What Goes into the Industrial PCB Manufacturing Process?

A lot of Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) are targeted at use in the consumer electronics. However, it will be of immense interest to you to know that the use cases are not limited to that. You can also use PCBs in the industries.

In this article, we take you on a tour on some of the motivating factors behind the usage of industrial PCB. You will also learn about the types of PCBs made with this process and some prevailing rules to keep in mind.

What are Industrial Circuits?

There are two definitions for industrial PCBs. The first is that these are the Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) designed for use in the industries. The second is that these circuit boards are embedded, integrated or added within a larger industrial production system. By this, these circuits are optimized to offer advanced features than the traditional pre-built modules.

What is the Industrial PCB Manufacturing Process?

It has to do with the steps taken to design, fabricate and assembly PCBs for industrial uses. The process sees to the integration of the circuit board into the following:

  • Health care
  • Automotive
  • Additive manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Factory robotics
  • Military
  • Assembly lines and
  • Aerospace industries

It is to be noted that at the core of the industrial PCB’s operations is the need to create inclusive operations for the automated pieces of production equipment, especially those used in the aforementioned industries.

The Categories of Industrial Circuit Boards

There are different types of PCBs that use the industrial design format. We have made it simpler to choose from one of these, by breaking them down into the respective categories – based on the expected performance.

Before we go into that, we must mention that the choice of an industrial circuit board is often decided by the target applications. Hillman Curtis can help you streamline that decision. We help you choose the right board that is designed to match the designated market. We also help you the board based on the complexity.

Industrial PCBs Categorized by Rigidity

These refer to the Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) designed to meet the varied needs of the pieces of industrial equipment, based on how rigid the boards are.

Flexible Industrial PCBs

As the name denotes, these are the industrial circuit boards that are flexible, i.e., easy to optimize or assemble.

Assembled on a thin, flexible insulating material, these circuit boards offer the much-needed versatility that makes them ideal for use in different forms – multilayer, single and double-sided PCBs.

Beyond the flexibility and versatility, the flexible industrial circuit boards also make a great fit for industrial equipment that has limited space. Due to the flexibility, the boards can be modified to fit into the available spaces. At the same time, this helps to reduce the board’s weight.

Rigid Industrial Circuit Boards

This is the opposite of the flexible PCBs, in the sense that they offer the flexibility that the other offers.

Rigid industrial circuit boards are characterized by non-flexible materials on the layers. This design makes the boards’ flexibility impossible – they cannot be bent beyond a specific limit. Trying to go overboard often leads to breaking or cracking.

Despite the downside of not having flexible layers, the rigid industrial PCBs make up for this with the following features:

  • It is easier to make a rigid industrial PCB repair.
  • Capable of handling complex circuit designs
  • Compact design
  • Rigid PCBs have well-laid-out signal paths.

Rigid-Flexible Industrial PCBs

These are the combined variants of the rigid and the flexible industrial circuit boards. As such, you can expect the features of the two PCBs to come and bear on one platform.

The features of the rigid-flexible PCBs include:

  • There is a significant amount of space on the board. This helps to reduce the overall footprint of the electronic products, while paving the way for more components to be added.
  • Rigid-flexible PCBs are a better fit for industrial applications requiring denser circuits. This is why they make a better fit for the military and aerospace industries.

Although the trio of flexible, rigid and rigid-flexible circuit boards make a better fit for the diversified industrial applications, they are not the only options. You may be able to use other variants, namely: Microwave PCBs, Ceramic Boards and RF boards.

No matter the choice of PCB you opt to go for, it is better to pick those based on the following factors:

  • Conductivity pattern
  • Temperature resistance and;
  • Flexibility

Considerations for Industrial Circuit Boards

Before you decide to go ahead with the industrial PCB design, take the time to put some factors into perspective. Understanding how they all come together can be the difference between choosing the right board that fits your applications and having to place another order.

Here are some of the things worth considering:

1. Longevity and Durability

The industrial PCB design should be able to withstand the usage or exposure in the most-stressful environments.

For this reason, the common options are the flexible and rigid PCBs, though the rigid serves the purpose best.

2. Reverse Engineering

This is usually up to the industrial PCB manufacturer. It has to do with the manufacturer’s ability to facilitate a reverse engineering or remodeling of the circuit boards after sometime.

Reverse engineering is mostly considered when there is a need to further optimize the board to fit into newer applications. It can also be considered when some of the parts/components used in the previous boards have become obsolete – or are at the risk of going into extinction.

By using reverse engineering, the manufacturer helps to source alternative components to help boost the board’s performance for the modern-day PCB’s requirement.

3. Design for Certification

This has to do with the industrial circuit boards that follow the industry standards. It is up to the consumers to reach out to manufacturers that carry the necessary certificates and have the go-ahead to work on such PCBs.

The benefits of working with Hillman Curtis for your industrial PCBs is that we understand the different requirements for making these boards. That way, we optimize your PCBs to fit into the designated applications.

We also excel at ensuring your industrial PCBs match with the current industry standards.

