PCB Design Engineering Rates, Costs, and Freelance Service Prices for New Company Products

PCB Design Engineering Rates, Costs, and Freelance Service Prices

Printed circuit boards are an essential part of many different products. PCBs are used to connect different components and are used in everything from underground sensors and car engines to DVD players and computers.

PCBs have been around since World War II, where they were originally used for military purposes. Today, PCBs are used in almost everything.

This means when designing a new product, chances are good that at some point, you’ll need to hire a PCB designer and electrical engineer to help you create a functional PCB board that works for your product.

If you need to hire a PCB design engineer, it’s important to figure out what the rates will be, so you can factor this into the overall cost of your product. This article is designed to break down the cost of design rates, and other costs and fees that could occur.

What You’ll Need

While you can get a rough estimate on pricing, in order to get an official quote, you will need enough details for the PCB design engineer to give you a closer estimate. Without this information, it’s likely that the cost could fluctuate wildly, and you may find that the PCB costs a lot more than you thought.

Certain documents are needed to help with the quote. There are also additional documents that can provide that while not necessarily needed, will help in providing a proper estimate. Let’s go over these documents now.

Schematic

One of the required documents you will need is a schematic of the PCB. This should be provided as a Native design file or PDF. A schematic tells the freelance engineering design service a lot about the product, including how much work it will take to do the design, and a rough idea of how many hours that will be.

It also gives them an idea of technical difficulty, and what you are trying to accomplish with your product.

BOM (Bill of Materials)

Next on the list of required documents is a BOM. The Bill of Materials contains a complete list of materials and parts that will be used in creating the PCB. You can think of this as a shopping list for all the ingredients needed to make the product.

A BOM will tell the PCB designer what sort of materials will be going into the product, and what they’ll be using in the design.

Mechanical (DXF, IDF, PDF, or simple X-Y dimensions)

The final piece of information needed is the mechanical information. This focuses on the dimensions of the PCB and the outline of the board. PCB design requires a lot of detail, because not only does it have to perform the actions needed for the product to work, but it must also fit perfectly in the product.

These files are what is needed at the minimum to create a functional product, but you can make it easier with even more details. Optional files that help include things like the netfiles, routing/constraint rules, a placement floorplan, and component datasheets.

RELATED: How Much Does 3D CAD Modeling Design Cost & What Are Prices for Freelance Design Service Firms?

With this information, your PCB designer will have a clear idea of what your product looks like and should be able to give a very close quote as to how much the product costs. If you don’t have this information, you may need to hire someone earlier in the project first to get the files needed for the design.

PCBs are complex pieces, and many hands will end up touching the project before it comes to completion. If you don’t have the right information and hope the PCB engineer will be able to fill in the blanks, it may end up costing you more. It’s better to pay someone with a lower hourly fee to get the documents you need rather than adding extra expenses to an engineer to do the work—if they will at all.

Other Things You Should Plan to Discuss

While the documents are the minimum needed to get a quote, other information helps narrow down your quote to a more specific price range. This information will also help reduce the number of mistakes, which can sometimes be costly, and aid in communication.

Your electrical engineer may want to know whether or not you have an internal component library, what your target completion date is, and how much you hope the PCB will cost to manufacture. This information can help them tailor the design to your companies needs or may impact the price in other ways.

If you have any questions at all related to the creation process, this is also a good time to ask it. By bringing your concerns, you can set up communication early and avoid mistakes as much as possible.

Estimating Hours of Work

Most PCB engineers charge by the hour. A quote you get is an estimation of the hours it will take to complete your design. Design completion usually includes the following things:

  1.        Library component creation
  2.        Critical placement
  3.        Placement
  4.        Critical routing
  5.        Routing
  6.        Output file generation

If you already have your own library, this may reduce the time needed. On the other hand, if the area for pin placement is very small, it could take more time than usual to figure out how to place them in such a way that the PCB still works.

That’s why it’s not as simple as throwing the size of a PCB into a calculator and multiplying the hourly fee by the hour. You can still get a general idea, however, by starting with the base price and adjusting for ‘add-ons.’

Here are a few examples of add-ons to give you an idea of what may affect your pricing:

Component Pin Density

As we mentioned earlier, how close the pins are matters. The smaller the space, the harder it is to place them. If the pins are over a specific amount, 400 pins per square inch, it will cost more than the base price because it is much more time-intensive to do.

Routing Density

In the same way too many pins can cause the pricing to go up, if a lot of routes are needed for the product, this may also cost more. This is a bit more complicated than just numbers, with the number of nets and the shape of the board also being important factors.

Routing Topology

It’s not just the number of routes or the shape of the board that can affect pricing. The routing topology and other things like routing timing also come into play. DDR memory schemes are one example of a more advanced technology that can slow down the engineer.

HDI

HDI can also have a big impact on the PCB and how long it takes to create it. HDI is very useful because it can allow you to make the board smaller and can make a difference in the board itself, but it comes at a price.

Military or Aerospace Designs

Finally, military and aerospace designs typically take much more time to build. Although these designs are often similar or have the same requirements as regular boards, these fields usually have much more stringent design requirements. Because the specifications are much more strict for these industries, you can expect a higher price.

Hours Needed for a PCB Board

Using the information above, you probably know whether your PCB board will be on the lower end of the spectrum, or the higher end. Nailing down a more specific price involves figuring out how many hours your PCB board will take to complete.

