5G – A change that is going to make a big difference in PCB Manufacturing world

By | Date posted: | Last updated: December 16, 2019

The impact that 5G is expected to have on electronic devices cannot be overstated. From faster data rates to more data traffic, the impact will be profound. What is important though is the manufacturing innovation required to be able to handle this kind of scale and quality. From transportation to industrial applications, from mobile phone connectivity to entertainment applications, the impact will be ubiquitous. The PCB Manufacturing industry is no exception.

One of the major impacts of the advent of 5G will be in terms of the requirement of increasingly smaller designs and therefore high density interconnects with thin board traces. If not handled correctly it can lead to degradation in signal performance. Not only can signal transmission be delayed it can also impact data flow. Manufacturers, therefore, need to ensure that designs are well executed to prevent any of these issues from occurring. To a large extent this issue is solved by the use of modified semi-additive processes (popularly called mSAP), as it enables traces to be formed with precision and thereby leads to better impedance control.

While in the conventional subtractive process, the chemical treatment used to vertically etch the lines also dissolves the copper in a horizontal direction along the trace walls, with mSAP, the traces are formed with higher precision in straight vertical lines with a rectangular cross-section. It not only maximizes circuit density but also leads to lower signal loss.

Irrespective of whether mSAP or conventional tools are being used, what needs to be employed is AOI or Automated Optical Inspection tools to inspect PCBs for various defects.  So far automated optimal inspection has been resorted to for testing PCBs and pointing out any defects. This is done by inspecting CAM designs and then ensuring that the designs are reproduced. In case of 5G enabled boards, additional capacities by way of an AOI system will be needed, which can inspect potential defects by measuring top and bottom trace conductors. Lately PCB manufacturers have been able to leverage 2D metrology technology. With this there is higher impedance control and also allows for high throughput as well as high sampling rates. Also, with advanced AOI system integration, PCB manufacturers can combine AOI processes on a single platform leading to a lot of efficiency in terms of time and labour.  This is as opposed to putting together a wide assortment of tools that among other things require precious floor space. There is also the added difficulty that whenever a panel is being measured manually, production comes to a halt, leading to waste of precious time.

Fortunately, though the AOI system is constantly advancing and offers PCB manufacturers the ability to combine many processes on a single platform The advanced AOI workflow can include the verification processes as well. In turn, this takes away the need to have stand-alone systems to figure out PCB defect. Considering the fact that verification is extremely resource intensive, often over three times more than the inspection process, this becomes especially important. Also since the use of 5G necessitates increased verification, if manufacturers use conventional tools, they will land up devoting a whole lot of resources. be it by way of floor space or manpower leading to a significant increase in costs.  In the new approach, however, the use of artificial intelligence ensures that false alarms are sifted out. The operator can then focus on those defects that can be resolved using the automated optical shaping systems. This in turn saves the time and effort of moving every panel to the verification station. Not to mention the fact that the transporting each panel can also lead to the risk of panel damage. A single centralized Remote Multi Image Verification Station takes away all of these concerns.

Another benefit that accrues from a consolidated AOI system is that it lends itself to data aggregation and analysis. In turn what this means for the PCB Manufacturer is that relevant insights can be easily drawn from the aggregated data which in turn aids quick decision making. With integrated AOI workflows, it is also easy to trace PCBs and to isolate any defective PCBs. This in turn takes away a lot of hassle that can result from withdrawing defective PCBs after they are deployed in any device.

While large-scale implementation of 5G will require some time, the fact is that each industry, including PCB manufacturing needs to gear itself for the impending changes. If done correctly, PCB Manufacturers can benefit from the fact that PCB inspection and verification allows for a very high level of precision and also that defective PCBs can be easily traced. Needless to mention that each of this aspect in turn leads to cost efficiencies and offers a great deal of competitive advantage.

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Why predictability is essential to save your high-end PCB Manufacturing?

By | Date posted: | Last updated: December 16, 2019

If there is one way to ensure that a product is reliable, it is to ensure predictability for its PCB, which is an essential component of the product.  In fact PCBs are today the core component in nearly every electronic gadget ranging from phones to computer systems. In fact from automotive to defense, aeronautics to, technology, there is no industry where PCBs don’t have a ubiquitous presence.

In all these industries reliability of the product is of utmost importance. Be it medical technology or aviation, any mistake can prove to be costly. Similarly in the medical arena failure of a device can have dire consequences resulting in loss of life.

