There is no doubt that computers are central to the modern world, and they are found nearly everywhere. And the definition of “computer” goes beyond a laptop or a desktop PC; calculators, cars, automated factory robot arms, and many other electronics make use of them, too. Even video game consoles boast a lot of computing power. Many different components must come together to make a fully functioning calculator, PC, or Xbox, and among them is a printed circuit board, or a PCB. Today’s PCB manufacturers are essential for the electronics industry, and these PCB manufacturing services may create a wide variety of these devices for an order. PCB assembly involves carefully designing these boards and then the board assembly itself, which is often automated for speed and precision. What can a PCB manufacturer do when an order comes in for these parts?
PCB Fabrication and Design
Who orders these PCBs? Often, it is the manufacturers of computers, game consoles, calculators, car parts, and more who place orders for PCBs, as this is specialized work that a firm may focus solely on. Often, complex manufacturing such as making a computer involves a lot of outsourced labor, and a lot of that labor is hard at work making PCBs.
PCB manufacturers often star the process with designing a proper PCB for an intended role, and this is the job of dedicated engineers who work with advanced software to design them. This means laying out the patterns on a new circuit board, and these circuit boards may in fact have more than one layer in them, depending on their intended use. Simple and low-power circuit boards may need only one layer, but the industry has been known to design and produce boards with two, four, eight, 10, or as many as 42 layers, depending on the need.
Once a design is finalized, prototypes will be built to ensure that the physical model works as intended. Often, a PCB manufacturer will go through multiple prototypes to make sure everything is in order. Aberdeen Group, for example, has found that a simple PCB may require (on average) 11.6 physical prototypes until it is time to start mass producing them. More complex PCBs may need as many as 16.1 different prototype models until it is time to start producing them in earnest.
How are these circuit boards made? While it is possible to make them by hand, the sheer volume of demand often requires that a PCB manufacturer has an automated line that can make them. These lines, with robot arms and automated parts, can produce many more printed circuit boards than a whole team of people could, an with greater precision, too. Some PCB assembly lines boast a standard turn-time of five days or under, and that is 75% faster than the industry average is. In particular, just one automated line is capable of soldering and placing components with great precision, and can produce more content than a team of 50 people working together (and with more consistent results, too). This is delicate work, after all; the space between the electrical conducting paths is often just one millimeter wide, if not narrower. An automated line may make these parts with great precision and consistency alike, whereas hand-made products might vary somewhat in nature and quality. Wholesale buyers, such as computer production firms, might not be happy with that.
Not only taht, but PCB manufacturers are still looking to improve their manufacturing process even further, given the rapid proliferation of computers today. In living memory, computers used to be slow, expensive novelties that only engineers and enthusiasts ever even saw, let alone understand. Now, a typical American household may have a dozen computers (of varying types) in it, each of them millions of times more powerful than the early computers of the 1960s. PCB manufacturing must keep up, and around 53% of respondents of an Aberdeen Group survey reported that they consider boosting product complexity their top PCB design problem to solve. After all, a survey found that PCBs represent 31% of the cost of any product, meaning there is very little room for delay or errors in their design, construction, and shipment.