Printed Circuit Board Testing (PCBs Part 4)

Testing is performed after all assembly actions onboard that PCB have been completed. The PCB is placed in a test fixture and connected appropriately. It is now considered to be a Device Under Test. The test fixture connects to test pads that engineers have purposefully placed on the PCB for this application. Alternatively, intra-layer connection points known as “vias” are also used for the same purpose. The most common test fixture is known as a “bed of nails” style tester. This is a custom-made board with numerous connection pins that is placed on top of the DUT. Each connection pin is dimensioned to perfectly rest on either a test pad, via, or trace area to be tested. Custom firmware runs on the test fixture in order to detect incorrect circuit response. This incorrect response may be due to short circuits, open circuits, incorrect component values, signal degradation, electromagnetic interference, or an incorrectly laid ground plane.

These test fixtures are extremely expensive and may not be warranted for all applications. For example, an inexpensive toy control board may only need a short functional test rather than a full bed-of-nails style test fixture. Alternatively, a PCB which is expected to undergo numerous revisions would require a custom bed-of-nails test fixture for each revision. Design engineers should consider the associated testing costs with each style. Additionally, additional test points added to a PCB can reduce reliance on custom test fixtures and instead permit use of individual probe attachments.

After testing is complete, the PCB undergoes assembly to integrate it with the external components it must interface with. Final assembly is the most labor-intensive step so care should be given to apply standard manufacturing practices. Standard connections should be used whenever possible. Notches and alignment pins should be used to ensure that misalignment or incorrect insertion does not occur. As the final assembly complexity increases, so to must the build plan instructions. Connectors must be located such that a technician must accomplish the minimum amount of rotation and manipulation possible. Special care must also be made to ensure that final assembly components do not require special tools to insert them correctly.

Weibull Distribution
Weibull Distribution

After all assembly and testing operations are completed, the PCB may be subject to a burn-in testing phase. This process allows for early product failures to be found based on the expected reliability distribution. This distribution normally follows a Weibull distribution. Through burn-in, early failures can be detected and rejected. This improves overall net product reliability as seen by the consumer.

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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