Printed circuit boards, or PCBs, are an integral part of electronics products, from calculators and cell phones to medical devices and weapons systems. PCB design services are essential to the industry. PCB design is now a global enterprise, with more and more of it shifting to India and China. One part of the market is manufacture and application; the other is innovation. PCB design also is becoming increasingly complex, with shorter development times, To be competitive, a new PCB design service must understand such market realities and address some simple considerations.
Understand the challenge. In addition to design and engineering capabilities, you’ll need marketing, sales and negotiation skills. If you don’t have them, you’ll need to hire someone who can perform them. In launching a new design service, a seasoned designer likely will encounter fewer obstacles than a less-experienced person.
Understand how to convince potential customers you have what it takes to do the job right. Potential clients could be an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or an assembly service known as an electronic manufacturing service (EMS).
Get educated. Unless you’re already an electronics engineer with PCB design experience, you’ll need to learn and master the process. Options range from full-scale educational courses in PCB design, to online tutorials. Lessons and training in PCB design, including textbooks, are available from online sources and from industry media resources, such as "EE Times."
Research the market and decide your niche. For example, you can target developers of low-cost “commodity” PCBs used in inexpensive mass-market products such as calculators, or you can go after those wanting the newest and most innovative designs, such as flexible circuits. The former category can provide the most work, but often at lower hourly or project rates. The latter offers plenty of opportunity, usually at a more lucrative compensation rate. Both segments are competitive.
Exploit industries that are prevalent in your area. Three common areas of opportunity deal with power supplies, motor drivers and microcontrollers. Experience with analog and audio circuitry also applies to many industries, according to Dan Krones, an electronics engineer and proprietor of Precision Design Services. High-speed digital signal processors, impedance controls, memory and video processing boards offer still more opportunities.
Investigate and select PCB design software. Because of the breadth and complexity of the PCB market, different software providers deliver different kinds of capabilities, sometimes targeted at a specific market niche. Software suppliers include Altium, Cadence Design Systems, Mentor Graphics and ExpressPCB. Be aware that costs vary widely based on scope and capabilities.
Create a detailed business plan. The electronics industry is complex and very competitive. To succeed, you need a detailed description of how you will address the market and make a profit. Unless you have business experience, retain an electronics industry consultant, preferably an electronics engineer with PCB experience, to review and challenge your assumptions and projections.
Build a solid sales and marketing capability. Designing PCBs is only half the equation. Be aware that electronics engineers may need sales training. As a starting point, recruit an experienced electronics industry salesperson or hire a respected manufacturer’s representative with PCB experience and a good reputation.