On October 14th, 1947, Chuck Yeager flew the Bell X-1 rocket plane faster than the speed of sound to officially break the sound barrier and set a new standard for aviation. As with any technological advancement though, setting the standard of supersonic flight was not a standalone achievement. Instead, it was built on the standards that had been set by others through many years of experimentation, including the first measurements of the speed of sound, the first powered flight, the first jet and rocket aircraft, and many more. Setting a new standard for excellence has and will always be a matter of building upon the foundation of the current standards already in place.
One such example of this is in the manufacturing of printed circuit boards. You want your boards built by the best contract manufacturer you can find, and the best CMs will be those who are well-versed in the industry standards for building circuit boards. Some of these standards include those published by IPC, the Association Connecting Electronics Industries. In these standards, you can find detailed information on how a PCB should be manufactured, and how the manufacturing of the board should be documented. Let’s take a closer look at the IPC assembly standards that your CM should be using to build your circuit board, and how the best CMs incorporate those standards into all aspects of their operations.
IPC Assembly Standards Used in the Manufacturing of Your PCB
One of the most widely used industry standards in the manufacturing of printed circuit boards is IPC-A-610—Acceptability of Electronic Assemblies. This standard covers how electronic assemblies are to be handled, what the acceptable methods are for hardware installation on the assemblies, what constitutes acceptable soldering results, and many other aspects of manufacturing surface mount and through-hole technology circuit boards. Another standard, IPC J-STD-001G—Requirements for Soldered Electrical and Electronic Assemblies, details how to manufacture a PCB to meet the acceptability requirements of IPC-A-610.
Here are some of the other IPC assembly standards your CM should be using in the manufacturing of your printed circuit boards:
- IPC-A-600—Acceptability of Printed Boards. This standard is used primarily for the incoming inspection of bare boards from a PCB fabricator.
- IPC/WHMA-A-620C—Requirements and Acceptance for Cables and Wire Harness Assemblies. This is used by your CM for the manufacturing of cables used in conjunction with your PCB assemblies.
- IPC-A-630—Acceptability Standard for Manufacture, Inspection, and Testing of Electronic Enclosures. This standard is used when your CM assembles and inspects box builds.
- IPC 7711/7721C—Rework, Modification, and Repair of Electronic Assemblies. To repair and rework PCBAs to IPC standards, your CM will use the information from this document.
There are many other IPC specifications that apply to the assembly of printed circuit boards, but these are the primary ones that should be used by your CM to ensure success on your boards.
Training and Improvement Practices for Contract Manufacturers
Having access to the IPC standards is an important part of the process for a PCBA contract manufacturer, but simply having access to them isn’t enough. These standards get modified and enhanced regularly, and the best CMs will have a plan in place to keep their personnel fully trained and up-to-date with all of the latest information. With fully trained personnel, the CM will be able to consistently apply these standards to every job they work on.
Contract manufacturers that do this often have one or more employees certified as an IPC trainer (CIT). This allows the CM to keep their employees fully up-to-date with their biannual IPC certifications without having to spend extra time and money on a third-party trainer.
An additional benefit is that the CIT is not limited to just the CM they work for. This gives the CM the ability to also train other important personnel from either their suppliers or their customers. When all members of the PCB manufacturing process are fully trained in these standards, everyone in the process—including the supplier, the CM, and the customer—will enjoy much better communication.
How IPC Standards Help in Every Aspect of Your CM’s Business
To be truly successful, a CM must do more than just focus on the specific details of the IPC standards that apply to what they are doing. The best CMs will embrace the entirety of these standards from cover to cover so that their processes are built on a solid foundation.
This way, they are prepared to catch even the smallest of manufacturing imperfections that would otherwise be overlooked by those who are merely trying to satisfy a limited set of details from the standard. Some of the details that can get overlooked include processes such as proper PCBA handling to avoid electrostatic discharge (ESD), as well as work environment and personnel considerations.
VSE is a contract manufacturer that embraces the totality of the IPC standards so you know your boards are being built to the highest standards of excellence. As a corporate member of IPC since 2001, we go beyond the specifications to incorporate the following into our regular workflow processes:
- Video certification materials.
- Quick reference handbooks.
- Posted illustrations of acceptable solder joints for the inspection teams.
- Regular attendance of the IPC Expo and other trade shows to maintain our level of technical knowledge and capabilities.