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Design-to-Cost and Design-to-Value Approaches in PCB Design

Key Takeaways

  • Major expenses in PCB design are fabrication, assembly, and components. 

  • In design-to-cost, cost-effectiveness is the primary goal.

  • Manufacturing PCBs with the design-to-value approach is more expensive, but quality is higher.

Design to cost vs. design to value

Choosing between the design-to-cost vs. design-to-value method for PCB design depends on whether you value cost or quality more. Design-to-cost emphasizes financial profit and cost-effectiveness, while design-to-value emphasizes quality and reliability.

Design-to-Cost and Design-to-Value Approaches in PCB Boards


Design-to-Cost and. Design-to-Value Methods of PCB Design




Save money


Component Selection

Cheapest components possible 

The best quality components possible, regardless of cost

Material Selection

Cost considerations are involved in the selection of board materials

Board materials are selected so the board operates reliably under working conditions such as high temperature, power, and frequency 


Minimal layers

PCB layers are included if needed


Limited vias

Vias are included if needed


Consumer products, commercial applications

Aerospace, avionic systems, and research applications


Cost-effective, although sometimes the poor quality results in lost money down the line

Excellent quality


Poor reliability, integrity, and efficiency

Can be costly. However, the excellent quality means boards last longer, potentially saving money in the long run


In design-to-cost, cost-effectiveness is the primary goal. The board's lifespan is considered insignificant, and the board design is completed as cheaply as possible. For example, FR2 or FR3 materials are used instead of FR4 board material in PCB boards using the design-to-cost approach.

In the design-to-cost approach, boards are usually limited to two layers. This may increase the complexity of the design, but it saves on the cost of manufacturing multilayered boards.  Another common design-to-cost approach is to replace costly ICs with passive components. With the design-to-cost approach, you may be able to replace an  IC of 10 USD with a circuit costing only around 2 USD with no change in functionality.

Design-to-cost is used in some consumer products. That is why some cheaply made products fail after only a few months of use. 


In critical applications (aerospace, military, etc.), expensive (but reliable) controller boards are used. In such applications, quality and reliability are more important than saving money.

In the design-to-value approach, the board material selection, components, board structure, etc. are chosen to ensure the utmost quality, regardless of cost. In the design-to-value approach, the board should work under extreme conditions without failing and adhere to all standards. 

Major Cost Factors to Consider

When choosing between design-to-cost and design-to-value methods, major cost factors to consider include:

  1. PCB fabrication costs - The fabrication cost can be calculated per panel since the boards are printed panel-wise. Fabrication costs may include labor, material, and processing costs.
  2. PCB assembly costs - Every PCB needs to be populated. The assembly cost varies with each board and depends on the number of components. If there are lots of components, assembly may take up more of the budget than fabrication. 
  3. PCB component costs - Component selection is a major cost factor, but component prices can vary widely. 

Choosing Between Design-to-Cost and Design-to-Value Methods

In a competitive electronic market, design-to-value is preferred over design-to-cost. However, most customers like to purchase quality products at reasonable prices. There needs to be an intermediate design approach that balances the benefits of both design-to-value and design-to-cost.

For example, when designing a commercial board, measures are taken to meet the EMI/EMC standards. However, if approaching the same board under a design-to-value method, the PCB might be designed with controlled impedance along with filtering or shielding to confirm there are no EMI/EMC issues.

Cadence’s suite of PCB design and analysis tools can help you build PCBs incorporating the best of both design-to-cost and design-to-value approaches. Leading electronics providers rely on Cadence products to optimize power, space, and energy needs for a wide variety of market applications. If you’re looking to learn more about our innovative solutions, talk to our team of experts or subscribe to our YouTube channel.