The certificates often include the basic ISO 9001. It is not a bad idea to work with a designer that also possesses additional certificates, such as the UL 508A – which permits for the development of sub-panels and enclosures that contain fused disconnect switches and motor controllers.

Other standard documentations and certifications for the industrial PCBs are:

  • Ionic cleanliness test report
  • Certificate of conformance
  • In-circuit testing report
  • First article inspection report
  • Visual inspection report and;
  • Photo requirements

What Makes Industrial PCBs Different from Commercial/Traditional PCBs?

Several factors make the PCBs used for industrial and related applications better than the traditional variants. The obvious difference is that the industrial circuit boards are used mostly in the industries, while the traditional PCBs are used for commercial purposes, including in consumer electronics.

However, here are some of the additional differences between the two:

  • Thermal consistency is a must for the industrial PCBs, as it helps in the even flow of solder during the Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) process.
  • Industrial circuit boards typically require a High Tg, when compared to the Standard FR4 used in commercial PCBs.
  • Copper consistency for industrial PCBs is ensured via the striking a balance between normal and heavy copper weights.

Guidelines and Rules to Industrial Circuit Board Manufacturing

Certain tips, guidelines and rules protect the overall design and optimization of the industrial circuit boards. Understanding and following these to the latter helps to balance the board’s life cycle and increased power requirements.

The following are some of the guidelines:

1. Streamlining the Industrial PCB Designing Process

Just like any other circuit board manufacturing process, it is important to streamline the process. It starts with understanding or identifying the project’s need.

Be specific about the type of product or application the board is meant for, and the regulations it complies to. Other considerations are the operating environment and powering options.

2. Ensure Excellent Thermal Management

Your industrial PCB can be the best in the market, but if it doesn’t have the thermal management figured out, you can be sure that it wouldn’t perform as expected.

The excellency of the thermal management process is a must. In this case, you are looking at the best process of facilitating heat dissipation on the board.

The following are some of the key thermal considerations:

  • The heat-generating components should be placed a bit away from the ones that doesn’t dissipate heat – or don’t dissipate as much as they do.
  • Improve the reliability of the components by integrating larger and multiple thermal vias, which help in lowering the components’ operating temperature.
  • More layers of full power planes and solid ground should be used with the multiple vias to connect directly to the heat sources. This helps to enhance the conduction or movement of (excessive) heat away from the heat-generating components.

3. The Use of Differential Signaling

It has to do with the process of using up to two (2) traces to facilitate the transmission of signals in the industrial PCB.

For the best results, you should implement a parallel differential signaling process that sees to the direct position and shortening of the signal path between the traces and the components.

4. Making the Industrial PCB Schematics

The schematics, also called the schematic design, are the diagram or graphical representation of the PCB’s components and interconnections between them.

In the design of the schematics, you must ensure the following:

  • The representations of the different electronic components must be specified.
  • It is important to perform a preliminary analysis of the diagrammatic representations of the components and that of the connections or signal paths between the components. Doing this helps to identify the design flaws and have them fixed before the industrial PCB design commences.

5. Power Integrity Considerations

The power supply and management are another worthy consideration for the industrial circuit boards. In this case, the focus is on the delivery of excellent power supply, as a way of preventing interferences between the sensitive PCB components.

Here are some of the things to keep in mind:

  • Potential interferences in power supply are triggered by both the large (huge) current spikes and the large voltage swings/changes. Those often cause power interferences in the sensitive circuits and low-voltage PCBs.
  • Noise in the PCB can be reduced via the shortening and widening of the power traces.
  • Thermal balancing is important. This can be achieved both by the even spreading out of the multiple power supply circuits and the isolation of the sensitive circuits from the power components.
  • Industrial PCBs can be prevented from bending through the separation of the power and ground planes. It can be followed up by the symmetrical-centering of the two.

Industrial PCB Wiring Considerations

The wiring process also plays a part in the power options. In this case, we are looking at the complications that could potentially arise due to the tying or combination of the ground wire and power cord wiring options.

The best methods to balancing the wiring in an industrial PCB are:

  • Ensuring a smooth soldering of the wires used on the board.
  • Creating an excellent wiring path, especially for the layers. For the best results, alternating between the wiring directions is best for a multilayered industrial circuit board.
  • Rounder corners should be used for the printed wiring corners. The usage helps best if you are working on circuit wiring for the high-frequency or dense circuits.
  • Small loops should be allowed or created in loop back wiring.

Final Words

Industrial PCBs help in driving the performance of electronics used in different industries. From the military, aerospace, automotive, health care, construction and robotics industries, the story is the same – these circuit boards help in optimizing the applications and devices for the best results.

When considering the industrial circuit boards, some of the factors to keep in check are the Bill of Materials (BOMs), the manufacturer’s capabilities, component sourcing and cost.

As a contract manufacturing company, Hillman Curtis helps you get the best industrial PCB design from the same place. We can help source the components from verified vendors, while putting in our expertise to make your circuit boards fit into the respective applications, across different industries.

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