When dining out, there’s a subtle mechanism that influences decision-making. In addition to cuisine, price, or location, diners want to have confidence that the food they’re about to consume has been prepared in hygienic conditions to prevent foodborne illnesses or contamination. Sanitary inspection grades give consumers confidence that the food they’re about to consume is safe. In much the same way, customers interested in PCB services and manufacturing will want their contract managers and partners to operate within the industry’s regulations and quality standards.
PCB design and manufacturing casts a wider net than food service, so some regulations are requirements go beyond quality assurance and establish the minimum guidelines to which production sites must adhere. Quality management systems (QMS) and other PCB certifications will provide customers and partners with the faith that an operation complies with current industry standards and grants operations the knowledge and training to reduce scrap and rework and save on costs.
Quality Management Systems Help Guide Operational Efficiency
Quality Management Systems (QMS) plays an important role in providing any operation that works on or with PCB design and manufacturing the tools to improve their overall process, resulting in better products, greater repeatability of processes, and reduced costs for the business. Established primarily by ISO 9001, QMS concerns itself with the following aspects of design and manufacturing:
- Document storage. Assures processes and products meet specifications and provides a centralized digitized backup for all appropriate documentation.
- Compliance. Ensures that the various industry compliances are being met. Improves resolution of time issues and helps prevent future incidence.
- Interdepartmental Communication. Creates a feedback loop between floor operators and department managers that helps further drive efficiency in the manufacturing process.
- Operations Training. A centralized system is not only an excellent method for disbursing training modules but also can track individual employee performance.
ISO 9001 is like the umbrella for QMS PCB certifications, but specific industries may call for more specific guidelines than those established by 9001. ISO 13485 builds on the QMS laid out by 9001, with an explicit focus on medical devices. This standard applies to a company involved in any step of designing or manufacturing medical devices, not just turn-key operations. While ISO 13485 descends from ISO 9001, they are separate standards — that is, an organization could be in compliance with one, but not the other.
IPC: The Trade Organization Shaping PCB Certifications
Industries can feature a mixture of government and industry regulations, but it is usually the latter that can provide feedback and guidance to the former to support self-governance. The Institute for Printed Circuits, which is nearly-unanimously referred to by its acronym, provides science-driven solutions for the PCB industry, with the expectation that all unspecified laws and regulations surrounding PCB manufacturing would defer to its internal framework.
IPC operates by selling membership to both the business and educational sectors as a trade organization that offers research on all aspects of PCB design and manufacturing. Members gain access to a font of industrial research, process development, and training guides to reduce the incidence of poor design practices or manufacturing defects. This access also includes industry conferences and events meant to present new developments in the field. Additionally, IPC membership serves as a connection between different members fitting complimentary industry roles. While these relationships don’t necessarily require an IPC membership to coalesce, there is value in knowing that partners adhere to the highest industry standards for their products and services. In this way, IPC membership functions as an outward-facing quality assurance badge to vendors and customers.
While IPC generates many standards, most would consider IPC-A-610 its de-facto standard. The standard concerns itself with identifying proper soldering and assembly work. From Class 1 to 3, with a higher number indicating tighter tolerances, IPC-A-610 establishes the framework for field reliability:
- Class 1: General Electronics Products. Consumer electronics cover industries such as toys and other products that have nonexistent reliability concerns; because of their disposability, there is relative leniency regarding tolerance and defects.
- Class 2: Dedicated Service Electronics. Products where field failures are not immediately life-threatening but are expected to possess a more ample service life than products found in Class 1. Some examples would include computers and servers where failure would significantly disrupt operations, but not fatally so.
- Class 3: High-Reliability Electronics. PCBs in this class must meet the most stringent tolerances to support field reliability. These boards can be found in industries such as aerospace and medical, where failure or malfunction has a high probability of immediately leading to injury or loss of life.
In addition to the IPC-A-610 standard, the same grading format exists for wire harnesses and cabling. The IPC-A-620 (also known by its formal name IPC/WHMA-A-620) standard exists to provide criteria and feedback on the effectiveness and field suitability. The scope of IPC-A-620 includes topics such as crimping, insulation, grommets, and ultrasonic welding.
Some Notable Miscellaneous PCB Certifications
ITAR is the gold standard in the defense industry and related fields. It was constructed during the Cold War to prevent foreign access to technology that could cause a danger to U.S. national security or foreign policy aims. In the late 90s, after a string of satellite launch failures, it was expanded to include satellite components as a U.S. munition covered by the State Department. This expansion has proven controversial, and many international and domestic bodies have called for the reclassification of these parts to make the U.S. satellite industry more competitive internationally and broaden multinational space exploration efforts.
A much more broadly applicable PCB certification than ITAR is UL 508A. The certification accounts for panels in industrial usage dealing with heavy machinery, aqueous environments, or human safety. The standard can be found in such wide-ranging uses as plastic injection molding to water park rides. In all cases, the certification only accounts for the panel itself and the circuitry it has direct control over. For example, motor controllers, switches, relays, circuit breakers, and timers would fall within UL 508A, but the loads connected to this circuitry would not.
Let Your Contract Manager Take Care of PCB Certification Concerns
When it comes time to bring your design to life, you want the assurance that your contract manufacturer and partners are positioned to deliver you the best manufacturing processes to create a superior product. At VSE, we believe in creating electronics for customers by a team of engineers eager to meet your design’s specific challenges and goals. No matter what regulations your design is required to meet, we’ll ensure that our partner and we possess the necessary certifications and processes to exceed expectations.