Mastering First Article Inspection Reports and Processes in the PCB Industry

PCB industry focuses on precision and quality. In a world where electronic devices are becoming increasingly complex, first article inspection reports have taken center stage to ensure that printed circuit boards (PCBs) are up to the desired standard. These reports help maintain high standards in the manufacturing process and serve as a vital checkpoint for quality assurance.

Here, we explore the ins and outs of first article inspection reports, focusing on their role in the PCB and surface mount technology (SMT) sector. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or new to the industry, we hope this information will be valuable. So, let’s dive in and explore the world of first article inspections together!

Understanding First Article Inspection Reports in PCB Manufacturing

First, let’s talk about what a First Article Inspection (FAI) is. In the simplest terms, an FAI is an in-depth verification process that ensures a sample product (in our case, a PCB) meets all the design requirements and specifications. It’s like an initial check-up for your PCBs, ensuring everything is in order before moving ahead with mass production. Think of it as a crucial checkpoint to catch any potential issues early on and avoid costly mistakes.

Purpose of FAI in the PCB Production Process

Now that we know what an FAI is, let’s discuss why it’s so important in the PCB manufacturing process. FAI is all about inspecting and validating every single documented requirement. The main purpose of an FAI is to validate that the manufacturing process, materials, and components align with the design specifications. By conducting a thorough inspection on a representative sample, manufacturers can identify any discrepancies or non-conformities that might have gone unnoticed during the design stage. It’s like having a quality control superhero ensuring everything is in tip-top shape before moving forward with production.

In other words, FAIs help ensure we manufacture PCBs consistently and precisely. This reduces the risk of defects or malfunctions in the final products. In addition, the process saves time & money and helps to maintain a strong reputation for quality and reliability in the industry.

The second purpose is just as vital: establishing a Manufacturing Plan of Record, or POR, for your production line. Think of the POR as your PCB production’s game plan, ensuring everything runs consistently and smoothly from one board to the next. Once your POR is locked down, it’s essential to replicate it faithfully throughout all your production runs. This way, you can know that every board is built using the same process and will all function exactly as intended.

Relation to Surface Mount Technology (SMT)

Let’s see how FAI fits into the realm of Surface Mount Technology (SMT). There is wide use of SMT method for assembling electronic components onto PCBs. It involves mounting components directly onto the surface of the board, as opposed to through-hole technology where one inserts components into holes in the PCB.

SMT components are small and closely spaced. Therefore, the process demands high precision and accuracy. Such a consideration makes FAI even more critical in the SMT world. Through carrying out a first article inspection, manufacturers can verify the SMT assembly process is working as intended. Such ensures the proper placing and soldering of components. Thus, FAI and SMT go hand-in-hand when it comes to delivering high-quality, reliable PCBs.

Key Points in the Production Process for First Article Inspections

Pre-production Stage

Alright, let’s talk about when these first article inspections take place. One of the most critical points for conducting an FAI is during the pre-production stage. Before kicking off mass production, you must verify that the initial PCBs coming off the assembly line meet all the design specifications and quality requirements. This early inspection helps catch any issues or non-conformities before they become bigger problems, saving time, money, and resources. Think of it as a way to give your production process a stamp of approval before you hit the gas pedal and move into full-scale manufacturing.

After Significant Design or Process Changes

Now, let’s say you’ve made some significant changes to your PCB design or manufacturing process. For example, maybe you’ve decided to use a new material or switch to a different component supplier. Whenever there’s a major alteration in the design or process, it’s crucial to perform a first article inspection to ensure that these changes haven’t introduced any new issues or affected the overall quality of your PCBs. By conducting an FAI after these changes, you can validate that the new design or process works as intended and maintains the same high standards.

Periodic Re-inspection

Last, it’s important to remember that first article inspections aren’t just a one-time deal. To keep your PCB manufacturing process running smoothly and consistently, it’s a good idea to schedule periodic re-inspections. These regular check-ups help ensure that your production line meets design specifications and industry standards, even as your processes and equipment evolve.

At What Points in the Production Process is First Article Inspection Needed?

Let’s dig deeper into specific instances when there is need for a first article inspection during production. In addition to the points we’ve already discussed, there are some other key moments when it’s essential to conduct an FAI. Typically, you’ll want to perform an inspection:

1. After Changing a Contract Manufacturer:

If you decide to switch to a new contract manufacturer, ensure their production processes and quality standards align with your expectations. An FAI helps ensure that your new manufacturing partner is on the same page and can deliver the high-quality PCBs your customers expect.

2. After a First Production Run:

When you’re kicking off a new production run, verify that the initial batch of PCBs meets all design requirements and specifications. An FAI serves as a quality check to ensure everything is in order before moving forward with larger-scale production.

3. After a Design Change:

As mentioned earlier, any significant changes to your PCB design should trigger an FAI. This helps ensure that the new design elements don’t introduce any unexpected issues or negatively impact the overall quality of your PCBs.

4. After a Change in Materials or Source:

If you decide to use different materials or switch to a new supplier, it’s crucial to perform an FAI to confirm that these changes haven’t compromised the quality or performance of your PCBs.

5. After a Change in Process, Tool, or Location:

Manufacturing processes, tools, and even locations can significantly impact the final product. Therefore, if you make any changes to these factors, it’s vital to conduct an FAI to ensure that your PCBs are still up to par with your quality standards.

6. After a Couple of Years of the Last Run:

Even if you haven’t made any significant changes to your PCB design or manufacturing process, performing periodic re-inspections is still a good idea, as we mentioned earlier. Scheduling an FAI every couple of years helps maintain consistent quality over time and keeps your manufacturing process running smoothly.

