Printed circuit board assembly services are a hot topic nowadays. You can get pretty much anything aftermarket or OEM with ease, but this is what makes the production so costly. Ease of use on one hand, quality assurance on the other hand remains to be a challenge. As the demand grows in the market for PCB assembly services, it is important that businesses have an understanding on how they can survive in this new technological arena.
As the electronics industry becomes more and more important, the need for quality printed circuit board assembly services is increasing. Printed circuit board assembly is a fundamental aspect of the circuit board production process. It is undeniable that emphasizing design and fabrication helps in producing a quality bare PCB product. However, the absence of a proper assembly process will always render your printed circuit board useless. Because of this, most circuit board fabricators will also double up as assemblers in ensuring a one-stop shop for your PCB needs. However, this article will focus on PCBA, industry and situational context, and how to get a proper circuit board assembly service.
Printed Circuit Board Assembly
Printed circuit board assembly, also abbreviated as PCBA, is integral to all production processes of printed circuit boards. It refers to a combination of components, printed circuit board, and other electronic accessories. The PCBA process becomes a reality after a series of processes that attach the components and accessories to the circuit board. It is through this mounting process that the different types of PCBA arise.
Printed circuit board assembly process types include THT or through-hole technology, SMT or surface mount technology, and mixed technology assemblies. Such assembly processes become essential to allow for the traces that run on the bare board to link components and connectors attached.
Through-hole technology allows the PTH or pin-through-hole components to get attached via the drilled holes on the circuit board. Leads then get affixed to the pads on either side using molten solder. It can entail reflow or wave soldering processes. The three crucial steps in THT assembly include component placement, which is realized manually by engineering experts. The second step involves inspection and rectification that happens post the placement of components. It then concludes with the wave soldering step, where the board containing the components goes through a liquid solder wave at high temperatures.
SMT is an assembly method instrumental in the development of electronic circuits. It involves the direct mounting of components onto the PCB’s surface using solder paste. Devices that deploy this assembly process get referred to as SMDs or surface-mount devices. SMT components are smaller than their THT counterparts because of smaller leads or the absence of Leads. It often encompasses three steps: printing solder paste, component mounting, and an oven reflow process.
Mixed Assembly Technology
The method has emerged as a result of the increasing complexity of electronic products. Such complex products need small, integrated, and complex printed circuit boards. It entails a mix of both THT and SMT technologies. Boards undergoing this process contain both SMD and through-hole components.
The process, however, features a complex soldering process that impacts numerous elements. It becomes prudent to arrange the surface mount and through-hole sequence accordingly. Printed circuit board assembly becomes a reality through mixed assembly via the following. SSMA (Single Side Mixed Assembly), one side THT and one side SMT, DSMA (Double Side Mixed Assembly)
History of PCBA
The history of printed circuit board assembly corresponds to the development of the first circuit board. Since the 1940s, when the first printed circuit board came into existence, it has evolved in complexity, function, and size. Likewise, the assembly process, assembly technologies, and equipment have also evolved. For instance, the current PCBs come small with stacked layers to offer electronic and electrical transmission to diverse industries.
The demand for and complexity of the printed circuit boards has increased significantly. Because of this, assembly processes have to evolve as well. For instance, the circuit board that existed in the 1980s cannot compare to the complex and robust PCBs available today. Similarly, the assembly processes of the circuit boards then have since evolved tremendously.
It is a situation that has also prompted most electronic PCBA companies to evolve. For instance, most OEMs indulging in the assembly of PCBs have resorted to outsourcing the services to electronic contract manufacturers and assemblers. The push to outsource these assembly services has stemmed from the need to remain competitive, meet demands, and cut costs. But it is also true that large companies have also benefited from the subcontracting situation. As a result, most ECMS has acquired OEMs.