What this necessitates is that the conventional approach to predictability is recast. Traditional approaches to predictability are typically based on physical inspection.  However inspection comes with an inherent disadvantage, which is that only outwardly flaws can be checked. Also the additional issue faced with physical inspection is that when PCBs are complex and have innumerable vias, micro sectioning and inspection becomes a logistical nightmare. In case just a few vias are inspected, the process can ever be fool proof. With high product diversity, traditional statistical tools aren’t enough to figure out the flaws

The other primary disadvantage with the inspection process is that it can be carried out after the manufacturing process is over. One, this process is costly. Secondly, the flaws could have other inter linkages and thus there is a chance that other lots could also be affected.

For PCBs that are high on complexity and product diversity, therefore, predictability, which traditional inspection cannot guarantee is all the more crucial.

A solution to this issue is the use of extremely comprehensive data analysis, testing automation and digitalization. It is comprehensive statistics that can lead to reliability as well as traceability. With robust data predictions can be accurately made. Any unusual behavior can be called out and atypical products can be removed.

What this essentially requires is that all available data be stored in a centralized manner. In fact each machine needs to be programmed with an interface so that all data is loaded into a centralized warehouse. This in turn, allows in-depth data analysis. It also ensures that unlike the process of physical inspection, relevant correlations are made when there are failures. However even here there is a challenge as data is procured from multiple sources and translates to innumerable data points. This problem can be overcome with formalizing a two-stage data processing format. The first stage refers to normalizing the data and the second, analyzing this normalized data. Scientific data analysis means that you need not rely on finding the issue after the process of manufacturing is over and then respond to it on a reactive basis. Instead it allows you to predict issues on a proactive basis and ensure the chances of failure are minimized. This is made possible as the process input variables are controlled. In turn what it controls are delays which can prove to be extremely costly.

Even though predictability may come at a premium, the fact is that the cost of failure far outweighs this cost.

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The importance of IPC Standards for PCB Manufacturing

By | Date posted: | Last updated: December 16, 2019

Technological advances have ensured that Printed Circuit Boards cannot only perform complex functions they can also be produced inexpensively. This is the exact reason why PCBs are an integral part of so many devices. However the quality of the device is directly proportional to the quality of the PCB used. PCB failure can therefore have debilitating consequences wherein entire systems can fail. It is therefore extremely important to stick to some quality measures in the PCB design and manufacturing process.

 IPC Standards

The Institute for Printed Circuit Boards (actually, it is a name the association was formerly known as; currently it is called Association Connecting Electronics Industries, even though it has retained the IPC moniker) is a global trade association, which has set certain standards for the manufacture of PCBs as well as other electronic components. Founded in 1957, the institute releases acceptability standards for Printed Circuit Boards. The Industry Association has over 4000 members that make and design PCBs and assemblies, which include but are not limited to the following industries:

  • Military and aerospace
  • Automotive
  • IT
  • Industrial equipment
  • Medical equipment and devices
  • Telecommunications

IPC standards, therefore, are industry-adopted standards for nearly every step of PCB manufacturing, beginning with design, production, and finally for electronic assembly.

There are a number of benefits that accrue from adhering to IPC standards issued by the industry body, primary among them being:

  • Consistency– By maintaining IPC certification, you can ensure that you produce high quality PCBs consistently. This in turn translates into customer satisfaction and therefore improved business.
  • Improved communication– IPC certification ensures that vendors and manufacturers use the same terminology so there isn’t any scope of miscommunication. It becomes a common language between designers, assemblers, and testers. With everyone on the same page, there is no scope of confusion, besides improved speed. With improved cross channel communication, overall production time and efficiencies automatically see an improvement.
  • Reduced costs– What naturally follows from improved communication is a reduction in cost as there are reduced rebuilds and reworks.

As per IPC there are several advantages of being trained and certified to use IPC standards. These include:

  • Having standardized training programs that enhance understanding and application.
  • Developing an understanding of the accept and reject criteria
  • Teaching methods and processes that enhance skills
  • Teaching techniques to apply the various criteria to production.

IPC standards come in a variety of classes. One of the commonly used one being the IPC-A-610. Some of the elements that IPC-A-610 covers includes but is not limited to:

  • Heat sinks
  • Solders
  • Terminal connections
  • Component mounting
  • Chip components
  • Terminations
  • Arrays
  • Laminate conditions

Some of the basic principles of the IPC-A-610 classes are:

Class 1

This is applicable for General Electronic Products where the major requirement is function of the completed assembly. This is therefore considered as one of the most lenient classes when it comes to allowing potential defects and therefore isn’t one that OEMs request.

Class 2

This is the standard that is very often put to use for non-critical assemblies where long term reliability is a pre-requisite, although this class also allows for some degree of imperfection.

Class 3

This is the highest standard, meant for the more critical PCB assemblies. A good CEM provider will therefore manufacture products to class 3 standards. This does call for a higher cost as there is extra inspection involved as well as the need to slow down surface mount machines to ensure the required placement accuracy. Conversely, it may sometimes require an allowance for higher degrees of scrap.