Requirements Validated by the First Article Inspection Process

Material and Component Verification

To kick things off, FAI plays a big role in verifying the materials and components used in your PCBs. This means ensuring everything from the base materials to the tiny electronic components is up to spec and ready for action. It’s like a backstage pass to the inner workings of your PCBs, ensuring that all the bits and pieces are top-quality and ready for the spotlight.

Dimensional Accuracy

This one is about ensuring your PCBs are the perfect size and shape, with all the components and traces fitting together like a well-crafted jigsaw puzzle. The FAI process helps ensure that your boards are precisely manufactured according to your design specifications, leaving no room for error. After all, when it comes to electronics, even the tiniest of inaccuracies can lead to big problems.

Solder Joint Quality

Another critical aspect that FAI examines is the quality of solder joints. As you know, solder joints are like the glue that holds your PCB components together, ensuring reliable electrical connections. The FAI process closely examines these joints to ensure they’re strong, reliable, and free of defects. This way, you can trust that your PCBs will stand the test of time and perform reliably in the devices they power.

Compliance with Design Specifications and Industry Standards

Last but not least, FAI is all about ensuring your PCBs comply with your design specifications and relevant industry standards. This means checking that your boards meet all the necessary criteria, from electrical performance to safety requirements. Ensuring compliance with these standards keeps your customers happy and staying on the right side of industry regulations.

Components of a Comprehensive First Article Inspection Report

Inspection Results

Let’s talk about what goes into a detailed First Article Inspection report. Starting off, we have the inspection results, which serve as a snapshot of how your PCBs performed during the FAI process. This section of the report gives you an overview of the various checks and verifications conducted, and any potential issues identified. It’s like a report card for your PCBs, letting you know how well they fared in the inspection process.

Measurement and Testing Data

Let’s explore the report’s measurement and testing data section. This portion delves deep into the fine details of your PCBs, covering dimensions, electrical performance, and other crucial aspects. By encompassing all pertinent data points, you’ll gain a holistic view of how your boards align with your design requirements and industry benchmarks. Think of it as a goldmine of information that aid you in keeping your PCBs on the appropriate track.

Non-conformance and Corrective Action Details

The FAI process uncovers some issues or non-conformities with your PCBs. The report should include a section detailing these findings, and the corrective actions taken to resolve them. This way, you’ll have a clear record of any challenges encountered during the inspection process and how they were addressed. It’s a roadmap helping you keep your PCB production process on track.

Certification of Conformance

A comprehensive FAI report should include a certification of conformance. The certification is like a stamp of approval, indicating that your PCBs have passed the inspection process and meet all design specifications and industry standards. By including this certification in your report, you’re assuring your customers and stakeholders that your PCBs are of the highest quality and ready for action.

Adhering to First Article Inspection Standards in the PCB Industry

AS9102: Aerospace First Article Inspection Requirement

We have the AS9102 standard, which specifically deals with the aerospace sector. This standard outlines the requirements for First Article Inspection within the aerospace industry, ensuring that your PCBs are high-quality and ready to take flight (literally) in this demanding field. By adhering to the AS9102 standard, you can confidently supply PCBs that meet the unique needs of aerospace applications.

IPC-A-610: Acceptability of Electronic Assemblies

This is all about the acceptability of electronic assemblies. Picture this standard as a handy-dandy guidebook for PCB manufacturers, laying out all the do’s and don’ts for various parts of the assembly process, like solder joints, where to place components, and keeping things spick and span. When you stick to the IPC-A-610 guides, you’re setting your PCB assemblies up for success, ensuring they’re ready to shine in a whole bunch of different applications.

IPC-6012: Qualification and Performance Specification for Rigid Printed Boards

IPC-6012 focuses on the qualification and performance specifications for rigid printed boards. Think of this standard as your trusty sidekick, helping you ensure your PCBs are top performers and can handle the pressures of various applications. IPC-6012 sets the bar high, providing a benchmark for evaluating the quality and reliability of your rigid PCBs. This ensures they can withstand different conditions in terms of performance and durability. In addition, IPC-6012 guidelines ensures your PCBs shine and your customers are happy.

Identifying Responsible Parties for Conducting First Article Inspections

In-house Quality Assurance Teams

So, who’s responsible for carrying out these essential First Article Inspections? Well, there are a few key players that can get the job done. One option is to rely on your in-house quality assurance team. These talented individuals know your PCBs inside and out. They can meticulously inspect every aspect of your boards to make sure they meet the standards. Having an in-house team working on FAI can be convenient and efficient, as they’re already familiar with your processes and requirements.

Third-party Inspection Agencies

You can bring in third-party inspection agencies. Sometimes, having an impartial, external perspective is helpful to ensure your PCBs meet industry standards and customer expectations. These specialized agencies have the expertise and experience to conduct thorough First Article Inspections, providing you with valuable feedback and recommendations. By partnering with a reputable third-party inspection agency, you can gain extra confidence that your PCBs are in top-notch shape.

Customer Representatives

Finally, there are instances where customer representatives play a role in the FAI process. This often occurs when the PCBs being produced cater to extremely specialized or crucial applications, prompting customers to take an active part in the inspection process. Including customer representatives in the FAI can nurture a collaborative atmosphere and build trust between your company and your clients, guaranteeing that the final product satisfies their distinct needs and specifications.


These reports play a vital role in ensuring your PCBs’ highest quality and consistency. In addition, they help in ensuring they meet industry standards and customer expectations. Ultimately, it’s all about delivering top-notch products that keep your customers happy and your business thriving.

Remember to keep embracing FAI best practices, from following the right standards to involving the appropriate parties in the inspection process. By doing so, you’ll maintain the excellence of your PCBs and pave the way for continuous improvement and innovation in this fast-paced industry.

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