Advice on finding a contract manufacturer

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#1
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Say I wanted to find a contract manufacturer that could build something with the complexity of an AVR Dragon (just for comparison - I'm not after that device).

I intend to do the PCBs and perhaps kit up the components, so all I really need is someone with either a pick and place machine of really cheap labor with good eyesight to build a device with 402 SMT parts.

And I'll probably only need 1000 to 2000 a year, so...

What should I be looking for?

Smiley

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This is a company I've used, they are only a few minutes from where I live:

http://www.wps.co.uk/

It was some years ago, and they assembled my through-hole transputer boards manually. They have all the latest equipment, of course, for automated assembly. They assembled a couple of hundred boards for me, and I don't recall any problems.

The late Gordon Wilson who started the company, and his two sons who run it now, were very helpful.

It'll give you some idea of what a good assembly company can offer.

Leon Heller G1HSM

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I used http://www.pgftech.com/ for my engine management system. Cost was reasonable, quality excellent. I sent them a BOM and board design files, they took care of the rest. This was about 7 years ago, so who knows today. It only took a couple phone calls, and emails to get the ball rolling.

Prior to that, I ordered 5 PCB's from Advanced Circuits, and parts from DK. I built them by hand to check the circuit. That was cheap, and resulted in a zero defect solution prior to going to CM.

It was mostly SMD with a few TH for connectors and a few TO-220 parts.

It all starts with a mental vision.

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Joe,

A means of resolving the inevitable problems would be high on my list. So that probably boils down to a common language (colloquial and technical). So your really cheap labour might come coupled to an Asian language precondition. What is not documented to the nth degree, will eventually have to be discussed/resolved/agreed. I had a problem once where I loosely used the word "hole" in relation to a barrel connector's tags that required slots for a better defined orientation. The assembler arranged the pcbs with round holes when I wanted slots. A simple slip but caused several email exchanges with resultant delays and lose of nervous energy and the first run of pcbs. Real estate agents talk about "Position, position, position"; I think ours should be "communication, communication, communication".

Cheers,

Ross

Ross McKenzie ValuSoft Melbourne Australia

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Realistically, you wouldn't hand solder 0402 for production regardless of labour cost. Supplying your own pcbs can cause problems - you need to have specific tooling and panelisation to suit their machines. Also the way the panelisation is done affects board warpage etc when it goes through the oven. Thus i normally get the assembler to do whatever they deem is necessary and supply the pcbs. Then comes specification. Knowing the IPC standards helps here. Especially with pcbs, a dud batch wipes out your production run, so you get to decide what level of quality and testing you want to pay for. Next comes the BOM. You can supply your parts, but they need to be in a form suitable for loading into the pick n place. Also you need to understand that with reeled parts, you loose a number each time you load the machine. So, if you suplly 100 resistors for 100 boards, that may not be enough. Certain parts don't like certain processes- things like dip switches for example. You buy specific ones for the type of soldering/ cleaning process. If it is an aqueous clean, then you want a sealed switch. Talk to your intended assembler and they shouldbe able to guide you. If you want really cheap - make sure your BOM is 100% and pray for a good outcome.

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IIRC, some mentioned in this forum are Advanced Assembly and Screaming Circuits.
Locally, I used Bascom (excellent) but that was a long time ago and I'm not certain if they're still in business.
Consider trialing a local assembler with one of your products or a prototype.

"Dare to be naïve." - Buckminster Fuller

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Joe,

Check out these guys:

http://www.pcbexpress.com/produc...

I think Tom Pappano uses them

Jim

Edit:
At the bottom of the prices page is what I meant:
http://www.screamingcircuits.com...