Calculators exist to help you estimate costs, but in the end, you’ll need a quote to help you. They can take as few as 5-6 hours for a single connector board, all the way up to 360+ hours for a complicated board that needs to fit into the product and has a lot of layers.

pcb-design

Other factors can increase or decrease the time needed. If the initial information for the board is already very clear, or you already have a library of components available, this may reduce the hours needed. If you decided to let the engineer handle the confusing areas of the project, expect more hours.

The best way to determine how many hours your project will need is to get quotes on them from freelance civil engineers. While some may lowball the hours needed, if most of your quotes come back a similar hour range, you can guess how many hours are the average for your board.

Once you know the hours, you can multiply that by the rate of your engineer, and get a rough idea of the cost of your project.

How Much Does a PCB Engineer Cost?

When a PCB designer gets back to you with a quote, it will be with how many hours each part of the design will cost multiplied by their hourly price. If they quote 60 hours for a PCB board and their price is $150 per hour, then you can expect the board to cost around $8,700 to design.

It’s important to remember, however, that no matter how good an engineer is, they may not be able to quote a price down to the exact hour. It may be things go more smoothly, but they could also run into problems and take longer. It’s best to assume it may be a little bit more than the quoted price to have the funds planned for should it occur.

The rates for an engineer will vary from person to person, so looking at the normal range of rates for a PCB engineer is a logical next step to estimating the cost of designing a product. Engineering design services require a lot of education and training in the field and usually command a higher salary.

The average salary for a PCB designer is $86,437. Most engineers specializing in PCB design charge between $95 and $145 an hour. Almost all of them charge an hourly fee over flat fees or percentages.

This is important to know because if you get a quote that seems really low, it probably is and the cost will be made up with additional time added on later. A good understanding of how complex your PCB board is can help you figure out whether or not a quote is a good deal, or too good to be true.

Why Engineer Fees Vary

A wage difference of $95-$145 is already a large variance, and that’s only the average! Some engineers charge as much as $300 an hour. There are a few reasons why rates fluctuate so much and understanding why can help you in selecting an engineer.

Rates fluctuate most often based on education and experience. An engineer who is fresh out of university and has little to no experience in the field will likely charge on the lower end of the scale. This more modest pay is reflective of their lack of experience.

As engineers gain more experience, and their PCB board designs get better, their price starts to climb. Engineers on the higher end of the pay scale usually get there because they have enough customers to keep them busy, and people come back because the designs are worth the price.

This isn’t true in every case. You may get a stellar deal on a talented individual with a low price who is simply trying to get their foot in the door—or pay a high price for someone who isn’t that great. This is why due diligence is so important when hiring an engineer.

The best way to make sure you’re getting a high-quality engineer is to check reviews, follow up on referrals, and ask questions. The more you know about an engineer, the better your chances are of choosing someone right for you.

It’s also best to look at more than one engineer, and not simply hire the first PCB designer who comes your way. Checking multiple engineers can help you find someone who meshes well with your company culture, has the talent you need, and whose price reflects their quality of work.

Why You Need a Prototype

Even a simple PCB board can be deceptively hard to get right. You may think that because your PCB board isn’t very complex, it will be easy for a manufacturer to understand and build. The problem is, it is very common for mistakes to sneak through the process on simple boards.

Imagine paying for a run of 30,000 PCB boards, only to discover that they don’t work quite the way you planned. You now have 30,000 PCB boards you can’t use—or have to fix. A single prototype can avoid this mistake, by letting you iron out any problems before it gets to the production stage.

Why You Need to Hire a PCB Engineer

At first glance, a CAD designer and PCB engineer do very similar work. They’re both showing the PCB layout and how it works, and are building the PCB in different ways. It may be tempting to skip the PCB engineer and just use a CAD designer to complete your project.

PCB engineers have great value that can save you money in the long run. They often have experience not just in how PCBs work, but also in manufacturing. If your PCB is made in a way that isn’t easily manufacturable, you may have to pay a fortune to the manufacturer for new dyes or other changes to the facility itself to make your project.

Long term, it’s cheaper to design a product that is manufacturable from the get-go. Even assuming the CAD designer can create a PCB board that works for the purpose, they may not be aware of what makes it easily manufactured. A few simple changes to the board could make it much cheaper to manufacture, saving money over time, with a more experienced designer.

Even features that seem relatively benign can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars down the road if it isn’t easy to manufacture. This can be something as simple as a button in an unusual place, or anything that would require you to purchase an injection mold in order to create it.

When your engineer is looking at your prototype, they may be able to make suggestions that don’t harm the quality of the product at all but reduce the manufacturing costs by huge amounts. This of course isn’t a guarantee, depending on the prototype, but it is a possibility.

Engineering is a skilled profession, and there’s a good reason why so many companies use them to design their prototypes. Their skill and experience can help bring costs down overall.

In Closing

Rates for CBD boards are highly variable. While design may seem as simple as gauging how many hours are needed and multiplying that by the hours worked by the engineer, these hours can greatly fluctuate depending on the individual board.

While you can get a rough estimate yourself through calculators based off of the estimated hours needed, the complexity of the board, and the price of the PCB engineer, you’ll need to get direct quotes to nail down the pricing of your specific piece.

Cad Crowd can give you a quote. Get one today.