Cost analysis and the teardown

By Dominique Numakura

In today’s consumer electronics industry, teardown analysis for new products is very common. Many industrial media and market research companies purchase items with the sole purpose of tearing them apart to scrutinize their components and complexities.

When a new electronic product is rolled out, tear down reports for those products are available in industrial magazines within a couple weeks. Some reports also provide cost analysis for the new products so manufacturer’s margins can be determined. Once Apple’s iPhone hit the street during June, several teardown reports with cost analysis were available a couple of weeks later.

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Since DNK Research specializes in the engineering of high density electronic packaging and printed circuits, I find it frustrating when the teardown reports briefly mention the printed circuit boards and assembling; especially flexible circuitries. Most of the reports exclude information about the circuit boards within the electronic products.

The photos available in the report show the main circuit boards because most of the components are mounted on them; however, the reports do not analyze the construction or the technologies used for the circuit boards.

Usually, cost analysis for circuit boards is excluded, and if they are mentioned, the will briefly talk about rigid circuit boards. The teardown reports frequently ignore the existence of the flexible circuits. Even though I cannot see the flexible circuits in the photos, my educated guess tells me they are present because of specific connectors used and the way the devices are wired.

The primary topic in a teardown report is semiconductor devices and their suppliers; passive components and interconnection devices (such as connectors) are secondary. Sometimes the report will provide the list price for components and comment on the manufacturer’s profitability for their new item.

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I am skeptical about the accuracy of the cost analysis. Normally, list prices for components (the figure used in the analysis report) are much higher than what assemblers actually pay for them, and the costs for circuit boards are significant compared to other components.

This is especially true for flexible circuits; some of the critical parts in portable electronics such as cellular phones and digital cameras. Not only are the costs significantly higher, but you must also account for electronic packaging technologies. In an effort to reduce purchasing costs, manufacturing buyers spend a lot of time negotiating prices for the expensive flexible circuits.

Since rigid circuit boards and flexible circuits are custom made for each mode of electronic product, and there is no list price for the interconnecting parts, it’s a difficult task for an outsider to estimate manufacturing cost for electronic products. Other variables plugged into the cost equation that are difficult to determine are assembling costs and other additional manufacturing costs.

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Indirect costs such as plant, equipment, home office and other divisions such as central institutes muddy the water even more to provide an accurate cost analysis.

How about delivery and other services? We must account for them… somehow; these consumer products have to get to the market. Usually, retail prices for consumer products are determined by doubling the cost to the retailer. Before you think that big box electronic store is cleaning up, their labor costs are more than the manufacturers.

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In summary, it’s very difficult for an outside entity to calculate the dead net cost of an electronic item. The teardown report still has value relative to determining which components are used, and the vendors who supplied them. It is also valuable to compare costs between the products and manufacturers. However, the reports are misleading to readers where costs and pricing are addressed.

Source: EPT Newsletter

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