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Atmel Studio6.2/AS7, DipTrace, Quartus, MPLAB, RSLogix user

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When I made my board, I read many threads here on Avrfreaks, where discussions are mostly about PCB's, less about assemblers. Then I was looking on Internet for "Electronic Assembly Manufacturer" or PCBA - PCB Assembly (Assembler) in few countries I considered I am comfortable to work with, because if your quality, quantity needs grows, at some point you may want to go there for more specific details, testing setups, jigs, or simply to know the people you deal with. I selected few of them and started to send inquiries for quotation. Some of them said my quantity I want to build do not qualify for their minimum one, so I kept going with those left on the list.
I got almost same price in China and Korea, so I went with Korea, even I had no other feedback about that company. I find that Koreans are difficult to talk English, and their websites are often only in Korean. Thai and Chinese companies are in a better position on this respect. If for example the sales guy send me an e-mail and is copying his boss or at least another person from that company on that e-mail gives me some confidence they are serious. Also, I do not like if they use only one e-mail address for example gmail, or yahoo. If they use an e-mail address with their web domain name is a good sign.
Prices for more specific IC microcontrollers for example they get just a little cheaper then you can get at Digikey, so it is not worth for you to buy in the USA and to ship there because you pay taxes in the USA and shipping costs, and then you pay taxes when you get the goods again. It seems that they know how to put prices in order to not lose you as customer and in the same time to make money. Prices for connectors, some passive components if they can get from local manufacturer and you agree with it can be much cheap then at Digikey.
As Kartman said, let them to deal with the PCB. They may have some agreements and discounts with local manufacturers and they know their needs in terms of panelization.
I had good experience with companies in Thailand and Korea. One of my friends deals with PCB Cart in China, and the boards are looking good.
For only PCB prototype, I got good deal with PCB POOL for small quantities, thanks to Leon. Very good quality and good price for 4 and 6 layers boards.
George.

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I would also suggest a local CM for your first run - one that you can visit beforehand and get to know tthe personnel and facilities. I've used SMTNW near me with excellent results. After that experience I would be more comfortable using someone farther away - I'm still not ready to try the China experience, though.

Don Kinzer
ZBasic Microcontrollers
http://www.zbasic.net

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Quote:
Supplying your own pcbs can cause problems - you need to have specific tooling and panelisation to suit their machines. Also the way the panelisation is done affects board warpage etc when it goes through the oven. Thus i normally get the assembler to do whatever they deem is necessary and supply the pcbs.

agree with that..always best to let them do the pcb's and panels from the gerbers/design files if you want the job done right. For the job you mention...estimate about $1000-$1200 for USA tooling (smt masks, gerber panels)/setup (test,smt placement) the mfg run (pcbs and parts not included).
And if you choose to do mfg test then you only pay for "good" units!

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Thanks guys, this gives me some stuff to look into.

Smiley

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I use to have boards assembled in China (500 per batch). I provided gerbers, BOM etc, they sourced parts and assembled boards and shipped direct to me.

All went well and then one batch totally failed. Turned out that one of the IC's was purchased through a broker that had sourced counterfeit parts. The parts were all stamped with manufacturer part numbers and date codes etc. Once I contacted the manufacturer and supplied them a good/bad part they xrayed the part and discovered it was not authentic.

The assy house did make good, but I basically wasted weeks of time and lost weeks of sales while getting to the bottom of the problem.

Anyhow, just something to keep in mind when chasing the lowest price...

I moved all assembly back to the US and use a place in New York now and have had excellent work done, they source parts etc and provide finished boards to me. Overall the cost was very similar to getting them made in China and there are no communication issues.

Working with the assy house right from the beginning is a good idea. They can provide assistance in ensuring your PCB layout can be assembled reliably. Things like large components with flooded copper require some 'balancing' of copper flood areas to ensure even heating and melting of the solder paste so the component stays put during soldering. Also if you have components on both sides you can have issues during assembly when they run the 2 solder passes.

Yes, have the assembly house source the PCB's since they need to be panelized (as per another poster on this thread) and stencils made. Pick and place equipment needs to be programmed. Having fiduciary marks on the PCB helps their pick and place equipment etc etc. Work with the assembly house and they can help you design your PCB for a successful manufacturing process.