It is common knowledge that PCB assembly accompanies circuit board fabrication. One cannot exist without the other. Experts have projected the internal printed circuit board market to grow at a rate of 4.2% CAGR. It translates to about $80.38 billion by the year 2024. Such an increase is attributed to the improved adoption of automated solutions. Further, the miniaturization of electronic devices, increased demand for devices (wireless), and the need for efficient interconnect solutions also play a significant part.
Such an increase in demand will only contribute to an increased level of competition between PCBA companies. With the entry of new players (PCBA companies) and PCBA acquisitions and mergers by larger companies happening all over the globe, the competition is unlikely to subside any time soon.
Trends that Influence the Outlook and Competitive Edge of Printed Circuit Board Assembly
A desire for extra secure processes
A key concern for hardware and software components entails the aspect of cybersecurity. Industry reports show that counterfeit printed circuit board components are a challenge. It especially becomes significant when considering the central role electronics play in the industry and the global economy. Most jurisdictions have illustrated progress by making strides in strengthening and modernizing IP protections. However, PCBA companies need to do more in safeguarding their client’s data.
The ability to demonstrate extra measures of ensuring the confidentiality of client’s needs and data gives companies a competitive edge over others. For instance, RayMing PCB and Assembly indulges in the complex PCB assembly processes for its diverse clientele base. However, it ensures that sensitive client data remains confidential, especially for the defense and aerospace sectors. It provides data security and integrity besides IP security. As a result, it meets the sourcing needs when it comes to quality assurance on counterfeit rejection.
Growing sustainability interest
It has increasingly become important for printed circuit board assembly companies to adhere to green processes. As a result, most assembly companies are trying to align their products and processes to be sustainable. Some of the important challenges in the industry encompass how to reduce waste during manufacturing. Additionally, finding ways of providing environmentally friendly solutions has become prudent.
Companies with an incredible green footprint have become more attractive to customers. Besides this, companies tend to get specific incentives from environment-conscious administrations. It thus provides these companies with a competitive advantage over their competitors. Companies that want to be competitive such as Mack Technologies Inc., for instance, will end up responding by relooking their processes. Additionally, getting certifications such as the Clean Industry Certification gives assembly companies an edge in the market.
Demand for quicker deliveries
Turnaround time has remained an essential element for PCBA companies. Quick turnaround times can enhance the reputation of a PCBA company. It implies companies having rapid electronic product iterations, especially as they innovate and construct PCB prototypes manufacturing . Most assembly companies will offer PCB assembly services alone, but turnkey services, testing, and the ultimate product assembly.
Such diversification of services, presence in diverse regions, and quick turnaround time make a company the go-to assembly solution provider. It thus gives it a competitive edge over competitors. Remember, the competition often comes on a global scale, and therefore positioning your company as the best in terms of quality deliveries attracts more clients.
Geographical Factors that Give a Competitive Edge to Printed Circuit Board Assembly Companies
Robust industrial clusters
Manufacturing or industrial clusters become a crucial cog in leveraging economies of scale besides strengthening industry training, local infrastructure, besides supply chain. For instance, establishing PCB assembly operations in a country big on supplying diverse industries can be a game-changer. Investing in a country that accounts for a significant proportion of the global market supply can be a no-brainer. Further, if it has a considerable chunk of electronic producers, proving a global export giant makes it perfect for PCBA operations. You will meet international demand besides tapping into the indigenous supply chain.
It (nearshoring) holds an exceptional promise that accompanies the cost-saving effects of offshoring. However, it is devoid of the associated logistical problems that accompany offshoring. The shipping costs and lead times drop dramatically. Further, a company can benefit from specific regulations such as the United States Federal law (section 321) allowing duty-free importation, especially those established near the US.
Printed circuit boards are sophisticated and often require stringent adherence to standards of quality. While some countries might have a massive reputation regarding low-cost labor, it becomes vital for PCBA companies to recognize the need to work with trained labor. The workforce also needs to prove adept at managing some of the complicated assembly processes. It may become ideal also to have in-house on-site training to ensure the staff members can meet the requirements expected by the customer.
