Printed Circuit Board Manufacturing (PCBs Part 1)

Product development is the art of reducing the number of unexpected surprised to a minimum during the conversion of a novel concept to reality. In electronics design, surprises may manifest in the enthusiastic release of blue smoke or in the unobtrusive failure of a particular LED to illuminate during a power on cycle. Some surprises are born in the foundry when impurities are introduced in silicon substrate and not discovered until months later during a final acceptance test that reveals an entire circuit board must be scrapped because rework will be cost-prohibitive. Through the incorporation of Design for Manufacturing principles as applied to electronics, design engineers seek to reduce the chance of surprises that occur during production and assembly in order to produce minimal variability and maximum product test acceptance.

Electronics are manufactured through a series of discrete and well identified steps. This is in contrast to the ad-hoc assembly method common in design shops and during initial prototype phases. Typical production runs incorporate hundreds or thousands of individual components assembled together to create a circuit-board that acts to operate a product. The lack of a single resistor reel can cause all production to be halted until the correct part can be located and loaded into the assembly system.

Electronics assembly follows a well-designed, common flow-path regardless of the manufacturer. The first major milestone is before manufacturing ever starts. Components must be identified and available in order to start production. As electronics components vary wildly in capability from model to model, obsoleted components or single-sourced components must be identified and purchased in bulk or a line stoppage may occur. Custom ICs may have several month or year-long lead times. Though it is outside of the purview of most design engineers, several days’ worth of component stock should always be maintained on site. With the global marketplace accelerating the consolidation of chip manufacturers into billion dollar mega-fab complexes, single-sourced suppliers for particular component lines are becoming more common. Agreements must be in place as early as possible and at the best overall price. Material costs typically consume up to 90% of a product budget which means that this stage of production is arguably the most vital for a profitable product line.

Prior to PCB assembly, design engineers consider the standard mechanical assembly rules pertaining to automated assembly systems. Components must be designed such that they are orientable by an automated pick-and-place robot with correct spacing for pins, connectors, and sockets. Component placement is normally performed automatically in all but the smallest production runs. Pick-and-place robots have become so commonplace that hobbyists may own them. Design engineers must pay particular attention to ensure that proper concern is given to the layout of a PCB. Components should be located so that they may be placed by the pick-and-place robot. Components should not be located near the edges as the PCB will have to be cut from the manufacturing panel by a router or other process. Particular note should be paid to the placement of the ground plane. Ground planes are electrically conductive surfaces which serves as a current return path common to all components on the PCB. Ground planes reduce circuit crosstalk by minimizing inductive coupling between traces. Ground planes may be combined with power planes to serve as a decoupling capacitor for the entire board. Engineers should be cognizant of floating metal present on the PCB and make an effort to ground heatsinks to the ground plane whenever necessary. However, this rule does not always apply to all situations as insufficient grounding may be worse than no grounding at all.

PCB Manufacturing Series:

Part 1: General Design

Part 2: Soldering and Placement

Part 3: Finishing Processes

Part 4: Testing


Cohen, A., 2015, Prototype to Product: A Practical Guide for Getting to Market, O’Reilly, Boston, USA.

Shina, S., 2008, Green Electronics Design and Manufacturing: Implementing Lead-Free and RoHS-Compliant Global Products, McGraw-Hill, New York, USA.

Hubing, T., Hubing, N., 2016, “Not-So-Good EMC Design Guidelines,” from

Yates, R., 2014, Probability and Stochastic Processes, Wiley, Danvers, WA, USA.  


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