Outsourcing PCB Design | As businesses become more and more conscious of intellectual property rights, design cycle speed and the desire for quicker and more efficient electronic circuits, many companies are looking for ways to speed up their design cycles without compromising quality.
So why are many companies choosing not to outsource their designs? and are they missing out on opportunities as a result?
Insufficient resources, time sensitive projects and demanding layout requirements are often cited as the main reasons for outsourcing. But despite this, more and more companies are outsourcing their PCB design. Concerns around the loss of project-control, intellectual property security and quality control are often highlighted as the key reasons for choosing not to outsource, but are these reasons valid?
What are the main concerns for employers when considering outsourcing? And how do you ensure you get the best partner for the work? We looked at some of the key reasons businesses choose not to and whether their concerns are well-founded.
Staffing & Resources
The resource flexibility of outsourcing is one of the key drivers for businesses. Employing permanent PCB design staff can be costly and doesn’t provide employers with the work-force flexibility. There is also a major gap in the number of adequately skilled practitioners, which can make the hunt for the right employee a challenging one. Ensuring the person employed also has the appropriate skills is crucial especially as a substantial amount of work completed by PCB design service providers can be reverse engineering, which is not only a challenging undertaking but can hamper future product development.
The value of employing a person, solely for the purposes of developing a single product can be ineffective and not create value for money. Outsourcing gives you access to engineering support even when the development cycle is complete, without having to pay for full time engineering staff.
But outsourcing PCB design isn’t just about keeping the person-count down for the business. Outsourcing allows a business to focus on their core activities. Time is critical and any time lost employing suitable designers can cost money. In a recent article about product design, if your product were to hit the market 3 months late you could have already lost over one-third of its lifetime revenue had it been on time.
However, as we are well-aware, changes in design can always occur and therefore as such the work to be undertaken is largely still ‘in-flux’. In this situation it is essential that your outsourcing partner operates as a virtual on-demand PCB department incorporating innovation, experience, training, teamwork and a strong work ethic.
Intellectual property loss
Intellectual property relating to PCB design is a hot topic. Areas such as part data, constraint information, material information are all areas that can be used by competitors. Without IP management or protection, your new product can be cloned by a competitor or an unknown third party. IP protection laws vary across the globe so the best approach is to protect your IP before it leaves your company. With this in mind it is important to ensure your outsourcing partner is willing and able to sign non-disclosure agreements to ensure your designs stay that way. Most PCB design companies will happily do so and often willing to gain any additional security clearances required.
But how do companies ensure they are getting the right quality from their PCB design partner?
Well firstly the great thing about outsourcing PCB design is you gain access to a wide range of experience and knowledge, that you may otherwise not have benefitted from. Contrary to common belief, outsourcing often means quality goes up, as does the speed of completion. Design bureaus are more often than not well-trained, experienced and incredibly knowledgeable, especially as they undertake designs on a daily basis with varying degrees of complexity. They are often also able to put their full concentration behind that one job and focus on the key criteria to ensure it is a success and have certifications such as IPC CID and CID+ to commend their design abilities. The key is to find the right company who will partner with your engineers and management, becoming part of the team.
Good PCB designers will listen to the requirements of your staff and incorporate your initial design input, or incorporate any changes made along the way. They should be reliable, technically competent and will complete your design on time and with a cost that would be appropriate for the amount of engineering changes incurred.
Your outsourcing partner should be dedicated to your project, provide excellent customer service, hit deadlines and keep you in the loop.
A robust testing and design process
Deciding to outsource a PCB design can be a daunting task. Between choosing a design firm to handle the design, knowing what to give them in terms of inputs, ensuring the design meets your specifications and your chosen fabricator’s rules, there are myriad opportunities for a problem to arise. And the PCB design process isn’t simple either from design feasibility study, through placement, routing & pre-release design review. Jobs such as reverse-engineering are complex and time-consuming and require great skill and knowledge to complete to a high standard.
A good understanding of the customer’s requirements allows for a smoother design flow and makes following the later steps in the design process considerably easier. Early definition of critical nets, mechanical constraints, Impedance requirements and intended contract manufacturer should be established asap and encapsulated into the EDA tool. This enables continuity and process control if the design has to be passed onto another designer. The process of taking a PCB design from initial design, placement and through to manufacture can be a complex process involving many steps for successful completion but relies on a strong working partnership between both organisations.
Ultimately PCB design outsourcing isn’t without its challenges but, if you find the right partner, the design work can be completed faster, cheaper and more efficiently than if it had been done in house. Find a partner that works with your as your design partner and start speeding up your product design process.
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