- Buyers Guide
Judy Warner is the western regional and RF/microwave market director of business development for Zentech Manufacturing, a contract manufacturer that offers fully integrated supply chain solutions for mil/aero, RF/microwave and medical markets. Zentech is based in Baltimore, MD near the high technology corridor of the Mid-Atlantic/Pentagon region. Judy has over 20 years of experience in the electronics industry, and has spent the past four years focused exclusively on RF and Microwave technology solutions. Judy also sits on the advisory board of eSurface technologies and contributes articles to a variety of microwave and electronic industry trade publications, including 3 years as a contributing guest blogger for Microwave Journal.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T the PCB
Price or Cost?
At first blush, price and cost seem like the same thing, don’t they? However, I would contend that price is expressed simply on the bottom line of an invoice. Cost, on the other hand takes complex non-tangibles into account in addition to price. Here is an example of how this played out for me (badly) just last week. A friend recently lost his mother, and I wanted to send flowers. Unfortunately, it slipped my mind until the day before the service. Being the bargain hunter, I went online and found a lovely arrangement at the best price and right on target for my budget. I paid for it, and patted myself on the back for getting this done in time to be a blessing for this family. The next day, I fired up my computer and found my receipt in my inbox, as promised. I was dumbfounded when I saw the price, which was 20 bucks more than I had intended. When I read the fine print, I discovered that there was a $15.00 charge for normal delivery plus a $5.00 charge for next-day delivery. Not only that, I realized that by using a national floral service that disperses orders to local floral shops, these charges were most likely elevated over a local service. My bargain-hunting pride was shattered.
What do flowers have to do with PCBs?
So what’s my point? Well, when it came to flowers, I shopped for a desired product with price only in mind (of course, I wanted lovely flowers, too). By hyper-focusing on price, I didn’t consider the non-tangible costs of delivery and expediting—which did not end well for me! My point is that buyers and engineers alike can run the same risk when it comes to buying printed circuit boards. Not all, but many are looking with price only in mind, not fully evaluating the more complex total costs. This is dangerous when it comes to buying PCBs for several reasons—all of which I’m sure you have painfully experienced.
What’s at Stake?
There are a multitude of reasons why a PCB manufacturer might offer unusually low prices—but none of them make good business sense, or are sustainable. But, lean budgets will tempt even those of us that know better. What I suspect that most people don’t really think about is this: A circuit board is going to get populated with hundreds, or thousands, of dollars worth of components. Those components cannot operate to their full potential without highly functioning quality circuit board. In addition, there are labor charges to place those components. After all that, there is the speed-to-market that relentlessly drives us all, because we know that the first one to market often wins…big! So what’s the real cost if you get a poorly made PCB, which you bought based on price alone? It will cost time, a boatload of money on both scraped boards and destroyed components and, of course, market share. All of these key resources and factors sit precariously on the humble shoulders of that circuit board—that many shop for on price alone. Yikes!
“Show me the love, Jerry!”
I think if PCBs could talk, they would sound something like Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry McGuire—insisting on getting some love, and well earned respect, don’t you? Maybe they would also be shouting “show me the money!”
So, to recap what we’ve covered so far:
- PCB’s are incredibly complex to make, and the people who make them are amazing
- There are huge stakes riding on the back of a lowly PCB
- So, R-E-S-P-E-C-T the PCB!
For these reasons, I encourage you to give your PCBs some much deserved love and respect, and resist the temptation to shop on price only. While it is very tempting, it is dangerous! Just like the Goodrich ads that say “there’s a lot riding on your tires”—there is a lot riding on your circuit boards.
Are we there yet?
Not quite. In the last installment of this blog series I will discuss the PCBs challenges, both now and in the future, for RF and Microwave applications. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments, it’s always great to hear from you!