When it comes to having your printed circuit boards manufactured, the quality of the finished product will be one of your chief concerns. To achieve the highest levels of manufacturing quality, it is important to find a contract manufacturer that follows established PCB quality control methods. Here are six areas of quality control that you should be looking for in a PCB CM:
- IPC certification. The manufacturing technicians who are building your boards should be certified for soldering, reworking, and other assembly operations.
- Component expertise. The CM should have engineering processes and inspections in place to assure that your board will be assembled with the best parts.
- Process controls. Documented assembly and system procedures are important to maintain consistency in the manufacturing process.
- Assembly checks. Boards that are being assembled should have their solder joints inspected before and after soldering.
- Inspection and test. All work needs to be constantly verified through an assortment of automated and human inspection techniques.
- Functional workspace. An organized and properly maintained assembly line, from the factory as a whole down to the individual workspaces, is an essential requirement for building complex printed circuit board assemblies.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these areas of quality control to understand their importance to the overall PCB manufacturing process.
Circuit Board Manufacturing and PCB Quality Control Methods
Ensuring quality during printed circuit board manufacturing is a continual process from start to finish. These six areas should be highlighted by a PCB contract manufacturer to demonstrate their overall commitment to the quality control process.
With IPC training and certification, the PCB CM can provide the highest levels of manufacturing quality to its customers. In addition, IPC certifications ensure that the entire staff is working to the same requirements and standards which guarantee a consistent and uniform approach to the different assembly processes. Many CMs will also maintain a certified IPC trainer on-site, which allows them to keep their staff current with their required biannual IPC certifications.
Component failures on printed circuit boards can be a very difficult problem to deal with. The best PCB CMs will have a well-documented process for inspection and quality assurance to make sure that the parts used on your board are of the best quality. In addition to that, the CM should employ component engineering specialists who can work with a vast network of component manufacturers and suppliers in order to get you the best parts at the best price in the least amount of time.
The step by step process of PCB assembly should be well documented by the CM in accordance with ISO regulations for quality control processes, risk management, and traceability. In addition, the CM should also have well-documented process controls in place to govern the quality of the manufacturing operation by regulating soldering temperatures, shelf life, and cleanliness standards.
During PCB assembly, there should be multiple inspection points to allow inspectors to focus on the previous operation performed instead of trying to catch everything at the end. These checks should be performed both manually and with automated inspection equipment to find potential problems with solder joints, and incorrectly placed components.
Inspection and Test
Once the board is completed it needs to be inspected again, and the PCB CM should have a detailed inspection process prior to releasing the final product back to you. Another part of the overall quality assurance process is testing the board. There are different methods of testing for the circuit board, and you can expect that the CM will have prepared a full test plan for the design based on your needs and input.
The final area of quality to consider in a PCB CM is in how they are set up to do the job. Creating precision electronics requires a neat and orderly workplace with properly maintained and up-to-date equipment that is equal to the task. As it has been said, quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort. The facilities should reflect this by how assembly lines are laid out, and the company goals and culture should reflect a positive attitude and vision as well.
What Your PCB CM Should Have in Place for the Best Quality Control
Now that we’ve discussed these six areas of quality control that a PCB CM should be focused on, the next step is up to you. It is important that you evaluate a potential CM for how much they are invested in these areas. To do this you should plan on spending some time with them. Many CMs will welcome an on-site survey to explore their capabilities and will point out their different processes and quality control measures. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, the best manufacturers know how important it is for you to have as much information as possible.
At VSE we welcome your inquiries and look forward to showing you our facilities and capabilities, virtually during the Covid-19 crisis and in-person once the crisis is over. You will see our engineering department where we will work with you on design development, design for manufacturing (DFM) enhancements, and bill of materials (BOM) review to ensure that your project can be built without problems and with the best components. You will also see our production lines and how they are laid out for efficient manufacturing, as well as our inspection and testing stations. We have invested a lot of effort into making our processes of the highest quality possible to ensure the satisfaction of all of our customers, and we look forward to working with you.