How to budget the release of a new electronic board
April 1, 2022
In this short article, we will briefly explain the electronic board cost structure and will give advice on how to prepare a rough estimate of the possible costs of manufacturing a new electronic board. This indicative estimate is used when planning the project budget.
Collecting the necessary prices will most often require the involvement of consultants from different companies and the preparation of several technical documents. Nevertheless, the key and most important document that determines the quality level of the entire assessment is the specification for the future electronic board.
1. Electronic board development estimation
PCB design is usually carried out by professional engineering companies based on customer requirements. They upon request prepare a cost estimate for the development of the project. Most often, you will not have to pay for this, the estimate will be based on your technical requirements.
Oftentimes, in order to improve the accuracy of the assessment, already at the stage of evaluation of the design of the board, it is reasonable to perform the selection of key electronic components and develop a preliminary placement of the board, select the appropriate PCB stackup.
An essential part of modern complex electronic board design is quality assurance of the developed design using signal integrity analysis and power integrity analysis, as well as DFM/DFA analysis. Including these stages in the project development cycle will reduce the number of prototyping cycles in the future, greatly speed up the release and reduce the overall costs of production and debugging.
Input information for electronic board development estimation
Requirements specification from the product owner
Mechanical restrictions (size of the board, location of connectors, etc.)
Output information for electronic board development estimation
Estimated R&D cost including:
Preliminary BOM (optionally)
Preliminary floor planning of the board (optionally)
Preliminary stackup (optionally)
2. Bare board production and assembly estimation
The cost of producing a bare printed circuit board depends on the dimensions of the board, the cost of the selected materials and technologies that will be applied in the development of the board (this information should be prepared at the “Electronic board development estimation” stage), as well as the number of products in the order.
The cost of assembling electronic boards depends on the number and complexity (amount, type and density of pins) of the components used in the board. Mounting components on both sides of the board is more expensive, as is the use of blind and buried vias, as well as micro-vias.
Sometimes when a new PCB design has not yet been developed, the cost of its production can be roughly estimated using an estimate for a board of similar complexity
Non-Recurring Engineering (“tooling” or one-time production configuration)
The cost of production, especially for the small production batches, is dependent a lot on non-recurring engineering (NRE) activities. The term NRE is used to describe any one-time costs associated with a manufacturing process. For instance: preparing soldering paste stencils, programming pick & place machines, configuring automated optical inspection (AOI), and creating electrical test benches for your specific project.
Input information for bare board production and assembly estimation
Preliminary floor planning of the board with mechanical dimensions
Possible quantity in the order batch
Output information for bare board production and assembly estimation
Production cost estimation from an EMS company
3. BOM cost estimation
The cost of supplying the necessary electronic components can be estimated by an engineering company. For these matters engineers and purchasers use publicly available information from specialized trading platforms (for example Octopart, Digi-Key), also information coming directly from manufacturers and suppliers of electronic components, and data from other aggregator systems.
The purchase and storage of electronic components can be carried out by an EMS company, in this case, up to an additional 20% of the BOM cost may be charged for supply services.
Other optional expenses that may be a part of the budget planning
Thermal analysis and colling system development are needed for the boards expected to be working under high operational load, and/or with the limited surface of heat dissipation by default. This type of analysis can be provided by selected engineering companies developing electronic boards.
Additional production quality control (for example, X-ray quality inspection) may be needed to make sure about the highest quality of first prototypes.
The road between producing first prototypes and serial production often requires producing more than 1 set of devices made. Therefore it is wise to count on at least two rounds of prototyping.
Firmwaring and testing new boards manually can be hard and expensive for serial production. For the qualities above 100 pcs we recommend preparing a specialized production test fixture which will help to control the level of production quality during serial production.
To show the customers that the new board can be trusted products owner may think of certification, of course. The process of certification is unique for every required standard, it also depends on the organization which runs certification tests. Whatever the case, this stage may become a costly project item.
The cost of an electronic board depends on many variables unknown at the beginning. Finding experienced R&D and production partners may minimize the stress of making estimations and improve the quality of forecasts from day one.