If you are looking to patronize a company that offers or provides PCB prototype services, then you need to have a budget. With the amount you set aside already, choosing a company becomes easier, as you would always look for the best deals.
In vase you have been wondering on what the average PCB cost is, in this article, we will let you into the details. This article explains how much you can expect to pay for making a prototype of a Printed Circuit Board (PCB).
How Much Does a PCB Prototype Cost?
Several factors influence the possible cost or price you will get in the quotation. Of course, you must understand that the price given by Manufacturer A typically differs from that of Manufacturer B, because of some reasons.
However, the average costs can be anywhere between $100 and $1,000. As you continue reading, you will understand some of the parameters influencing the board’s costs.
Influential Factors for PCB Costs
If a Printed Circuit Board (PCB), at the point of prototyping, is said to be costly, then it could be because of one or more of these reasons:
1. The Material Used for the PCB
The fact is that the materials used for Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) differ. While one material may be costlier, the other might be affordable.
As the material is the most important attribute of a circuit board, it makes sense to factor it into the cost-analysis.
Here are some quick points to note:
- The performance of the materials, as it relates to the use case or application, is very important. This is why the PCB materials or substrates required for higher performance tend to attract more costs than those required for lower purposes.
- The applications also make the cost of these materials differ. The rule of thumb is that the higher the applications and the more complex the applications or uses are, the higher the material’s costs will be. For example, the Metal-Core PCB materials are used to make circuit boards for high-thermal conductivity applications, while the FR-4 materials are used to manufacture PCBs for multiple uses. The Ceramic PCB materials are used to make circuit boards for high-temperature applications that require specialized manufacturing processes, while the Polyimide PCB materials are used to make circuits delegated for high-temperature and flexible applications.
2. The Lead Time
This is a little bit away from the conventional consideration of all that is inside the PCB. This time, you can consider the potentials of getting a low-cost PCB prototype service by checking the lead time.
The lead time is an estimated time it would take to get the prototypes ready. The lead time depends on the specifications/customizations and how many PCBs you are prototyping.
However, if you are looking to get the boards in the shortest time possible, the PCB prototyping company may have to charge you for express service, which costs more money.
3. The PCB Size
Small-sized circuit boards don’t cost much to prototype. Thus, the actual size of the PCB can be used to evaluate the potential prototyping costs.
4. Complex vs. Simplified
It is argued that the production stages of PCBs, including prototyping, can be fraught with different design-related challenges.
Hence, the most-complex boards will drive up the cost of getting a free PCB prototype or even an affordable one.
By complexity, we don’t just mean the processes that go into the prototyping. We also refer to the use of dense circuit boards, the use of several electronic components and utilizing complex wiring solutions for the prototyping.
5. Consider the PCB Finish
The method of “finishing” or completing the circuit board for the market refers to finishing. The type of finish used can impact the board’s prototyping costs, especially if you are working with the high-grade finishes.
6. How Many Layers Do the PCB have?
Consider the numbers of layers to use in the prototyped circuit board. The general rule is to few layers, if you are intent on saving more.
7. The Cost of the Electronic Components
The electronic components are as important as the materials or substrates used for the PCB. Thus, you must consider them when checking the prototyping costs of Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs).
8. The Labor Costs
The design engineers will earn their wages and their charges are factored into the PCB prototype cost. Note that the more engineers that work on the prototype, the more you will spend.
Besides, the payments are not always fixed, as these engineers are paid on an hourly basis. The hurly wage varies by the location and the type of board. Most times, the large-volume circuit board prototypes are paid for every hour, while you may negotiate the payment for the small-sized boards.
9. The Type of Enclosure
This refers to the enclosure prototypes or put simply, the case or covering used to protect the circuit board after prototyping.
The two (2) options are choosing between a custom design or going with a stock enclosure. On the one hand, the stock enclosure is already produced and since it is mass-produced, the costs are always lower.
However, if you are looking to make a custom case or enclosure for the prototyped board, then you can expect to spend more. Depending on the specifics and the number of enclosures you want manufactured, the cost can be anywhere between a few dollars and up to 100 dollars.
Determining PCB Prototyping Value with a PCB Cost Calculator
Rather than brainstorming on what the costs might be, take the “faster” route – use a PCB cost calculator. The use of this calculator comes in handy in these two (2) scenarios:
- When you want to run an online check on the PCB designer’s site for what it would cost to make the prototype and;
- When you are considering making a Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) too.
For the last consideration, you can also use the circuit board calculator to evaluate the low-cost PCB assembly, especially if you are looking to assemble the board after prototyping. In this case, some of the expenses are the assembly engineering fee, the PCBA testing fee, the DIP/SMT welding cost and the logistics fee.
How to Save Money on PCB Prototypes
The prototyping of circuit boards is an opportunity to literally “see right through the boards” and get an idea of how they would work when finalized. Major issues will also be detected and fixed.
Due to the limited numbers of boards made at this stage, one could be expecting the costs to be lower. On the contrary, if not well-managed, you could spend more money on prototyping a circuit board.
If you must do it and within your means, then here are some ideas to get started:
a. Simplicity is Important
The simplest designs and or specifications of the circuit board is better. By simplifying the product as much as possible – and in the early stages, you can save more money.
Here are some of the simplified approaches to explore:
- Specifying the location of a button – and this shouldn’t be deeper inside the board or where it is not easily accessed.
- Make sure to consider other relevant processes, especially the steps to be taken if the board is finally ready for the market. Examples are injection molds and getting the relevant electrical certifications.
b. Be Strategic with the Production Location
The area or location where the circuit board is prototyped potentially influences the cost. It is for these reasons:
- The ease-of-assessing electronic components and substrates/materials and;
- The costs of shipping the PCBs after prototyping.
For example, you will find China a better location to make your PCB prototypes. Besides the affordable labor costs, several PCB designers and manufacturing companies are also available. The suppliers of electronic components are also within reach. Hence, you have most of the services you would need to keep your PCB prototype costs as low as possible.
c. Juxtaposing the Number of Layers with the PCB Costs
It is said that one wouldn’t be able to “cancel the other,” in terms of the number of layers used in the PCB prototype.
Ideally, you are better off using multiple layers, because these help to reduce the size of the PCB, but at the risk of triggering an increase in the overall PCB production costs. Therefore, you may be able to shrink the size of the PCB and save costs on the space, but when it comes to the production and PCBA, you will spend more to have those extra layers manufactured.
Nevertheless, there are a couple of ways to navigate it and still keep the PCB prototyping costs low:
- Opt for the bigger Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) with few layers. These are cost-effective than the small-sized PCBs that take-up extra layers.
- Consider using advanced circuit board production technologies, such buried and blind vias. They aid in cost-reduction, by further reducing or “shrinking” the size of the PCB.
The costs of making prototypes of circuit boards can be considerably lowered if these boards are manufactured in China by RayPCB, prototyped in more quantities of up to 50 and by choosing the bigger circuit boards with few layers over the smaller variants comprising more layers.