Printed circuit boards can have thousands and thousands of pins on them, all of which need to be carefully soldered into place for the board to work as intended. Many large processor devices can have over a thousand pins by themselves, not to mention all of the accompanying components on the board. While automated assembly processes do a great job of soldering these pins in place, some solder defects may get through along the way. Therefore, it is essential to test a newly assembled circuit board to validate each solder connection, a process requiring the skills of a PCB test technician.
Modern PCB testing processes use different systems depending on the type and technology of the circuit board. Systems like in-circuit tests are designed to quickly validate the high volumes of circuit boards for production builds of electronic products. However, even with the level of automation used in these systems, test technicians are still needed to prepare the equipment for operation, run the tests, and report on the results. Here we’ll look at what it means to be a PCB test technician and how you can become one.
PCB Test Technicians: Why They are in High Demand
According to a recent figure, the worldwide electronics assembly market did 1.4 trillion dollars of business in 2020. That is a lot of circuit boards being built worldwide, and each production board built typically has some level of automated testing. In other words, the need for test technicians is greater than ever before, and that need is only going to accelerate as the demand for electronics continues to grow.
There are different types of automated testing performed on a circuit board that requires test technicians’ skills. Before the circuit board ever gets to the assembly level, the bare boards need to be tested for circuit integrity after they are fabricated. This process is usually done with a bed of nails type tester. Once the boards are assembled with their electronic components, they are tested again to validate their solder connections. There are two main methods of conducting automated assembly tests of a circuit board; in-circuit test (ICT) and flying probe test:
- ICT: This system is also described as a “bed-of-nails” test with spring-loaded probes built into a test fixture. Each probe contacts an accompanying testpoint on the circuit board, and the program quickly evaluates each net on the board. ICT test fixtures are expensive and time-consuming to develop, but they can quickly test large-scale production runs of circuit boards. ICT can also do some functional testing of the circuit board.
- Flying probe: This system uses two to six probes that move around the board to contact the testpoints. Flying probe testing is much slower than ICT and is limited in the amount of functional testing that it can do. On the other hand, it does not require the time or expense of building and programming a complex test fixture. These benefits make the flying probe test system ideal for prototype and limited runs of circuit boards.
Circuit board testing, whether with ICT or the flying probe system, requires constant interaction by the test technicians for the following:
- Test plans must be developed with test engineering.
- ICT fixtures must be built or modified, and test programming developed.
- The circuit boards must be run through the test process.
- Test reports have to be generated.
- Test technicians may also be required to do some rework of the boards they are testing.
As you can see, the role of a test technician requires a specific skill set, and we’ll look next at how those skills can be developed.
What Does it Take to Be a Circuit Board Test Technician?
There are many paths that test technicians have taken to learn the skills of their job, but in general, you can expect a mixture of the following:
Most new technicians will have an associate’s degree in electronics or similar training through a technical school. However, some test technicians have learned their skills through several years of experience in a job instead of earning a degree. Typically any sort of electronics or related education is a plus for new test technicians.
Training and certifications
Training by industry standard organizations, such as certification in soldering by IPC, is also considered a plus.
Skills and experience
Here are some of the skills and experiences that potential employers will be looking for:
- Proficiency at reading and understanding schematics and other electronic engineering documentation
- Computer abilities for recording test data and preparing reports
- Basic soldering and rework skills
- General experience in PCB assembly and electronics manufacturing
- Able to work with sales and engineering to satisfy customer requirements
- Experience in preparing and setting up different test equipment
- Proficiency at operating ICT, flying probe, and other test equipment as required
Test technicians with the training, skills, and experiences that we’ve just looked at will be well-positioned for work in the electronics manufacturing industry. We’ll look at a manufacturer that is looking for people with these skills next.
Where Your Skills Will Be Put to Work!
Valley Services Electronics (VSE) is a premier Silicon Valley electronics manufacturer in California’s San Jose area. As a test technician at VSE, you will be responsible for testing the circuit boards that are assembled there through the following tasks:
- Preparing the procedures and setting up the equipment for the PCB test
- Run the board through the test process, and document the results
- Perform debugging and rework on the circuit boards as necessary
- Work together with the customer on issues with their circuit board tests
- Working with spreadsheets and graphs, preparing and submitting test documentation
At VSE, we understand how important your skills and abilities are, and we want you to be part of our team. We offer a competitive pay and benefits package, and a healthy work-life balance is one of our core principles. If you would like to learn more about being a PCB test technician at VSE, please look at our career opportunities page on our website.