What is Turnkey PCB Assembly?

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Many engineers are capable of preparing their own PCB assemblies. From inception (design) to the final product (finished PCB assembly), PCBs can be fabricated in-home using some DIY methods. But only until the PCB design is very simple. At home, there is a hard limit to how fine a hole you can make, and how thin a trace you can get. This is why, for a more complex PCB assembly, designers have to turn to professional fabricators and assemblers.

If you haven’t had a PCB assembled yet, you might not be familiar with the process. In a lot of cases, engineers source the components from one place, get the board manufactured (complete with traces, vias, and microvias) from another place, and finally, get the PCB assembled (populated) from a third vendor. It’s at the third vendor that the PCB finally becomes a completed product.

It doesn’t always happen this way; sometimes, the PCB board manufacturers offer to assemble services as well. Whereas, in some cases, the PCB board alone has to go through multiple vendors. This whole process takes up a lot of time, and since the PCB changes so many hands and has to be shipped multiple times during the fabrication process, chances of it failing increase substantially. A very good solution is that all the processes take place under one roof. You just provide your design to a fabricator, and they provide you with the finished PCB assembly, ready to use.

That’s what Turnkey PCB Assembly is.

Turnkey PCB Assembly

The word “turnkey” refers to a completed product that is in a ready-to-use condition. There are many manufacturers, vendors, and fabricators that provide the turnkey PCB assembly condition. They act as a single outsourced company that takes care of every production stage of a PCB. You don’t have to contact multiple vendors for different services; you just have to send your designs to turnkey PCB assembly vendors, and they take care of everything else. From sourcing the PCB materials and components to assembling the final product, they create (and test) the complete circuit.

The turnkey PCBs are a blessing for engineers and companies. Designers can focus on creating the right design, and then the turnkey PCB manufacturers take care of everything else. Even if the designer has to communicate with the vendor to make adequate changes to the design, they only need to talk to one source, instead of shooting emails and making calls to a bunch of different vendors.

Turnkey PCB Assembly Benefits

There are many benefits of turnkey PCB assembly.

  1. You don’t have to worry about sourcing the materials. This is especially time-consuming when you are doing it the first time. You have to do your research, look for the best source to order your PCB materials from, and then wait for them to arrive. Most vendors that offer turnkey services keep an inventory of a comprehensive range of substrate and other materials. FR-4, PI for flex, and even high-end materials like Panasonic Megtron or Rogers 4350. If you need to incorporate very rare materials in your PCBs, the turnkey manufacturers can usually order the material themselves. Though it usually costs extra if you are going beyond the inventory that the turnkey PCB assembly manufactures keep.
  2. Everything happens under one roof. So you don’t have to track the “journey” of your PCB when it’s moving from vendor to vendor and from one facility to another. You also don’t have to stay in contact with multiple vendors to keep tabs on your PCBs progress. Since the PCB doesn’t need to be shipped from one place to another to be completed, the production time is significantly less.
  3. If multiple vendors are working on your PCB, chances of errors increase dramatically. When there is a lack of communication and compatibility between the vendors, your PCB can suffer. That's especially true if the vendors are in different countries. The vendors won't be communicating with vendors directly. You, the designer, will have to act as the point person. With a turnkey PCB vendor, the circuit will only move from one department to another, and this transition is usually very smooth.
  4. Let’s say you have your PCB board manufactured from vendor A, and then they shipped it to vendor B for assembling per your directions. If there are issues, like plating voids or insufficient copper to edge clearance, your assembling vendor might not work on the PCB and send it back to you. They won't rectify the mistakes of another vendor. And you will have to bear the cost of this extra shipment and the added time. When everything is happening under one roof and under one vendor, they take complete responsibility for the final product.
  5. Your “in-route” circuit will not be exposed to environmental elements. It will not have to be packed and repacked repeatedly. This will help prevent the integrity and quality of the product.
  6. Another significant benefit is cost. Turnkey PCB assembly manufacturing usually cost much less than getting your PCB made from multiple vendors. There is no extra shipping, no separate bills, and taxes. Efficiency and cost-effective are the key selling points of turnkey PCB manufacturers.

Final Words

Unless your circuit is so complex that it’s out of the scope of any one vendor, getting your PCB manufactured by a vendor that provides turnkey services is the smart thing to do. It will save you time, money, and ensure better quality as well. But that’s highly contingent on choosing the right turnkey PCB manufacturer.

The turnkey PCB assembling process involves sourcing the materials, design assistance (communicating with the designer), board fabrication, assembling, QC, testing, and efficient obsolescence management (tracking the life and integrity of all moving pieces of your one complex and final product). You have to choose a vendor that can do all these things right. Time and cost-saving aren’t the only goals here. You have to be sure that your finished product will be high-quality.

If the vendor that’s offering your turnkey services doesn’t have the experience, professionals or tools to take care of every step of the process in-house, your circuit might still have to travel from one facility to another and change a lot of hands. This will foreshadow the underlying benefits of going for a turnkey PCB assembly in the first place. So make sure you choose the right vendor for the job.

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