter what. For example, a new laminate might come out that will make it easier for them to process your boards or a new technique that could save you a lot of money on the unit price of the board. It is important that you are comfortable enough with your suppliers to count on them being forthright when it comes to telling you about new, cost-saving innovations even if it means they will make less money. This is when you know who you can trust and who you cannot. If your supplier is open, honest, and willing to put your interests ahead of their own, I would urge you to keep them around. That is the type of PCB supplier you want to have for life!

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