How to Choose an Ideal PCBA Partner
A vast number of printed circuit board assembly service providers exist across the globe. It is a situation that leads to intense competition between the PCBA companies. One crucial critical way that most PCBA companies adopt to stay ahead of competition entails aggressive marketing. It is accomplished by increased presence online through websites and other social platforms. However, such aggressive marketing online can often prove misleading. Some PCBA companies do false advertising by selling more than they can handle. So what are some of the ways to sieve through the competition-oriented façade? How can you pick a suitable PCBA partner for your circuit board needs?
Aspects to Consider in Picking an Ideal PCBA Partner
Printed circuit board quality gets determined by the materials used and the quality of fabrication and assembly processes. Quality plays a crucial role in influencing the performance and application of your PCB. To properly evaluate the ability of a PCB assembly company, it is vital to check the quality, cost, and industry it specializes in.
Quality ranks as the top-most significant aspect of a PCB. Therefore, it is essential to check the company and ascertain that they adhere to the following during the assembly process.
- Suppose the company administers quality assurance measures in every step of the assembly process of the printed circuit boards. Check if they administer TQM and QCC.
- It is also important to check whether ECO has gotten administered besides other strict quality-control tests such as SMT yield, BOM preservation, etc.
- It is essential to find a suitable PCBA partner that will cater to your assembly needs. Therefore, always check whether a potential PCBA company operates in the assembly of PCBs oriented towards your targeted application. PCBs apply to diverse industries, with each industry demanding a specific set of PCB types and standards. For instance, if you want PCB assembly for mobile phones, having a PCBA company dealing in the assembly of small PCBs can be helpful.
- It is essential always to check and ascertain that the PCBA Company you choose for your assembly needs has competitive prices. It should have consistent cost reduction and integral quotations. Research and ensure there are no hidden charges and that the PCBA Company can offer discounts on reorders.
The soul of printed circuit board assembly partners lies with the quality of PCB. However, to demonstrate the capacity to assemble quality PCBs, a company needs to possess the following.
- It demonstrates the genuine capacity of the PCBA Company. Therefore, always check whether the company possesses certifications such as ISO9001:2008, RoHS, UL, etc.
- It is crucial to ascertain whether the PCBA Company has an assembly tech relevant to your needs. If it owns the technology and its tech flexibility and adaptability to new market trends. Additionally, the company’s tech should have broad-ranging coverage besides proving effective.
The latest technologies become inconsequential without the relevant and up-to-date equipment. After all, the technologies have to run on the machines to ensure a proper and seamless assembly process. Some of the necessary specifications for assembly equipment you need to look out for include the following.
- CSP and 01005 for checking accuracy when it comes to the printing of solder paste regardless of the size
- X-ray inspectors, especially SPI, to check for the thickness of solder paste
- ICT equipment (GenRad, TR5000, Agilent 3070)
Sourcing for components is integral to the PCB assembly process. Therefore, it is prudent to research and ascertain that the component sourcing element of the PCBA Company entails the following. Decent relationships with leading and global component distributors and whether the components are qualified. Other considerations entail whether the company accepts parts or components that get supplied by clients. Additionally, check whether the PCBA partner stocks your excess components for future projects.
Service often appeals to the emotions of the customers, especially after completing an order. Therefore, it is vital to consider the following in terms of service. Lead time that includes delivery timelines and responsiveness to customer needs, etc. A company that accommodates this demonstrates its professionalism and ability to deal with inquiries and issues in the PCB assembly process.
Printed Circuit Board Assembly Failures
It is always essential to sieve through the competition and get a suitable printed circuit board assembly partner. It helps to prevent incidences of PCBA failures that might not only become embarrassing but a source of great inconvenience. But what are some of the typical PCBA failures you can encounter? How can you address them?
PCB bend or crack
It often arises from subjection to high physical and mechanical stress during the printed circuit board assembly process. For example, it can fail when you subject a rigid printed circuit board to constant thermal shocks or vibration. On the other hand, a flex printed circuit board assembly can fail due to cracking when bent beyond its limit.
