Oct 9, 2019|Blog

Engineers and technicians alike often wonder how much a printed circuit board (PCB) assembly costs, or how they can reduce the cost of their existing assembly operations. In this guide, we’ll answer the question “how much does PCB assembly cost” and will provide suggestions on how to save money on PCB assembly costs.

How Much Does PCB Assembly Cost?

PCB assembly costs encompass the cost of labor, technology, turnaround time, packaging of parts, and the quantity of PCBs required. The use of a PCB manufacturing cost calculator can help you pinpoint the cost of the operation. However, most PCB assembly unit costs range between $10 and $50 depending on the number of units produced.

The quote above is a rough, ballpark estimate that does not include all tooling and setup charges. Overall, the cost of PCB assembly can vary widely by printed circuit board manufacturers. Below, we’ll break down some of the factors that affect the cost of PCB manufacturing and how they can be reduced.

Labor Costs

The labor costs of PCB assembly are impacted by the geographical location in which the circuit boards are made. Since PCB manufacturing involves skilled human processes, as well as automated machinery, the labor costs can be significant. Therefore, firms have an incentive to manufacture PCBs in regions where labor is cheaper.

For instance, a PCB assembled in South Asia is generally several times less expensive than one built in North America or Western Europe. If we assume a three-day turnaround time, the average assembly cost in North America is roughly $1,100 in US dollars. By contrast, the same quantity of circuit boards in the People’s Republic of China is $545.

However, overseas manufacturing can drive up costs due to shipping, handling, and communication delays. Therefore, cheap manufacturing can include unforeseen costs that need to be accounted for before contracting an overseas manufacturer.

Turnaround Time 

When we’re asked “how much does PCB assembly cost” one of the first responses that come to mind is: what is the expected turnaround time? Turnaround time refers to the span of time that is required to complete the manufacturing process and satisfy the buyer’s request. As a rule, faster turnaround expectations come at a higher cost.

Buyers that demand short turnaround times can drive up the cost of PCB assembly by up to one-third (i.e., 33 percent or more). Short turnaround times tend to increase assembly pricing because it often requires firms to put a hold on existing orders to prioritize yours. Likewise, expedited shipping, which shortens the turnaround time, also costs more than regular shipping.

Quantity

When it comes to manufacturing, higher quantities result in lower assembly costs due to economies of scale. In other words, when products are created at a larger scale, the unit price of each PCB drops significantly. This economic phenomenon occurs because many of the factors that drive up assembly prices, like startup costs and programming, only affect the initial units produced—all proceeding units can be created without swallowing these costs.

Increasing the quantity of PCBs produced can save firms money in the long-run by preventing one-time costs that don’t need to be reproduced. Therefore, you should always seek out manufacturers that can accommodate large order volumes.

Technology

Another key aspect of PCB assembly pricing is the type of technology used. On one hand, surface mount technology (SMT) can provide cost savings to manufacturers because setup costs are lower and automation is heavily involved. However, SMT can result in the need for through-hole drilling to fit additional surface mount devices (SMDs) which can skyrocket costs.

Parts Packaging

Some parts involve more labor to package and properly assemble. For instance, electric equipment like BGAs requires more time and effort to package because they must be connected to an electrical source. Since BGAs have electrical pins, assembly costs can shoot up dramatically since they must undergo an X-ray examination to check for short-circuiting.

How To Save Money On PCB Assembly

PCB Design

Cutting costs on PCB assembly starts by knowing how to design PCBs optimally. There are many factors that determine the final price of bare PCBs, including the following:

  • Surface finish type
  • Size and shape
  • Layer count
  • Via technology

Each of the elements listed above can be redesigned to reduce costs when manufacturing PCBs. For instance, “vias” are responsible for building connections on the circuit board. Whether you opt for blind via or a buried via will have an effect on the price of the product.

Comprehensive Bill of Materials

Create a bill of materials (BOM) that encompasses all the components and subparts required for manufacturing the PCB. We suggest using this PCB design checklist to determine whether your BOM includes all necessary items, including assemblers, part numbers, reference designators, and footprints. A good BOM should also include replacement parts for each component.

Order Time & Quantity

Volume and order time are critical factors that determine a product’s price. Generally, the higher the order volume, the less the unit price will be due to economies of scale. Only select manufacturers that can satisfy your company’s order volume and turnaround time—be as lenient as possible with order times to keep costs minimal while still adhering to your product’s PCB design limits.

Inspection & Testing

It’s not worth diminishing costs if it requires your product quality to diminish as well. Therefore, you must always test and inspect your product so that no faulty PCBs make their way to the market. Otherwise, you may find that the cost of fulfilling refunds and damaging client relationships outweighs any cost savings by skipping out on proper inspections.

Be sure to use a trace width calculator to accurately control the temperature of the traces in the PCB’s internal and external layers. With a proper inspection protocol, you can minimize long-term risk for your company and ensure that your circuitry is responsive and adaptive to different temperature environments.

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