Automated PCB Assembly Discussed at Length

Automated PCB Assembly Discussed at Length

Jul 18,2022

Printed circuit boards are assembled into several electromechanical or electrical devices, which helps the product function in auto mode. PCBs either partially or fully automate and digitize the functioning of a product. But how are these PCBs manufactured? Are PCB manufacturing and assembling processes automated? While PCBs were initially manufactured through mechanical machines and some process stages were done manually, the demand for digitization and automation has changed the way these boards are manufactured and assembled. An automated PCB assembly is basically the assembling of boards using automated machines and processes which require minimal human intervention. This comprises component mounting, solder joints, wiring, and so on. There are many benefits of automation in PCB manufacturing. This post discusses the processes and benefits of an automated PCB assembly.

Processes Used in Manufacturing Automated PCB Assembly

A PCB assembly process can be partially or fully automated and there are many advantages of the same. Here are some pointers regarding PCB assembly process stages and their automation.

  • Before the assembly, PCBs are fabricated blank boards which needs to be made functional through circuits and components. Before actual assembling, engineers refer to the design file to understand specifications, circuit path, and so on.
  • Assembling involves a number of stages which begin with soldering or applying a solder paste on certain portions of the board, especially where components need to be mounted. This can be applied with an applicator tool. A lot depends on the number of layers in boards as well as the materials used to make them.
  • After this comes component mounting. This is a crucial aspect as the right components need to be selected and placed at the exact location. This can be automated using pick and place robots.
  • After component mounting, the solder place is applied again. This is called solder reflow. This paste solidifies and helps the components adhere in their correct place on the board. These PCBs are again heated to melt the solder paste and cooled in a controlled manner.
  • The next stage is testing and inspection, which is mostly done through automated testing techniques such as Automated Optical Inspection (AOI), x-ray inspection, and so on. While a simple visual inspection is performed manually, various automated testing procedures are performed on the PCBs.
  • After a final testing, a PCBA is formed. However, it needs to cleaned as it may have portions of solder paste or any excess material left on the board. So, these assembled boards undergo a wash cycle using deionized water. They are thoroughly dried and then ready for packaging and shipping.
  • All of these stages after component mounting can be automated and done on a conveyor belt.

Benefits of Automated PCB Assembly

Advancements in electronics are ever evolving, and they have led to automation in design, fabrication, manufacturing, and assembling processes including that of PCBs. Here are some benefits of automated PCB assembly.

  • Automation has enabled increased productivity, high volume production, error reduction, and consistency in shape and size.
  • Boards can be fabricated using automatic CNC machines, wherein you simply need to set the right program and the required type of boards will be produced, regardless of the volume.
  • When assembling the boards, automation is useful in mounting the components correctly and wiring. It is also good for soldering.
  • Testing processes are automated which help identify error in time, find out open wires or solder joint issues through detailed cross sectional views, amplifications, and so on. This improves safety as well as ensures accurate functioning of the final product.
  • It reduces the overall cost which incur when fixing bugs due to human error. While investing in process automation may seem like a big decision, it is cost effective in the long run as it reduces maintenance and overhead costs. Also, since mass production is possible, one can procure bulk amount of materials at wholesale prices.

If you are an OEM who requires a PCB assembly for your new product, you can partner with an experienced PCB manufacturer and service provider. Look for a services provider who has capabilities to offer automated PCB assembly as this reduces time and cost. Ensure they understand your requirements and may help in choosing the right materials, components, and so on. Sierra Assembly is a US-based manufacturer of PCBAs offering customized and end-to-end PCB assembly solutions.