Top 4 PCB Assembly Trends

A 4-Year Study on Changes in the PCB Assembly Market

About this report

This report is a reflection of Advanced Assembly’s ongoing commitment to fully understanding the environment in which design engineers operate and to providing services that closely align with the needs of the printed circuit board (PCB) assembly market.

For the past five years, Advanced Assembly has conducted monthly surveys to visitors of its website. These visitors are primarily design engineers and electronic industry buyers. The surveys cover frequency, quantity and processes of PCB assembly. The PCB Assembly Trends report brings together 1,002 responses from 2008 through 2011. All information has been aggregated to protect the privacy of individual respondents.

The PCB Assembly Trends report is being provided free of charge to all interested parties. This unique benefit from Advanced Assembly is designed to help engineers further understand factors at play in  the market as well as provide information to assist in quick-turn product innovation, creation and delivery.

Advanced Assembly is located in Colorado and is the #1 printed circuit board assembly company specializing in serving design engineers needing 1-35 boards assembled in 1-5 days. Until Advanced Assembly was launching in 2004, engineers had a difficult time finding a reliable partner to assemble small quantities of circuit boards. To fulfill this need, Advanced Assembly developed a proprietary technology to assemble a few boards at a time and deliver them over 80% faster than the typical industry turn time. The company’s financial success proves that it is fulfilling a previously unmet need as evidenced by continual year-over year, double-digit revenue growth.

Section 1: Frequency of PCB Assembly

Over the last four years, research has shown an overall increase in the need for outsourced PCB assembly services. In 2009, the highest percentage of engineers stated a need for assembly services once or twice a quarter. At the end of 2011, that number has more than doubled with the highest percentage of respondents saying they have assembly projects 5-10 times a year. Anecdotally, engineers are saying the increased need for PCB assembly is due to a demand for producing new product introductions (NPI) within the same timeframe. In other words, product development cycles are being compressed so companies can introduce more new products faster.

Section 2: PCB Assembly Order Quantity

As the chart below illustrates, the average number of boards in each order placed has remained relatively consistent over the past four year. The majority of orders consisted of 15 boards or less with approximately 10% of orders including 50 or more boards.

One interesting trend is the steady increase in small runs over time. In 2008, 66% of orders were for quantities of 15 or less per order. However, this number has steadily increased so that by the end of 2011, 72% of all orders were for quantities of 15 boards or less. That is an increase of 8% in four years.

Higher demand for smaller quantities has also been reported by In a recent survey, IPC found that the highest percentage of orders placed were for fewer than 100 parts (2011-2012 Analysis and Forecast for the Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) Industry).

Even during time of economic upheaval, the smartest companies continue to invest in innovative product development. This continued focus on new ideas is a primary driver behind the rise of prototype and low-volume PCB assembly.

Section 3: Increase in Outsourced PCB Assembly

When Advanced Assembly began surveying design engineers, the process for assembly PCBs was closely split between those handling assembly in-house and those outsourcing to an assembly partner. Over time, however, an increasing number of engineers are opting for outsourcing assembly for the following main reasons:

  • Speed of Assembly. The advent of machine-assembly for any size orders means that shops can assembly PCBs in a fraction of the time it would normally take for hand placement. In fact, some PCB assemblers have a standard turn-time of 5 days or less, which is 75% faster than the industry average.
  • Miniaturization. As parts and boards continue to shrink in size, hand assembly is becoming
    increasingly difficult. In fact, industry analysts predict hand assembly will be nearly impossible in the future. “Miniaturization and functional densification and integration continue to represent a leading trend for electronics products and are driving the implementation of 01005, 0201, finer pitch QFPs and SMT connectors, as well as tighter spacing (<10 mil) between components” (The Electronics Industry, 8/2012, PCB007).
  • Flexibility. Initially, engineers were required to purchase parts in reels even when they needed only a handful of components. Today, leading assembly shops can accept parts in any format – reels, cut-tape, bulk, even loose – and still utilize machines for automated PCB assemblies.

Section 4: Size of Engineering Design Services

In the past two years, survey results show a dramatic increase in the number of small design shops and/or design engineering departments. This can be largely attributed to the struggling economy, which has forced downsizing throughout the industry.

For companies and engineers trying to “do more with less,” partnering with a PCB assembly
manufacturer is a logical move. Outsourcing PCB assembly gives companies access to additional resources and provides scalability to accommodate future growth. In addition, off-loading the time-consuming assembly process helps engineering focus on innovation and product development, allowing for faster go-to-market strategies and saving money in the long run.


Last year, Bloomberg Businessweek featured an in-depth discussion on what it called the “New Normal.” When boiled down, the “New Normal” is the widespread belief that the past few years have irreversibly altered the United States’ business and economic environment. While the “New Normal” certainly poses serious challenges to the global community, it can also be viewed with opportunity and optimism.

To be successful in the “New Normal” requires companies to find more efficient ways of doing business. Winners will be those that focus on providing higher quality products or services in a short timeframe and at an affordable cost. For the PCB assembly industry, one of the most compelling ways to survive and thrive in this “New Normal” is by sending assembly projects to PCB assemblers with machine placement capabilities.

Machine assembly is now available for all size orders – even a single board – and offers numerous benefits simply unattainable in a hand assembly process. By partnering with high-tech PCB assembly manufacturers, engineers receive precision assembly that can be repeated over and over, fast turntimes and the ability to accurately place exceedingly small parts. Proprietary software tools can also be used to check designs and identify possible errors before beginning the assembly process.

What was once considered a viable option only for large quantity orders, machine assembly is now available for all orders including prototypes and low-volume PCBs. Fully assembled boards in days, rather than weeks, gives companies the competitive edge they need to win in today’s business environment. In the words of singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan, “the times they are a changing.” Engineers need to embrace change and experience the clear advantages of outsourcing to machine-assembly experts.

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