Anyhow, for a board of your complexity and the relatively small yearly runs, I'd highly recommend finding an assy house in the US. Get a few quotes (all they need is gerbers and a BOM).

And finally, it is nice to be able to at least claim "Designed & Assembled in the USA" etc...

cheers,
george.

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georges80 wrote:
Yes, have the assembly house source the PCB's since they need to be panelized (as per another poster on this thread) and stencils made.
I provided the boards and all parts to the assembly house that I used. (They called this the "kitted" form as opposed to "turn key" where they source all parts.) Of course, I talked to them before having the boards made to ensure that the boards were panelized in a manner suitable for their equipment (minimum and maximum sizes) and that they contained the fiducial markers required for their placement equipment.

For short runs, you'll need to ensure that the assembly house can handle the parts in the form you plan to provide them. Although the assembly house that I used could handle cut tape they preferred reels, tubes or trays.

Don Kinzer
ZBasic Microcontrollers
http://www.zbasic.net

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dkinzer wrote:
I provided the boards and all parts to the assembly house that I used. (They called this the "kitted" form as opposed to "turn key" where they source all parts.) Of course, I talked to them before having the boards made to ensure that the boards were panelized in a manner suitable for their equipment (minimum and maximum sizes) and that they contained the fiducial markers required for their placement equipment.

Yes, you can save some money by sourcing/supplying the components. For the PCB I prefer the assy house takes care of it, since the board will be to their process needs. Depending on components it may be preferable to go enig process especially for qfn's and the like.

For common R's and C's any assy house worth its salt will have reels of that stuff already on hand. For smallish runs (500/1000/2000) they may as well provide those components since their reels are larger and you're benefiting from their volume purchases.

Anyhow, bottom line is to talk and work with the assembly house you choose. Pricing can be negotiated, especially if you have a couple of quotes. Then you can trade off turnkey versus kitted - all depends on how much you value your own time, if you have folk in your organization that can deal with kitting, what price point you must hit etc etc.

It is a fun process and it is very exciting to receive the first assembled boards and things can be quite tense until you have the first boards loaded up with firmware and running.

cheers,
george.

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george and Don - Can you provide contact info for the the houses you used?

I'd happily drive up to New York rather than spend a month in semi-panic mode waiting to see what the Chinese did for(or to) me.

Smiley

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I'm following this thread with great interest, since I'm about to get boards manufactured for the first time (I've always had people who took care of that before).

So what sort of markup might I expect on e.g. a mega48a if they sourced it vs. me buying it? Just a rough percentage figure based on experience would be fine.

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smileymicros wrote:
Can you provide contact info for the the houses you used?
I used SMT NW (you'll find contact info on the site), conveniently less than 5 miles from my office. There are probably a dozen or more assembly houses in the greater Portland, Oregon area that I could have chosen. I suspect that you can find assembly houses in most major cities; more in some, fewer in others.

Don Kinzer
ZBasic Microcontrollers
http://www.zbasic.net

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Quote:
Yes, you can save some money by sourcing/supplying the components

I got ready made boards programmed and tested cheaper than parts to it (Farnell prices), so ask before order.

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kk6gm wrote:
So what sort of markup might I expect on e.g. a mega48a if they sourced it vs. me buying it?
I don't have any information to directly answer your question. However, one factor to consider is that if you expect to have recurring builds, you can get lower prices by buying full reels/trays and carrying the inventory from one build to the next. If the assembly house buys parts for your 500 piece build, for example, they will likely buy just enough for your build (with the usual safety margin), possibly resulting in a higher overall cost.

My experience is that the assembly houses are eager to provide quotes. Generally, all they need for that is the bill of materials and Gerber files. If you request quotes for both turn key and kitted jobs you'll have most of the data you need to make your decision.

Don Kinzer
ZBasic Microcontrollers
http://www.zbasic.net

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Smiley, I sent you a PM with some details.

