At one time, people spent all day grocery shopping at the market, clothes shopping across town, and then going the other direction to replace a broken tool at the hardware store. Later on, they might drive to the local diner for a meal, followed by a movie at a theater in the next town. You could even collect S&H green stamps buying all the gasoline necessary to support this kind of shopping until 1952, when the first modern shopping mall opened in Lakewood, California. With everything from shopping to entertainment in one location, patrons conserved time and money.
This same principle of combining services also optimizes the work done by electronics contract manufacturers who procure parts, build circuit boards, and assemble full system components. With all of the manufacturing for a project located under one roof, OEMs save time, money, and resources when using these PCB CMs. Let’s look closer at how these different electronic manufacturing services can help and what to look for when choosing an EMS partner.
Professional Engineering Services Available When You Need Them
A printed circuit board contract manufacturer’s primary responsibility is to build PCB assemblies, but many more electronic manufacturing services are available. A full turn-key PCB CM will work with you on the initial design and guide the board through its assembly until it is ready for delivery, thoroughly tested, and qualified. To do this requires a well-staffed engineering department set up to help with the following design tasks:
- Design capture: The manufacturing process starts with a bill of materials (BOM) review to confirm the availability and viability of the design’s components. The CMs engineering staff will assist with circuitry enhancements or alterations as necessary and capture all changes in a new and organized set of documentation.
- PCB layout: Before the board is built, the CMs layout engineers will look at the board for any design for manufacturability (DFM) errors that can disrupt manufacturing. They report any findings or make the corrections themselves with approval.
- Test: Before the circuit board can be delivered, it must be tested to validate the assembly process. The CMs test engineers set up a test strategy and either work with existing test fixtures or create new ones to validate an assembled board.
- Mechanical engineering: In addition to PCB assembly, an EMS partner helps with the mechanical engineering of the system’s chassis or other related hardware. This process will include reviewing the specified design and materials and redesigning as necessary to optimize the assembly and performance.
With the front end of the design handled by the CMs engineering department, the next step is assembling the circuit board.
Circuit Board Manufacturing, from Parts Procurement to Customer Delivery
Building a high-quality circuit board is a complex operation that a well-trained staff must meticulously manage. The first part of this process involves procuring the components to be assembled on the board:
- Parts procurement: The name of the game in today’s electronics components is finding the best parts for the best prices. An experienced CM has a vast network of part manufacturers, distributors, and brokers to find the necessary parts. Once ordered, the CM will inspect incoming parts for quality and guard against counterfeit components. If the parts aren’t available, the procurement team will recommend alternate parts or change circuitry as required. Additionally, the CM will order the raw PCBs to be assembled from a separate network of preferred fabrication vendors.
- PCB assembly: Once the parts, materials, and raw fabs are in-house, the manufacturing team will prepare the boards for assembly. Solder paste will be applied, components will be inserted, and the boards will run through various automated soldering processes as required for their specific needs. Experienced technicians are available for additional manual assembly for those parts that can’t be automatically soldered or require re-work and clean-up.
- PCB testing: PCB CMs usually have different automated testing processes they can offer their clients, which the test engineers will have already settled on during the design review. These include in-circuit test (ICT), flying probe, and cable scan. Depending on what is required from the customer, these tests will validate the basic assembly of the board or perform full functional testing of the final design.
- Quality assurance and shipping: The completed circuit board will also be subjected to various levels of inspection, including X-ray, automated optical inspection (AOI), and manual inspection. Once the board has been validated, it will be packaged and shipped according to the client’s needs.
Front end design of a circuit board and its ultimate assembly is a large part of what a PCB CM does. Next, we will talk about the many other services that they offer.
Box Builds, Wire Harnesses, and Other Electronic Manufacturing Services
As mentioned above, many OEMs today are looking for more than having their circuit boards built. OEMs are increasingly searching for electronic manufacturing services that can build their entire system to save time, lower costs, and ease their already overburdened internal resources. Here is where a full-service PCB CM like VSE can help.
VSE has over 35 years of experience building printed circuit boards for technology companies in Silicon Valley, including San Jose and San Francisco’s Bay Area. Not only have our customers come to rely on our versatility and quality in PCB assembly, but on our mechanical assembly capabilities as well. Here are some of the services that we provide at VSE:
- Box builds: At VSE, we regularly build enclosures and complete systems to house our customers’ circuit boards.
- Wire harnesses: To interconnect these systems requires custom-made wire harnesses to the precise dimensions of the system enclosures we are building.
- Cable assemblies: In addition to wire harnesses, interconnecting systems need custom-built cables between them, which we provide.
- Control panels, etc.: There are many other components of a full system build, including control panels and other interfaces, which we can build.