If you are just learning about printed circuit boards and what to look for in a PCB manufacturer, then you have most likely seen that there are several options out there. Here is some insight on what exactly a PCB manufacturer takes care of so you can have some ammo to make the best decision for your particular printed circuit board needs.
There are many different types of printed circuit board manufacturers out there. It is important to find the right type of board house for your requirements. Some are big and some are small. Some focus only on prototypes while others only do production runs. Some are high tech and some low tech.
As a purchasing agent you can find one or several that can handle your needs. Many agents use a board house for only prototypes. Once the boards go into production, they switch to a production printed circuit board manufacturer. However, this switch usually incurs additional tooling and startup charges. The advantage of staying with one shop for prototypes and production is that will not have to pay tooling charges twice. Also, you keep a single point of contact for the board and there is no transition from prototype to production. With some circuit board houses you might end up paying a higher per piece price for your production than you need to. This is because circuit board manufacturers are setup for a certain volume. If your production run is in their sweet spot, you will probably get the best pricing on that board. However, if your production quantity is too low for them or too high for them, you will not get the best pricing.
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Some printed circuit board manufacturers can run prototypes and production runs equally well. Their factories are set up efficiently for low and high quantity runs. Other printed circuit board manufacturers concentrate on a range of quantities. Efficient board shops will have partnerships setup so that they can provide good service among all quantity ranges.