Circuit board assembly relies on advanced industrial-grade equipment, including pick and place machines, solder reflow ovens, and automated optical inspection systems. This equipment requires meticulous care in its setup, and its productivity must be monitored to ensure the efficient throughput of circuit boards throughout the factory. The responsibility for overseeing this production belongs to PCB manufacturing engineers, whose skills are highly sought after by PCB manufacturers, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. If building the next generation of advanced electronics sounds like a rewarding career to you, keep reading to learn more.
The Circuit Board Manufacturing Process
Circuit board assembly is mostly an automated task performed by PCB contract manufacturers and requires the skilled oversight of manufacturing engineers for a smooth-running system. Although portions of a circuit board may be assembled by hand, the majority of most boards are built by machines. Here are the three main steps that are followed when building a production PCB assembly:
- Solder paste is applied to the surface mount pads on the board.
- PCB components are placed on the board by the pick and place machines.
- The loaded circuit boards are passed through an automated soldering system.
Once the circuit board has been assembled, it will be inspected using an automated system. Automated Optical Inspection equipment, or AOI, is used to examine the boards during different manufacturing phases. Manufacturers will use these machines to examine the raw boards before assembly, verify the solder paste applied, or do final inspections to ensure the board has good solder joints and correct component installation.
However, even with automation, there is still significant manual work to complete the final product. This work includes visual inspection, reworking solder defects, or changing out components on the board for different types and values. Additionally, some PCB CMs will build the entire electronic system for the assembled boards. This process is known as a “box build.” These builds are usually very labor-intensive and require a great deal of oversight on the part of the manufacturing engineer along with the rest of the PCB assembly process.
What a PCB Manufacturing Engineer Does
To ensure the highest level of quality and efficiency during PCB assembly requires the guidance of skilled manufacturing engineers. Here are the areas that a manufacturing engineer will focus on to achieve their employer’s production goals:
Prepare assembly systems for PCB manufacturing
- Ensure that the pick and place machines, reflow ovens, and AOI systems are correctly programmed for the project being built.
- Work with engineering on potential design errors that can influence manufacturing processes.
- Work with the operators of the equipment to improve quality and provide training.
- Prepare training plans, coaching documents, and other written tools for employee training and development.
Manage overall PCB manufacturing
- Monitor PCB assembly performance levels to meet production and quality goals.
- Check quality levels during each phase of PCB manufacturing to identify areas of concern and develop the appropriate correction plan.
- Look for potential assembly problems coming up with new projects to be built.
- Work with other departments such as engineering and program management to obtain the necessary support to meet production and quality objectives.
- Collect data and develop metrics on the production capabilities.
- Research new assembly methods and identify those that should be adopted.
- Work with cross-functional teams to identify additional opportunities for improvement in the manufacturing processes.
The job of the PCB manufacturing engineer requires a thorough understanding of printed circuit board design, fabrication, and assembly processes. Manufacturers typically look for degreed engineers in their candidates, although they will often accept equivalent work experience instead. Manufacturing engineers should also have excellent communication and computer skills to collect and disseminate production metrics and train the system operators. Next, we’ll take a look at a manufacturer that can use your engineering talents.
Your Manufacturing Skills are Needed!
PCB contract manufacturers, like Valley Services Electronics, are looking for manufacturing engineers to keep their production at the highest possible levels of efficiency and quality. The responsibilities for this job include:
- Programming and qualifying the programs for pick and place machines and AOI systems
- Developing procedures and methods for programming and setting up assembly equipment
- Training production operators and assisting them with the setup and use of assembly equipment
- Estimating job size by product parameters
- Identifying and determining the root cause of yield problems and initiating corrective action
- Reporting on the effectiveness of assembly systems using collected and analyzed production metrics
- Searching for and identifying process improvement opportunities
Valley Service Electronics, or VSE, has been a premier printed circuit board manufacturer serving the electronics needs of the San Francisco Bay Area for over 35 years. We are a staple of the electronics community here in Silicon Valley, and our quality, flexibility, and personalized service are known around the world.
We are looking for people who have a passion for hard work and helping customers succeed with their electronic designs. And in addition to how we treat our customers, we are also known for our dedication to our employees. After all, our employees are the reason for VSE’s success and esteemed reputation. We offer a competitive pay and benefits package and promote work-life balance as one of our core company values.