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Should You Bring RF/Microwave Prototyping In-House

Source: LPKF Laser & Electronics, North America

Productivity. Innovation. Time to market. Day to day, year over year, businesses are forced to make critical R.O.I.—related decisions that impact the future and the bottom line—some of them reactionary, some forecasted. For a growing number of electronics manufacturers, many of those decisions revolve around whether a function should be performed by an outside contractor or kept in-house. But for many companies in the RF/microwave industry, this decision is often concerned with continuing to employ an outside printed-circuit- board (PCB) fabricator for prototype PCBs, or to make a $10,000 to $100,000 investment in an in-house, rapid PCB prototyping machine that may represent a key competitive advantage.

A company manager or executive faced with such a decision must weigh the benefits of having an in-house PCB prototype milling machine, which can boost design prototyping with its fast turnaround time, and even encourage engineering experimentation due to the fast and easy access to prototype PCBs, versus the cost of the investment and its effect on the bottom line. Using outside PCB prototype fabrication services may be quite less than the cost of an in-house PCB milling machine, but how do those costs compare over time? And what other factors must be considered when weighing a decision between using outside PCB fabricators and buying a PCB prototype milling machine? A recent online poll showed that over 80% of the engineering readers surveyed named a PCB prototype milling machine as the most important tool in their design arsenal.