How to Reduce Flexible PCBA Manufacturing Costs

An electronic device can be connected electrically and provide mechanical support by a PCB (Printed circuit Board) Printed circuit board is generally shortened as PCB and relatively often as board. Since the amount of rigid PCB used by electronic equipment is much larger than that of flexible PCB, we conventionally define the above term as rigid PCB. However, with the popularity of smartphones and the growing trend of miniaturization of electronic equipment, electronic equipment is increasingly dependent on flexible circuit boards, and with it, electronic manufacturers have to face higher prices. Faced with the increasing amount of flexible PCBA, how should we reduce the cost of the project and maximize our benefits has become a hot topic. FS Technology will express its own opinions on this issue in this article.

High Density Flexible PCB

In the accurate configuration, flexible circuits will decrease wires for your device and remove the connectors used in rigid boards, and it’s all beneficial. There are also advantages in simplifying component assembly and reducing wiring errors in order for the assembled flex circuit to function properly. But competing products such as rigid circuits, wires, and connectors also have a place in the interconnect packaging world. All of these replacement products can offer a cost-effective solution and can be the best PCB assembly solution for individual applications. Knowing what drives cost in a flexible circuit manufacturing can help guide the design and improve profitability.

Reduce flexible PCBA assembly costs through physical size

The impact of the board size of the flexible PCB on the price is very important, but this is not simply calculated by adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. For the demand side, the PCBA cost drivers are determined per square inch. This simplification can work quite well with a quality-class industrial-grade products, but even with rigid boards, area-based pricing is generally offered with a few “it depends” qualifiers.

The vast majority of turnkey flex circuit PCBA factories process circuit boards in rectangular panels. In United States, the standard size is 12” X 24” and 18” X 24”. To create higher-end and larger-sized PCBs, manufacturers need to use newer types of special machines and materials. The optimization of the material is done so that the individual parts are “nested” into the panel. Practice has proved that reverse nesting is beneficial to improve material utilization, FS technology achieves by turning two parts 180 degrees and connecting them to each other. For wholesale PCB orders, whether your order quantity is 10000+ or 100000+, the labor we pay is almost negligible. Panel edges have rules defining “leave out” areas for tools, and the required distance between adjacent circuits also affects nesting density. Additional complications arise with automated component positioning, as assembly occurs on a subset of the production panel and assembly handling conventions must be accommodated. To sum up, maximizing each panel can amortize the labor cost and material usage of producing each board, while the required spacing between adjacent circuits is a factor that makes assembly difficult. This requires balancing the interests of PCB manufacturers and contract assembly service providers.

It is understandable that the cost per circuit is largely determined by the amount of circuits the panel carries, and their relationship is inversely related. In most cases, the flexible circuit is in a panel structure almost throughout the manufacturing process. During flexible PCBA assembly, the flex circuit may be separate and may involve subsequent “personality” steps such as folding, connector assembly, or stiffener attachment. In the latter case, the cost is driven by the value added to the individual part, so the cost pattern varies. PS: value of parts = price + shortage. Some experienced engineers will buy chips ahead of time to avoid the risk of price hikes as demand runs, which is a sensible way to lower the cost of flexible PCBAs.

Lower prices by simplifying the structure of flex circuits

The conductive layers existing in flexible PCBA are the main factors for the price of board creation. The structure of the circuit board is directly related to the difficulty of manufacturing, so the price is different. In the same case, the price of the double-sided FPC board is much more expensive than the single-sided FPC, about 1.5-2 times. FS Technology uses polyimide or high Tg polyimide to manufacture flexible boards, which is significantly higher in material procurement costs than steel boards, but the reason for the higher price of flexible boards is the need to use more sophisticated manufacturing equipment.

As 6, 8, and 16-layer circuits are quoting, the estimated product loss also becomes an important point. As extra layers are added to the circuit, more manufacturing steps need to be added, and as the flow increases, so does the error rate. Even for a low-end circuit board, a 50-60 step process is very common. If for every step outcomes are 99.00%the results for forty steps will be 80%. Obviously turnkey manufacturers are reluctant to bear the cost of this, and ultimately these losses will be spread out over your board. 

Flexible PCB Structure

The above factors are mostly fixed costs of flexible PCB manufacturing, and it is difficult to ask manufacturers for lower prices. From FS Technology’s point of view, designing the right board for the project is the best way to keep the price down, such as not using higher density boards in low-end equipment. Besides, it is necessary to choose a supplier of one-to-one service and establish healthy communication with it. Each project of FS Technology has dedicated salesmen and engineers to follow up, who will help you make more correct choices.

Buy in bulk to reduce flexible PCB prices

While there is no shortage of flex circuit shops that specialize in small batch PCB assembly, it is unrealistic to try to cover engineering and overhead costs with a small amount of customization. Most low-volume and prototyping companies allow you to order fewer orders on the premise of increasing the cost of a single circuit board, which does not mean that these services are not necessary. Vendor support for low-volume programs is often done as a necessity if a high quantity of boards is to be captured. Charging high fees for a small number of parts is common in any industry. “Soft” tooling is required to cover part number costs as each circuit is custom and needs different artwork, drill files, electrical testing, inspection files, and carving files. Some procedures are not a one-time fee and may be charged multiple times.

Serious consideration of wholesale PCBA or small batch purchase is considered necessary, both have different advantages and characteristics. If you are more concerned about the unit price, buying flex circuits in bulk will be a good experience. If you are concerned about the risks of your project and are a turnkey company working together for the first time, a prototype or small batch will be the best option.

Summarize

In the FPC world, the relationship between price and cost can be very tenuous. As edge players segment the market based on volume, lead times, market needs, and targeted customer penetration strategies, it is simple to see why there are significant price differences between different suppliers. This change can be further complicated by how busy the industry is at any given time. Although flexible PCBA has many advantages, and almost all customers buy them with smaller size and weight, but they are criticized for higher prices. With the advancement of technology, the development of circuit boards has still reached its peak. Although rigid PCB cannot replace FPC, it also has its own advantages:

  • At lower unit cost production of can be attained
  • Component wiring as well as assembly will be mechanized
  • Without introducing variation in inter-circuit the characteristic of circuit will be maintained
  • By fixing the component location parts makes it simpler to identify and easy to maintain the electronic equipment as well as system of device
  • Possibility of error will be minimized or eliminates as it causes the reduce in inspection time
  • There will be less chances of miswiring as well as short circuit will also minimized

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