PCB Assembly Cost Driver Analysis and Price Calculation

PCBA is a major component of electronic projects used to achieve the desired functionality. Understanding its cost components before starting the project will be advantageous for cost planning and increasing profits. Most engineers choose to estimate costs using PCB assembly cost calculators provided by online quoting companies. However, this approach has its limitations:

Most companies that offer cost calculators are online quotation companies. While they may have certain price advantages, they often struggle to provide high-end boards, and quality issues have been a longstanding concern among users.

For users who prioritize service and quality, they require companies like FS Technology, which provide turnkey solutions. It is our responsibility and obligation to help you estimation the cost of your PCBA project. In this article, FS Technology will help you understand where your money is being spent through text.

Typical PCB Assembly Costs: Bare Board Manufacturing + Component Procurement + Assembly Service + Testing Service (regular testing is free, but some are covered by the customer) + Packaging + Shipping + Other (expedited, special handling).

Factors Affecting PCB Assembly Cost

Bare Board Manufacturing

Substrate Material

This is the same in any industry; differences in construction materials lead to cost variations. In the case of bare board manufacturing, while various materials are required, the choice of substrate material is crucial and will directly impact the PCB board price. Depending on project requirements, users will choose different substrate materials. For example, high-frequency projects may opt for Rogers or ceramic, while high-power projects might select a metal substrate. Below is the cost of substrate materials under the same size and thickness conditions (Note: typical situations):

Ceramic > Rogers > PTFE > Copper > Aluminum > FR4 > CEM-3

Dimensions and Layers

The size and shape of PCB boards undeniably impact the cost. This not only involves the use of more materials but also relates to panelization and cutting methods during the production process. We typically see PCB with a rectangular shape; however, for heart-shaped or other irregularly shaped PCB, it may lead to a significant material wastage, increasing production costs.

Of course, these costs may be negligible for high-end PCBA projects. The example below illustrates this: the image on the right shows a large-sized power board, while the one on the left is a small-sized control board. Clearly, the control board is much more expensive.

Size comparison of control board and power board

Furthermore, the number of layers in a PCB board also affects the manufacturing cost. This impact primarily has two aspects: first, increasing the number of layers will increase the usage of copper foil, and second, adding layers may lead to a higher failure rate during the PCB manufacturing process. Typically, for every additional 2 layers in a PCB, manufacturing costs may increase by approximately 40% or so.

Process Difficulties

Even with the same materials and production processes, the complexity of the manufacturing process can also impact costs. For example, if two circuit boards require drilling 100 holes, and one board has hole diameters larger than 0.6 millimeters while the other has hole diameters smaller than 0.6 millimeters, there will be a noticeable difference in drilling costs. Similarly, if the trace width and spacing on the boards are different, with one being greater than 0.2 millimeters and the other smaller than 0.2 millimeters, this will also result in variations in production costs. There are two main reasons for these differences: first, increased process complexity leads to higher scrap rates, and second, to achieve intricate processes, manufacturers may need to invest in more advanced equipment.

High Standard

Customers’ choice of PCB manufacturers is based on three main factors: 1. Lower prices, 2. Production capabilities that match the project’s requirements, and 3. Qualifications and certifications. For some specialized industries, additional industry-specific certifications are required, such as ISO 13485, to serve specific sectors. Furthermore, adhering to certain standards may impact the yield rate. For example, boards manufactured to IPC-A-600E Class 1 standards need to achieve a 98% yield rate, while meeting Class 3 requirements may result in only a 90% yield rate. The ultimate result is an increase in manufacturing costs, leading to higher custom PCB prices.

Further Reading:

A must-read guide for the PCBA industry—IPC standards

How to find the right PCB assembly company

Component Procurement

In PCBA projects, components typically represent the majority of the project cost because the goal of the project is to assemble these components onto the blank PCB to achieve the desired functionality. Components come from various sources, and for some assembly services, you can achieve cost-effectiveness by sourcing the components yourself.

We strongly recommend considering FS Technology’s turnkey PCBA service. In this service, we will assist you in procuring all the necessary components. You only need to provide us with a BOM (Bill of Materials), and our procurement team will source these components from partners at a lower cost.

This is highly advantageous for your PCBA project cost. As a professional PCBA company, we conduct large-scale procurement every year and have established close partnerships with suppliers, allowing us to secure discounts. Additionally, FS Technology’s engineering team will review your design and materials. Sometimes, your project may require high TG (thermal resistance) components or low dielectric constant components, which can come at a high cost. In such cases, our engineers will provide alternative component solutions to reduce costs while ensuring that the project progresses without disruption.

Furthermore, the issue of chips is a critical aspect. Custom chips often come at a high price, and when faced with chip shortages, costs can escalate significantly. This is not an exaggeration, as anyone who has experienced a chip shortage event can attest to.