It is possible to prevent this failure by ensuring that the PCB gets prebaked before utilization in the assembly process. Additionally, always keep such PCBs in cupboards or spaces that are humidity-controlled.
The apparent polarity of components in the PCB assembly
It is always possible to overlook mentioning the existing contradictions of the PCB components during the design phase of the layout. But whenever the component’s opposition is not obvious on the PCBA, problems may arise in reverse polarity. For example, a battery connected with reversed poles can damage both the electrical components besides damaging the batteries. Additionally, the PCBA might also fail besides causing an electrical shock.
It is possible to avert the problem by utilizing a diode in mitigating the effects of reverse polarity. Connecting a diode in the battery series will shut off the circuit and prevent substantial damage to the PCBA.
Fracture of the solder joint
It arises from the differences in the printed circuit board’s thermal coefficients besides the electronic parts or components. If you conduct the PCBA process in environments with consistently low or high temperatures, it may fail. Manual soldering can also cause this failure.
The best way of preventing this occurrence includes the use of specialized automated machines for soldering purposes. It is also important to ensure visual inspection of the PCB before assembly.
Corrosion of the PCB
It results from the use of flux residue in securing PCBs in the assembly process. Flux plays a crucial role in making sure the connection between electrical components is secure.
You can prevent corrosion of PCBA by removing excess flux as it contains adipic or citric acids to limit its effect on the metallic surfaces.
Short-circuiting causing component burns
Short-circuiting during the PCBA process can cause plenty of damage. The situation can affect both electronic components and the printed circuit board. Primarily arising from undetected moisture, solder bridges, or unexpected current spikes (high), short circuits lead to sudden component damage or lead to a break out of fires.
Visual inspections of the PCB for short circuits become a leading mechanism of preventing this type of PCBA failure. However, the inner layer inspection works best with electrical testing. Aligning the PCB properly during assembly also helps mitigate the short-circuiting issue.
Unsuitable copper weight
The ideal weight of copper foil is instrumental in the proper flow of electrical current in PCBA. However, any disparity (either too thick or thin) can lead to PCBA failure. So it becomes important to check on the size and trace width of the copper during PCB design.
The best way to avoid printed circuit board assembly failure from weight issues is to adhere to the copper specifications during design and fabrication.
Displaced or misplaced components
Pick and place and other automated machine process techniques feature heavily in the PCBA process. However, when the components move their positions from molten solder, it portends PCBA failure. A vital way of averting this scenario entails adherence to the standard temperature and humidity requirements during the process.
A lesser component warranty
The failure of autonomous components in the PCBA can become disastrous to the production process. An adverse selection can cause this problem, making it essential to ensure components have sufficient warranties.
De-wetting as a result of melting solder
It often arises from the solder pad or electrical components, which results in loose solder joints. As a result, the PCB will lack a secure connection. The best way of avoiding this situation entails a careful examination of the board.
Benefits of Competition in Printed Circuit Board Assembly
To the Customer
The high competition between PCBA companies has equalized the level playing field in terms of assembly cost. Most top-of-the-range PCBA companies have a similar price range depending on the printed circuit board assembly type you want. As a result, PCBA services have become more affordable.
It also allows for the quality production of printed circuit boards that cater to diverse industry applications or needs—compromising quality and the competitor edges in front.
To the PCBA Company
The competition between PCBA companies has enhanced the quality of assembly services. Research and development divisions learn from each other, improving the general outlook of their assembly machines, technologies, equipment, and after-sales services.
Printed circuit board assembly is an instrumental aspect of PCB production. The competition that exists between PCBA firms has improved the quality and service of assembly processes to customers. Additionally, it has pushed the firms to elevate their stature in terms of quality service provision. It is, therefore, a crucial aspect that every PCB designer needs to understand, especially regarding their PCB assembly.