Regarding markup for kitted or turnkey - a lot depends on 'finance' charges... Consider, if you kit, then you are buying the parts in your volumes from a few vendors (unless one distr. has it all). With turnkey, the assy house likely has good relationships with the various distr's and may get a better price - BUT, they are doing all the work and carrying the inventory.

As Don says, provide gerbers and BOM and get quotes for both options. Many assy houses are very hungry for work these days and negotiating a good deal for you and them isn't too hard. Though, do remember, they have to feed their families too - so don't be too greedy. Unless you are doing one project and never more, building a good relationship with your assy house is worth more than saving a few pennies here & there... unless of course you are making millions of units and you have shareholders beating you senseless :)

cheers,
george.

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I use & recommend Effy Deal in Taiwan. Have just had a 1000 units made by them. They provided all the parts, a custom made enclosure, interconnecting cables etc. Product comes in electrostatic proof bubble wrap & they will stick on any label that you require. They speak very good English & are very helpful (email Brandon). Others that I have recommended their service to, have been very pleased with their service.

Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin & Murphy are always lurking about!
Lee -.-
Riddle me this...How did the serpent move around before the fall?

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On distant houses, like Effy Deal, do you have a chance to verify the ECB first, before proceeding with the full assembly?

Jim

Jim Wagner Oregon Research Electronics, Consulting Div. Tangent, OR, USA http://www.orelectronics.net

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Quote:
unless of course you are making millions of units and you have shareholders beating you senseless

Well, one out of two isn't bad.

Chuck Baird

"I wish I were dumber so I could be more certain about my opinions. It looks fun." -- Scott Adams

http://www.cbaird.org

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Yes Jim, I was sent a run of 5 boards for verification. One I gave the go ahead, the balance was done in about 4 working days to dispatch. They get their parts at a lower cat than we can source them here. Amazing!

Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin & Murphy are always lurking about!
Lee -.-
Riddle me this...How did the serpent move around before the fall?

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I use myroPCB, I got a quote on jan 19 for a new product @ 250 qty.

My product has ~700 SMD pads connected to components, and ~100 TH pads connected to components.

This is the costs under related to assembly only:

Soldering fee per board @ $5.56 USD (that seems a bit low as usually I am charged 1 cent per solder)

packaging fee @ $40 (total for 250 pcs, they use ESD bags to package the assembled boards, not exactly assembly related but on their quote it was under assembly)

initial fee @ $200 (one time cost, no idea what that is)

Stencil fee @ $102 (one time cost)

Programming fee @ $142 (one time cost)

For components I give them digikey part #s and they source it from there. You have to factor in an additional 10%, because myro buys 10% more components than required just incase there are problems.

I have had about 6 designs assembled by myro. They did a big f*ck up once using a slightly different part #, it was a honest mistake under circumstances that were not typical. The mistake was caught when all my units failed electrical tested at their factory, they did a quick job of reworking the units and replacing the part.

Another time they used a locally sourced USB connector instead of the digikey connector I stated, the thing is that they passed the part savings back to me but I just did not realize it when I looked over the invoice.

Last Edited: Sat. Jan 28, 2012 - 08:38 PM
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I can not find my AVR Dragon, but from what I remember; it is not something that is typically produced by a small company. The density of components on the Dragon is very high, and I think it was double sided too (might be wrong). Most assembly places might have to use higher end machines to produce the Dragon and charge a premium.

The STK500 is more a typical representation of what is normal.

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Actually the board I'm doing is far less complex than the Dragon, I just mentioned it because it gives a common reference point.

Smiley

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I think you should move this thread to general electronics.

I would avoid using 0402 if possible, 0603 and up is very common and assembly place can do them with low end machines.

I ended up using 0402 in some of my designs only because they were adhoc additions to address things not envisioned in the original pcb design.

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When I set up my #2 (well used) P&P machine, there seemed to be a bunch of dirt in the bottom of it. On close inspection with a magnifier, they were 0402 components.

Tom Pappano
Tulsa, Oklahoma