Automated Circuit Board Assembly: The Typical Process

There is a well-deserved, high value placed on individual craftsmanship – after all, anyone would appreciate an original Van Gogh. However, most production today requires unwavering consistency if they will reach their target, which is a wider group of users and be a prime example to these people.

This particularly rings true in electronic circuit boards that are utilized in applications across aerospace, automotive systems, and medical devices, among other things for design considerations. Thankfully, an automated PCB assembly process presents a data-driven, software-based alternative, which can improve reliability and ensure higher quality.

What Is PCB in Automation?

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) in automation are irreplaceable elements used in constructing modern electronics to ensure efficiency of the final project. They are so important that it would be impossible to construct most electronics without these circuit boards. Understanding how every contact with these boards work is key when you want to assemble PCBs.

These boards were traditionally exclusively hand-assembled, which meant less consistency in quality and slower production; automated circuit board assembly changes that. Thanks to the rapid automation and machines due to technology advancement, it is now much easier to mass produce and assemble.

PCB automation, simply put, is the setting up and maintenance of all the systems needed to ensure high speed and maintain quality when assembling circuit boards. Until you can understand how the system works and know the best way to operate them, automating a circuit board may not be possible.

How Do You Assemble an Electronic Board?

First, apply a solder paste to the board, after which the electric board will move on to the pick and place machine. This machine is a robotic device that places surface mount components on a prepared electric board. Next, ensure the solder and components stay solidified by adhering components to the board; this process is called “reflow.”

After this, the board is transferred to a conveyor belt, which moves through a large reflow oven that heats the board gradually. The heating process must be carefully monitored to ensure the outcome is as clean and clear as possible. Now, it is time to test the assembled board for functionality, checking for errors and misalignments.

What Is PCBA Printed Circuit Assembly?

Before the assembly of its electronic components, a circuit board is known as PCB. However, once the electronic components are assembled and soldered, it is called Printed Circuit Assembly, PCB Assembly, or Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA).

This process involves the use of different automatic as well as manual PCB Assembly tools. Also, it depends on the type of electronic components, type of printed circuit board, purpose of the circuit board.

Printed Circuit Assembly is different from PCB Manufacturing; the latter involved several processes, including creating PCB prototype, among other things. PCBA occurs after the PCB has been manufactured, involving the soldering of active and passive electronic components before it can be used.

What Is a PCB Assembly System?

A PCBA System refers to the finished board after all the electronic components have been soldered and installed onto a PCB. In the laminated copper sheets of PCBs are engraved conductive pathways, which are used within a non-conductive substrate to form the assembly.

The last stage in the process involved attaching the electronic components to the PCBs, making them fully operational electronic devices. An assembled PCB is one with all the components mounted onto it, while the manufacturing process is called PCBA.

What Are the Types of PCB?

There are three major types of PCB, including Rigid PCB, Flexible PCB, and Metal Core PCB. Rigid PCB is the most common type of PCB base; its solid core gives it rigidity and thickness.

Meanwhile, flexible PCBs are more pliable than the rigid PCBs; the materials used in making these are more bendable, high-temperature plastic. The last type is the Metal Core PCB, which is made with a metal core and tends to spread heat more efficiently than others.

What Types of PCB Mounting Technologies Are There?

Two types of PCB mounting technologies are currently thriving in the modern PCBA industry: Surface Mount Technology (SMT) and Thru-Hole Technology. One of the major differences between these two mounting technologies is that they involve different assembly processes. In SMTs, sensitive components like diodes or resistors are automatically placed onto the board’s surface in a process called “SMD assembly.”

On the other hand, through-hole technology works well on lead or wired components that should be mounted onto the board. They are mounted on the board by plugging them through holes, with the extra lead part requiring soldering to the board’s side. Thru-home technology is used on PCB assemblies that utilize large components like coils and capacitors for assembly.

What Is the Advantage of the Automated PCB Assembly Process?

PCB assembly, asides from fabrication, is a primary stage in circuit board manufacturing; it also includes component procurement. The PCBA process is the most important in circuit board manufacturing because this is the last time boards are reviewed, tested, and validated.

Automated PCB Assembly process identifies and overcomes the limitations and constraints of a manual process. Furthermore, it eliminates the possibility of human error as it can create boards as stipulated in the data file of the design.

What are the Automated PCB Assembly Machines for Thru-Hole Soldering Technology?

The automated PCB Assemble machines for thru-hole soldering include the wave-soldering machine and solder pot. The wave soldering machine is the main machine line for mass production of PCBs.

It features the conveyor belt, flux sprayer, preheater, and a pan of molten solder. The solder pot machine utilizes a pot with molten solder where one can do dip soldering; it is used in small scale PCB manufacturing.

What Are Automated Machines for SMT PCB Assembly?

The automated machines for SMT PCB assembly includes SMT curing oven, reflow soldering machine, and SMT pick and place machine. There are also solder paste screen printer machines, solvent cleaning equipment, and SMT repair and inspection equipment.

Each machine has its purpose; for example, a reflow soldering machine is used for reflow soldering of SMD. On the other hand, an SMT pick and place machine picks and places SMD electronic components onto the PCB before SMD soldering.

Is PCB Assembly Automation Expensive?

One of the benefits of automated PCB assembly is that the overall costs are lower than manual PCB assembly. Many SMT assemblers digitally assemble the circuit board using exclusive software before the actual production to reduce delays and errors.

During the SMT process, PCB designers are able to fix design errors, thus removing possible issues during the actual production. More so, the use of automated PCB assembly also means one needs fewer employees or the task, thus ensuring financial savings.

Is Automated PCB Assembly Using Surface Mount Technology Accurate?

The assembly process for PCBs is delicate and tends to be difficult – and it requires optimal concentration. Meanwhile, considering that circuit boards and components are getting smaller, there is a need for correct soldering of parts to avoid errors.

Automated machines are more capable of doing an accurate job, reducing the margin of error, and in less time. As such, when assemblers want the best result in the fastest possible time without having to go through repetitive and delicate tasks, automated or electronic assembly is best.

While several technologies exist that can be used to assemble products from electronics manufacturing, the Surface Mount Technology is a worthy attempt to reduce any human error. With this technology, the printed circuit board assembly along every assembly line will be done seamlessly while saving manufacturing costs in the process.

To some, this smart manufacturing and automated process is so accurate that every automated optical inspection or x-ray inspection of place components for quality control can guarantee its quality.

How Long Does an Automated PCB Assembly Take?

When it comes to PCB hand-assembly, the time invested can vary depending on the circuit board. Automated PCB assembly solves this problem of delay in assembling PCBs; your boards will be in high-quality conditions.

Automated PCB assembly ensures shortened product development cycle while enabling you to complete multiple steps at the same time.

Automated Assembly vs. Manual Assembly: Which is More Consistent for Printed Circuit Boards?

PCb assembly process, when automated using surface mount technology, tends to be better and more consistent than hand-assembly when it comes to the accuracy and quality of circuit boards. With the automated machine, you can preserve the likeliness for each board produced, so expect consistent quality.

Manual PCB assembly process tends to take more time which affects its consistency. It will also require more people manning and coupling the needed manufacturing equipment for the assembly process.

Conclusion

Automated circuit board assembly is undoubtedly the best option when it comes to PCB assembly processes. You can save time on production and the cost of hiring many employees, among other things. You can also save the costs of assembling or the costs that come with doing it repeatedly if you can get the production and assembly process right.

Thanks to automation, the assembly of printed circuit boards or other production items is now a lot more accurate, faster, and affordable. As such, PCB manufacturers and designers can do large-scale production of high- as well as low-volume orders.