When I was young, I once created a rubber-band shooter out of Tinker Toys that was pretty advanced. It kept a supply of rubber bands within it and would auto-load the next one as you shot the first. My brother and his friends loved these toys, and they had a grand rubber-band battle in our front yard while I kept busy repairing the shooters as they fell apart.
The next day, however, when they requested that I build some more, I couldn’t remember how in the world I had done it. I finally came up with something, but those replacements didn’t have the same capabilities as the originals, and everyone soon lost interest. As happy as I was about my burgeoning engineering skills at such a young age, I must admit that I could have used some help with the documentation.
I’m pretty sure that my lost auto-loading rubber-band shooter design hasn’t had any impact on the course of humanity, but expensive and intricate integrated circuits (IC) are another matter completely. IC manufacturers will go to great lengths to ensure every part they create follows the same pattern and formula no matter where in the world it is made. This may sound like a simple thing, but with the complexities of modern ICs, it is actually very difficult. That is why IC manufacturers follow a process methodology called “copy exactly.” This methodology ensures that what is made in one factory is exactly the same as what is made in a different factory halfway around the world. Here is a closer look at the copy exact manufacturing methodology and how it pertains to PCB contract manufacturers trained in its principles.
What Is Copy Exact Manufacturing and Where Did It Come From?
Copy exactly, or as it is commonly known, “copy exact” or “CE,” is a process methodology created by the computer chip industry to ensure conformity in their processes and products. It originally started as a strategy model developed by Intel to ensure new manufacturing facilities being built around the world would replicate those that were already in existence. The copy exact methodology also covers the transfer of technology from the laboratory development environment into the high-volume manufacturing environment to ensure the final products do not vary from their original design.
The copy exact methodology is a discipline, and it’s designed to help companies develop high-yield manufacturing processes, and then stick to those processes to deliver consistent products. CE standards specify the full process of manufacturing, and they include details down to the specific machines and parts that must be used for fabrication. The CE standards state that once the build configuration for a product’s first article has been approved, it is considered “locked in” and additional modifications are not permitted.
What Is Involved in Being Certified in Copy Exact Standards?
Unlike industry standards, such as those published by ISO, there isn’t a centrally recognized copy exact certification body. The semiconductor manufacturers are the originators of their own CE standards, and all of the certifications are handled by their direct suppliers, which include semiconductor equipment manufacturers. Each of these manufacturers is then responsible to certify their own suppliers. From there, the standards are passed on down through the supply chain. The direct suppliers usually have the most sophisticated training programs, and those materials are allowed to be passed down the line to other vendors in the supply chain, such as PCB contract manufacturers.
The direct suppliers, such as the equipment manufacturers for the semiconductor industry, are the primary managers of the CE certification. Their online training programs also include the training rosters that are to be maintained by their vendors as evidence that their own staff have completed the training and are in compliance with the standards. Ideally, a vendor will have representatives from each of their major departments—purchasing, engineering, manufacturing, and quality—take the training to become certified in CE standards. These people will then work with the rest of the staff to ensure that the standards are being followed.
Although CE certification is not recognized as an official standard, it is still a requirement of the direct suppliers to do business with the semiconductor industry. Therefore, by extension, it is also a requirement of those vendors that are part of the supply chain. With different direct suppliers, the CE training programs can be different, but they all share the same philosophies and sense of importance of the CE standards. In many cases, semiconductor suppliers will recognize and allow the CE certification from other direct suppliers.
Copy Exact Manufacturing at Your PCB Contract Manufacturer
For PCBA customers in the semiconductor industry, having your contract manufacturer certified in copy exact standards is a requirement for business. For customers not in the semiconductor industry, you will reap the following benefits of using a CM that is CE certified:
- Procedures: Every aspect of the manufacturing process, from part selection to final test, is documented and regulated to ensure there aren’t any unexpected changes between builds of your PCBA.
- Process control: When changes are required, they will not be made on your board without you first being notified to get your approval.
- Documentation: All work on your job will be thoroughly tracked and documented so that you will have detailed information on your PCBA build.
- Training: Key staff members in all major departments will have completed rigorous copy exact training so they can supervise the adherence to those standards throughout the company.
At VSE, we take pride in our copy exactly standards certification and experience. With it, we are fully qualified to build PCBAs to the exacting requirements of the semiconductor industry. At the same time, by applying those same standards to all the boards we build, we are able to provide all of our customers with the highest levels of quality and service.