Keeping up with the demand…
A printed circuit board, or PCB, is the most crucial element to anything electronic, and therefore makes a massive impact on every life. It is appropriate that PCBs look like tiny cities with roads and buildings, as they support and connect electronic components within a device. Every industry relies on them, and that is only going to grow. It is estimated that by 2030, the global PCB market will grow to 128 Billion dollars.
The PCB Market in 2023
With the growth and improvements in the 5G network with its high speeds and low latency, connectivity is shifting. IoT is becoming more common and smart manufacturing is the new normal. PCB design needs to accommodate with mixed signal processing due to the high-frequency transmissions and high-traffic.
Looking ahead, it is also important to consider the influence of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. PCBs already support these applications, but their manufacturing will soon be affected by them. AI and machine learning have the ability to address quality concerns which before were lacking. The automated assembly of PCBs comes with many advantages like high-speeds, precision and consistency, but durability had been an ongoing issue. At one point or another, a person must be called in to validate the quality of each board. AI and machine learning software have brought manufacturing to the next level with predictability and self-correcting.
Common PCB Test Procedures
If a PCB fails, quite frankly, that means trouble. Whatever the application, the industry or the device, the PCB is at the heart of it. If the PCB isn’t working properly, the process will fail. While there are many test options and procedures some are more common than others:
Functional Testing (FCT)
Functional testing validates your fully assembled PCB is turning on and will do the job. FCT essentially mimics the environment where the PCB is required. Up to 100% of boards can be tested, minimizing recalls and failures. That said, there are many parameters to measure like voltage, current, power, receiver sensitivity and others so it can take time. In haste, some manufacturers skip FCT but it is a key element to ensuring a long lifespan, cost-savings in the long run and better product quality.
In-Circuit Testing (ICT) or Bed-of-Nails
In-circuit testing validates the unique circuitry laid out on the board. It is also known as bed-of-nails testing because the tester uses fixed probes to press down on designated circuit points on the board. ICT checks for shorts, circuit interruptions, resistance, capacitance, and proper tolerances. Each tester is unique to the individual board design and is not meant to be implemented early in the design process. Once a PCB’s design is nearly complete and will not undergo any major changes, ICT should be considered. This design must include specific access points for these probes to access. ICT can be an expensive undertaking but is the most thorough test option for PCBs in manufacturing.
For smaller volumes, Flying Probe Testing (FPT) should be considered as a less expensive option to ICT. It is not as thorough as ICT and has a higher cost per unit but can be used in the early development stages of a new PCB design.
Automated Optical Inspection (AOI)
Automated Optical Inspection is the first line of defense against defects and damage to the PCB. AOI takes photos of each board (using either 2D or 3D cameras) and compares them to the detailed design. If any flaw is detected, the test fails. By leveraging high-speed machine vision, inspections are performed much more quickly and thoroughly than compared to the human eye alone. Additionally, by using an automated system for inspection the number of incorrectly failed boards drops significantly.
The Future of PCB Testing
To keep up with demand, manufacturers will need to implement as much automation into their line as possible. Speed and precision will be key, and both are offered when human subjectivity is taken out of the equation. AI and machine learning will both play a big role in early detection of design and manufacturing issues. As this technology becomes more reliable, the end products will as well.
A secret weapon to growing the manufacturing line is standardization. By reusing the same equipment types, costs are kept low, training is minimized, and troubleshooting is simplified. A prime example of this is a common core station with flexible fixtures. The right design can be reused between different products and product lines for maximum profitability. A design like UniLine can include all test types for PCB including FCT, safety, ICT and EOL but is flexible enough to provide only what the user needs.
A test platform with a mature design means the non-recurring engineering (NRE) fees are minimized and they will deliver better quality in a shorter amount of time. An established platform also makes it easier to plan ahead for problem solving and future products. When you are familiar with the equipment you are using, keeping a spares list is manageable and affordable.
The future of PCBs is all in the speed, efficiency, and planning. Are you ready?
For questions on PCBA test and quality, please contact Averna.
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