Most people don’t even give a second thought to electronic activity occurring in the palm of their hands when opening their favorite social media app on their smartphone. Multiple small electronic components in your phone exchange an uncountable amount of data with every emoji sent. For your smartphone to accomplish these tasks, all parts must be assembled correctly onto the device’s circuit board.
Most modern electronics assembly occurs with automated systems that place and solder the components onto a circuit board. However, even the most precise automated systems must have their assembly work inspected for flaws and corrected by electronics assembly technicians when necessary. Additionally, many circuit boards require manual assembly of some of their parts. Many of the systems that use circuit boards also need to be built by skilled technicians. There is a lot of electronics work that requires a specific set of mechanical assembly skills and abilities, which we will examine in greater detail here.
The Job of a Printed Circuit Board Mechanical Assembler
While most printed circuit board assembly is automated, there is still a lot of work that skilled technicians must perform manually. These assembly duties can be broken down into four different areas:
1. Clean up and rework
Once a circuit board has been automatically assembled, it must be inspected by qualified assembly technicians for validation. Using a combination of automated and manual inspection systems and techniques, the technician will look for solder bridges, poor solder joints, and other assembly defects. If any problems are found, the technicians will correct the problem, including minor clean-up or complete part replacement.
2. Manual assembly
Most printed circuit boards require parts that can’t be automatically assembled. These can include thru-hole components or unusual configurations of standard surface-mount components. These parts must all be manually placed and soldered by mechanical assembly technicians before the board is complete.
3. Debug and alterations
The PCB test process may also reveal components that are incorrectly soldered or don’t work as they should. These parts will require manual correction by assembly technicians. In prototype boards, the amount of rework and alterations may be a lot higher than with a standard production board as the engineers experiment with different values and configurations of components.
4. Mechanical assembly
Once a circuit board is completed, it will need to be assembled into a device. For those contract manufacturers that provide box-build services, circuit board assembly technicians will also be required. Full system builds like this can include the device enclosure, panel and rack assembly, building wire harness, and cable assembly.
To accomplish these tasks, circuit board assembly technicians need a comprehensive skill set, which we will look at next.
The Mechanical Assembler Skills Needed for Building Electronics
Building printed circuit boards require many different skills, from understanding electronics to manually creating detailed work. Here are the four areas that a PCB mechanical assembler should understand competently:
1. Understanding assembly documentation
Various documents are used in manufacturing a circuit board, including a bill of materials (BOM), a materials list, work orders, and assembly drawings. The assembler should understand the different color or number codes used to identify components used in building the circuit board. It is also essential that the assembler complies with the manufacturer’s documented assembly processes and procedures.
2. Skilled at working with electronic assembly hand tools
Many tools are used for working on circuit boards, including soldering irons, wire cutters, tweezers, and microscopes. The assembler should be acquainted with all of these instruments for soldering or desoldering parts on a board. Other hand tools such as screwdrivers, socket wrenches, or power tools may also be necessary for assembling mechanical hardware onto a PCB.
3. Familiar with the applicable industry standards
Mechanical assemblers should be familiar with the requirements of industry standards in the manufacturing of circuit boards such as IPC-A-610. PCB technicians should also understand the electrical requirements of their builds to ensure the parts’ correct polarity and exercise the proper electrostatic discharge (ESD) procedures. Assembly techs should know the proper process and controls of the manufacturer for both quality and safety in the workplace.
4. Experienced working with mechanical assembly
Mechanical assemblers working on full systems, or “box-builds,” should have experience building frames and sub-assemblies according to instructions and standards. The assembly technicians should also understand the construction of wire harnesses and cable assemblies according to their specifications. Mechanical assemblers must follow manufacturing procedures for quality control and adhere to applicable safety standards.
The Growth Potential in Electronics Assembly
While a “can-do” attitude is important for any job, it is crucial in electronics as there are always opportunities to propel a career to new levels. The need for electronic devices will only continue to grow, and as we have seen, manufacturers will need skilled assembly people. If you want to be part of a growing industry where new opportunities await, consider looking into these mechanical assembler skills for your career.
At VSE, we are always looking for enthusiastic people like you that want to grow in this industry. We have a rich company culture that has served the San Jose and San Francisco Bay Area for over 35 years. We are known throughout Silicon Valley and beyond as a leader in providing high-quality electronics and look forward to nurturing the careers of each new team member.