How Altium Designer Helps You Get the Best PCB Pricing
A popular misconception is that PCB pricing and costs are determined wholly by your choice of contract manufacturer (CM). Actually, if you have the right PCB design and development package you have a great deal of control over the costs to have your board manufactured. Altium Designer is the tool that maximizes your control over PCB costs by enabling you to easily implement CM DFM to reduce or eliminate the need for pre-manufacturing corrections and redesign; estimate, track and control component costs with a real-time Active BOM and simulate and view all aspects of design to ensure the accuracy and completeness of your design file package.
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The most advanced and comprehensive PCB development package that gives you control over PCB pricing.
The British have a saying (or at least they originated it), “penny wise, pound foolish” that can be translated to making bad decisions on small matters can result in large losses. Viewed another way, this saying means making good decisions on small matters can result in large savings. It is advisable to take this saying to heart when designing PCBs as employing a few small steps during design can have a large impact on PCB pricing and manufacturing costs.
When designing PCBs there is a sense of accomplishment when it is finally completed. The rush to reach this point and receive that gratification can sometimes lead to a lack of focus on the most important overall goals of minimizing costs for PCB production. As board fabrication and assembly are typically outsourced to PCB manufacturers, it may seem that PCB cost is outside of your control. This is not the case. In fact, regardless of your choice of board fabricator and PCB assembly service, the PCB design package that you use can have a significant impact on PCB price.
PCB Design Package Completeness Drives PCB Pricing
The most significant factor that drives the cost of PCB manufacture is the accuracy and completeness of the design package. If your design package contains errors, does not match manufacturer capabilities or is incomplete your boards cannot be made without significant back and forth and most likely redesign which increases your overall costs. These can be avoided by engaging with your board fabricator and PCB assembler to ensure that you employ accurate design for manufacturing (DFM) specifications, incorporate panelization and provide your manufacturer with a complete set of design files.
- Tailoring your DRC checks to match the capabilities of your manufacturer will prevent additional costs for redesign.
Fig. 1 Panel layout for manufacturing created in Altium Designer
- You can assist your PCB manufacturer by supplying a panelization layout, as shown in Fig. 1, as part of your design package.
- If you use Gerber files, there are several files that must be included in order for your manufacturer to accurately create your design. Make sure that your design package includes all pertinent files; including images and notes.
Another important consideration is the cost associated with your component selection and sourcing. Obviously, the actual cost of components is important as a small increase can translate into a major expense for production. However, component sourcing is also important as the selection of components that are unavailable or near obsolescence can result in production delays or redesigns that can increase your overall costs.
An Inaccurate BOM Can Result in Unforeseen Additional Costs
Component selection involves much more than choosing parts that will perform circuit operation reliably. Every component has a lifecycle that includes original introduction, a ramp up and finally a decline. During this cycle, availability, as well as cost vary. It can be difficult to know the status of each component; however, lack of knowledge may lead to shortages that can stall your production, require alternate component selection and sourcing and increased overall costs. Your best guard against these scenarios is to ensure that your BOM is accurate in terms of component price and availability.
Fig. 2 AD provides you with real-time accurate component data and price
- Altium Designer, AD, includes a real-time Active BOM, shown in Fig. 2, that provides you with accurate component pricing and availability from several manufacturers to help you avoid the additional costs likely to come with component shortages.
- The accuracy of your BOM is essential to your board’s fabrication and assembly.
- Using Altium’s Active BOM you can manage component costs throughout development and production.
Probably, the most costly aspect of PCB manufacture comes with redesign. This can be due to lack of proper DFM specifications, and inaccurate BOM, incomplete design package or improper board material selection. Regardless of the source, if your design cannot be fabricated or assembled modifications will have to be made. This type of delay costs you in terms of development time as well as manufacturing. However, with AD you can prevent these types of issues by thoroughly inspecting and analyzing your design prior to sending it off for manufacture. For example, with Altium’s Power Distribution Network Analyzer (PDNA) you can analyze the thermal distribution of your design, as shown in Fig. 3, to ensure that there will be no issues during the temperature variations associated with soldering.
Fig. 3 Prevent costly redesigns by ensuring your design can withstand the thermal rigors of PCB fabrication and assembly using AD’s PDNA)
The Small Step of Inspection Can Prevent Large PCB Pricing Problems
It may sound simple, but performing thorough inspections of each aspect of your design is a small step that you should take which can prevent oversight or errors that may result in major additional PCB costs. Fortunately, Altium Designer equips you with the capability to view and inspect your design visually in 3D, as shown in Fig. 4, as well as in table and report format.
Fig. 4 Altium’s 3D View capabilities allow you to thoroughly inspect and verify all aspects of your printed circuit board layout before sending your design to be fabricated and assembled.
- To facilitate the transition from schematic to PCB layout, AD allows you to specify design rules for your schematic where they can be inspected easier then carried over to the PCB layout.
- With AD’s Embedded Board Array you can lay out board panels for single or multi-board designs.
- Making sure that your fabrication package is complete is essential to minimizing PCB costs.
- With AD’s BOM report generation tool you can ensure that your component information is accurate and complete.
PCB pricing is not completely out of your hands. With Altium Designer, the most comprehensive unified design design package in the PCB industry, you have the tools available to eliminate additional costs and minimize your overall costs.