What is the Process of PCB Fabrication? A brief overview

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When I went out to purchase my first vehicle, I got a lot of advice from family and friends on how to avoid buying a lemon. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase “you get what you pay for.” Despite being cautioned, I managed to buy a couple of vehicles that had more issues than I anticipated. I remember laying in the snow on the side of the highway, attempting to repair my vehicle and make it to an appointment I was already late for. When it came to purchasing a vehicle, my Achilles’ heel was usually paying too much attention to how it looked rather than how mechanically sound it was.

Failure to pay enough attention to the quality of your boards’ construction may cause a slew of issues throughout the PCB creation process. These issues may vary from your boards’ incapacity to be produced to poor yield rates or even field failures. Design activities, on the other hand, may help to alleviate these time-consuming and expensive contingencies. Let’s start by addressing your question, “What is the PCB manufacturing process?” and then consider why knowing the process is important for PCB creation.

What is the Process of PCB Fabrication?

Jumping right into fabrication without understanding the connections and processes between the schematic and concept you have in mind and having that idea produced may not be a good idea. It may be useful to establish a few additional concepts and their interrelationships before describing PCB manufacturing.

PCB Development: The process of bringing a circuit board design from concept to manufacturing is known as PCB development. There are usually three phases to this: design, production, and testing. This method is iterative for all but the simplest ideas, with the goal of arriving at the best quality design within the development period allowed.

PCB Manufacturing: The fabrication of your board design is known as PCB manufacturing. This is a two-step procedure that starts with the manufacturing of the board and concludes with the assembling of the printed circuit board (PCBA). With so many Best PCB manufacturer Companies in China, it is not easy to select one. 

PCB Testing: PCB testing, also known as bring up testing, is the third step of PCB development, which takes place after manufacturing. During development, testing is carried out to assess the board’s capacity to fulfil its planned operating functions. Any faults or places where the design should be changed to enhance performance are discovered during this step, and a new cycle is started to include the design modifications.

PCB Assembly: PCB assembly, also known as PCBA, is the second stage of PCB manufacture, in which the board components are soldered to the bare board.

What is the PCB manufacturing process, then, with that in mind?

Fabrication of Printed Circuit Boards

PCB fabrication refers to the process of converting a circuit board design into a physical structure based on the design package’s requirements. The following activities or methods are used to create this physical manifestation:

  • On copper coated laminates, visualise the desired arrangement.
  • To expose traces and pads, etching or removing extra copper from inner layers is required.
  • Plastic laminate (heating and pressing) board materials with high temperatures to create the PCB layer stackup
  • Drilling holes for mounting holes, vias, and through hole pins
  • To expose traces and pads, etch or remove extra copper from the surface layer(s).
  • Pin holes and via holes are plated.
  • Adding a protective layer or solder masking to the surface
  • On the surface of the silkscreen printing, there are reference and polarity indications, logos, and other marks.
  • A finish may be applied to copper parts of the surface if desired.
  • Let’s have a look at what this knowledge implies for PCB design.

Is it Important to Know How to Make a PCB?

“Is it essential to understand the PCB manufacturing process?” is a question that may and should be posed. After all, PCB manufacturing is an outsourced operation done by a contract manufacturer, not a design activity (CM). While fabrication is not a design job, it is carried out in strict accordance with the requirements you give to your CM.

Most of the time, your CM is unaware of your design purpose or performance goals. As a result, they won’t know whether you’re making appropriate choices for materials, layout, via placements and kinds, trace parameters, or other board variables that affect your PCB’s manufacturability, production yield rate, or performance after deployment, as stated below:

Manufacturability: Your boards’ manufacturability is determined by a variety of design decisions. These include maintaining appropriate clearances between surface components and the board edge, as well as ensuring that the material used has a high enough coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) to survive PCBA, particularly for no-lead soldering. Either of them may prevent your board from being constructed without having to be redesigned. Furthermore, if you want to panelize your designs, you will need to plan ahead of time.

Yield rate: Your board can be manufactured successfully even if there are fabrication problems. Specifying specifications that push the tolerance limits of your CM’s equipment, for example, may result in a higher-than-acceptable percentage of unusable boards.

Reliability: Your board is categorised according to IPC-6011 depending on its intended use. There are three categorization levels for stiff PCBs, each of which specifies certain criteria that your board’s construction must satisfy in order to attain a certain degree of performance dependability. If your board is designed to a lesser classification than your application needs, it will most likely perform inconsistently or fail prematurely.

The following examples are not comprehensive, but they illustrate the kinds of issues that may arise if appropriate fabrication specification choices are not taken throughout the design process.

As a result, the response is a resounding yes! Understanding the PCB manufacturing process is critical because the design decisions you make at this stage may have ramifications throughout PCB development, production, and even operation. The use of design for manufacturing (DFM) principles and standards that are based on the capabilities of your CM is your greatest protection against the kinds of issues that may arise from not integrating information of the PCB manufacturing process into your design choices.

You’ll need a thorough and competent PCB design analysis, like as Cadence’s, to make the most of DFM and avoid needless time delays and manufacturing expenses. You may generate numerous detailed views to assist your CM throughout the PCB manufacturing process using tools like the Document Automation Tool.

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