The advantage of using the IPC standards also stems from the fact that they have worldwide acceptance and that they have been tested across myriad industries. However if there is any conflict when it comes to acceptance of the product, as per the IPC, the following order of precedence applies:

-Procurement as agreed and documented between customer and supplier

-Master drawings

– IPC-A-610

IPC has also defined conditions that help refine processes. These conditions include:

Target Condition – This is a near perfect condition, which is the ideal to aim for, even though it may not always be achievable

Acceptable Condition –  While this condition may not be ideal as there could be trade offs between design and performance, however this condition maintains reliability.

Defect Condition- This is where the product is rejected as it needs rework or repair

Process Indicator Conditions – These are conditions that aren’t known to affect either the form or function of the product but emanate from material, design or machine related factors.

Essentially then, IPC Standards help the manufacturer to clearly understand customer requirements and deliver up to expectations. As a customer you can select the IPC standard class and be rest assured that the product will live up to your requirements.

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How Artificial Intelligence is becoming the Next Frontier in PCB Manufacturing Industry?

By | Date posted: | Last updated: December 16, 2019

Just as manufacturing has reaped advantages from automation earlier, Artificial Intelligence promises to be the next frontier in productivity improvement as it has the potential to enhance human capabilities and ensure higher efficiencies in business. Though it is no longer a new concept it has only recently crossed into the mainstream to help businesses improve revenues and market share.

 With AI there is increased possibility for machines to accomplish specific tasks primarily through processing large amount of data as well as recognizing patterns in them. Implemented responsibly, AI can amplify human existence and improve how we live and work. The growth in AI is fuelled by improved computing power, which is available at low costs as also by improved learning algorithms as well as the availability of big data. Little surprise then that from being seen as a futuristic concept, it has fast emerged as an extremely usable and relevant technology.

 AI revolutionizing the PCB Manufacturing Industry

As with other fields, AI is revolutionizing the PCB manufacturing industry as well where it can be used to simplify the production process as also cause an overall improvement in productivity. AI can help automation systems communicate with each other as well as with humans in real-time and thereby go a long way in disrupting the market. In fact machine learning, a subset of AI brings a number of benefits including but not limited to:

  • Improved performance
  • Efficient management of assets
  • Reduced scrap rates
  • Improved supply chain management and more

For example, AI can be embedded in the precision placement tool, which can help determine how each component should be placed so as to improve performance. This can also significantly reduce the time required for assembly, which further impacts cost. The use of AI is also known to reduce the bill of materials or BOMs. Essentially then human designers can be augmented with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to design your board faster as well as at a lower cost.

Another advantage with using AI is that it can quickly do an inspection based on the common location for a defect and narrow down defects with ease and in a manner that saves time. Also with real-time problem-solving, manufacturers can potentially save millions of dollars in repairs as well as lost businesses.

 Requirements for successful AI Implementation

Successful AI implementation in PCB manufacturing, however, requires deep expertise in both verticals- PCB manufacturing as well as AI. What is needed is that process expertise is supported by operational know-how. Also AI can be successful when high quality data is put to use. Defect classification, for example, is an important aspect of having an automated solution that provides optical inspection. With an AOI machine, images of defective PCBs can be sent to a multi image verification station, which may be in a remote location. The defects may then be classified as true or false defects. The same thing when done with human intervention is not only expensive but also prone to errors. The AI system on the other hand provides accuracy provided of course accurate data is available. Small changes in data can of course lead to a host of changes and hence data sensitivity is of utmost essence.

The other aspect besides accuracy of data that ensures success of AI in PCB Manufacturing is a strong collaboration between the AI solution provider and the PCB manufacturer. It is important that the AI provider has enough understanding of the PCB manufacturing process to be able to create a meaningful system. It is also important that the AI provider invests in R&D so that it can offer up-to-date robust solutions that are effective and efficient. With effective use of AI, the provider will help the business in more than the following ways:

  • Help recast business models as well as business processes- With intelligent automation, process will be optimized
  • Unlock the trapped value of data- AI can be used to study data analytics as well as to discover trends and generate insights
  • Change the relationship between humans and machines- With the use of AI, the manpower will be able to spend more time on non-routinized tasks.

Going forward, AI will result in improved processes as well as exponential speed which will in turn go a long way in taking the PCB manufacturing industry to a whole new level. It is only a matter of time where Industrial companies also become digital companies with customers becoming totally centric to their operations. As AI becomes more and more mainstream within organizations, it will see improved trust and dependability and will become mission critical to organizational success.

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