Assembly Services

PCB assembly services involve the process of assembling components onto the PCB and encompass two stages and technologies: SMT and THT. The calculation of assembly costs is based on the number of soldering points on the PCB. The more soldering points on the board, the higher the cost. Additionally, THT assembly tends to be more expensive than SMT assembly.

SMT assembly is a more advanced technology that utilizes surface-mount components and an automated assembly process, eliminating the need for manual insertion. This automation makes SMT assembly more cost-effective. It’s worth noting that before assembly begins, a PCB stencil needs to be manufactured for the solder paste printing process. This is typically a one-time cost as long as there are no specific requirements or changes to the manufacturing files.

With the increasing trend toward miniaturization, the proportion of THT components on PCB has gradually decreased. THT assembly involves inserting through-hole components into pre-drilled holes and soldering them, a process that can be done manually or with equipment. However, for large DIP components, manual labor may be required, which can increase the cost of through-hole PCB assembly.

Test

To ensure production quality, introducing inspection and post-production testing is a necessary measure. In this process, some essential quality control steps are typically provided for free, such as if you choose FS Technology as your service provider, we conduct AOI after inner layer manufacturing, outer layer manufacturing, SMT, THT, and perform sampling manual inspections throughout the production line.

For functional testing or specific industries that require third-party certification, any additional costs incurred will be borne by the customer. We consider this necessary to ensure that the products meet specific industry standards and the quality requirements of our customers.

Others

Expedited Fee

Time is money, and upon receiving a customer’s order, we immediately arrange for engineers to review and confirm it before starting production. However, for some customers, this might not be sufficient, as their projects are extremely urgent. In such cases, you can opt for expedited services, albeit at an additional cost.

During the project’s progress, we need to schedule production, considering that we handle many orders, not just yours. Currently, we have seven assembly lines, and when they cannot meet production demands, orders are prioritized based on their placement time. Expedited services primarily involve queue jumping and overtime to meet the urgent deadlines. Therefore, these additional charges are used to cover the overtime pay for workers and compensate for delayed orders.

Packaging & Shipping

Regarding these two aspects, there is likely no need for extensive explanation. However, it’s worth mentioning that you can choose packaging options such as bulk packaging, vacuum sealing, anti-static bags, and more. Similarly, for transportation, air freight is considerably more expensive than sea freight. Please make your selection based on the specific requirements of your project.

Special Handling

This includes various aspects such as conformal coating, potting, OSP, gold fingers, and more. Before choosing different services, it’s essential to understand their advantages and characteristics and, most importantly, whether they can meet the requirements of your project. Ultimately, it’s about finding a balance between performance and cost.

One of the advantages of FS Technology is that we provide certain free services for prototype PCBA projects. If you would like to get more detailed information, please don’t hesitate to contact our sales team, and they will be happy to clarify all the details of our cooperation.

Strategies to Reduce PCB Assembly Costs

First and foremost, adopting a cost-effective design approach is crucial during the project’s design phase. This includes selecting the appropriate PCB type and layout planning based on project requirements. If your company is primarily focused on sales, it’s advisable to consider outsourcing the solution design to a professional third-party design firm. This will help eliminate unnecessary design complexities while ensuring quality, such as removing blind vias, buried vias, or plated-through holes for SMD components, thereby reducing bare board manufacturing costs.

Secondly, choosing a PCBA company with an engineering team, such as FS Technology, is a wise decision. They will assist you in reviewing design files, Gerber files, BoM files, etc., before the project starts or before finalizing the collaboration. This review is necessary to avoid potential faults and losses.

Another strategy to lower component costs is to forecast market trends in advance. If you anticipate potential component shortages in the future, you can procure components ahead of time to avoid cost increases due to supply and demand fluctuations. Additionally, you can maintain a small stock of critical components or chips to be prepared for unexpected situations. If you’re concerned about storage costs or waste issues, you can consider outsourcing to a turnkey PCBA company.

Most importantly, leverage economies of scale to reduce unit prices. Prototype manufacturing is typically more expensive, although you can find some companies offering free prototypes, their reliability needs careful assessment. The key is to ensure that the final production price is economically feasible. Once collaboration is confirmed, and the design is validated, the project enters the mass production phase, where reducing unit prices through larger order quantities becomes an effective strategy.

Conclusion

In conclusion, PCBA costs are made up of many factors. Any of these said factors will cause varying costs, so customers should choose a supplier according to their own requirements. If you recognize the capabilities of FS Technology, please contact us via email as we have a 24-hour one-to-one service, and we will provide you with FS Technology’s price list.

Further Reading:

Several Practical Tips to Reduce PCB Cost

Ways to profit from small volume PCBA Assembly vendors

How to Reduce Flexible PCBA Manufacturing Costs

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