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Engineering managers tasked with outourcing PCB layout face a daunting challenge: comparing the total cost of multiple layout quotes.  Truth is, we don't know the answer either, but here's why it's so challenging.

1. The Hourly Rate is almost meaningless

We get asked all the time, "what's your hourly rate?". It's a natural question, but here's the insiders truth...it doesn't matter. The prices PCB layout shops quote is determined by multiplying the estimated hours by an hourly rate. If a shop quotes a low hourly rate, it's easy to make up for it by estimating additional time.

2. How much will your board designer need to "help" your layout contractor?

Is a \$90 per hour CAD operator cheaper than a \$115 per hour Senior Designer?  Very hard to say, but here's a tip. Estimate the number of hours you think your board designer will need to assist your layout contractor. If you know (or can estimate) your board designers annual salary, divide it by 2080 to get an hourly rate. Multiply that hourly rate by 1.25 to estimate fully loaded hourly rate. Multiply the time estimate by the hourly rate and add that cost to your price quotes. Here an example for a board designer estimated to earn \$125,000 per year:

Salary - \$125,000

Hourly Rate - \$125,000 / 2080 = \$60.00

Loaded Rate - \$60.00 X 1.25 = \$75.00

3. How do you value the contributions of a Senior PCB Layout Designer?

There are CAD operators, and there are true designers.  Broadly, CAD operators understand the software, true designers understand the circuit. This is almost impossible to quantify, but one useful way of looking at the problem is considering the services of true designers as a form of investment.  What types of situations are this investment appropriate?

- Mission Critical. Situations where the board simply must work without fail.

- New Product Introduction. Often new product introductions are critical to determining a product or companies reputation in the market.

- High Volume.  Repeatability in manufacturing can hinge on the layout. How much yield are you willing to risk by saving a few dollars on the layout?

- High Cost. With few exceptions, high cost boards are also complex, often utilizing advanced PCB manufacturing techniques. A true designers contributions can ensure the manufacturability of the PCB, save time during debug, and maximize manufacturing yields.

- Expensive Final Product. Sometimes a low value board goes into a high value product.  For example, simple control boards are found in \$1 million imaging equipment.

For a full discussion of pricing see How Are PCB Layout Jobs Priced? To discuss your particular project contact Randy Holt, PCB Layout Manager, at rholt@optimumdesign.com.

Further Reading: Outsourcing PCB Design: A Primer