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Navigating the Challenges of PCB Assembly in the Digital Age

PCB assembly services have always faced challenges. Keeping costs reasonable has become more and more difficult as the demands for more flexible, smaller, and more complicated PCBs rise. Supply chain challenges have always plagued the industry, and while the ‘digital age’ has allowed for better tracking of parts availability, the recent pandemic has only exacerbated issues like high pricing, low stock, and the risk of counterfeit components.

The demand for rapid prototyping, especially for complex designs, has risen as well in order to meet the demands for more complicated equipment, especially in Defense and Aerospace applications. More than ever before, there are more complexities involved in PCB assembly services, and navigating them takes an experienced electronics manufacturer.

The Trend of Miniaturization

The push for smaller, more compact PCBs has come from several different trends across the electronics manufacturing industry. Not only is there a demand for smaller devices–handhelds, smart watches, and other consumer products–but the needs of markets like Aerospace for lightweight and smaller electronics has helped to push for miniaturization as well. Specifically for Aerospace manufacturers, they are looking to reduce weight wherever possible for rockets and satellites, and increase the space available for other components. The results of these trends have had extensive impact on the way that PCBs are designed. Flex and Rigid-flex PCBs were developed to accommodate strange shapes or space requirements. The density of PCBs increased in order to pack more functionality into smaller and smaller boards.

However, this also means that manufacturers have to meet tighter tolerances to ensure reliable and proper functionality. Assembly has to be highly precise or there could be defects, which requires better equipment and inspection methods, and more experienced assemblers.

At the same time, miniaturization has helped to improve the reliability of PCB assemblies. With smaller sizes and tighter component placement, the boards are at less risk for damage due to things like vibration, shock, or temperature fluctuations in the larger system. New surface mount technology has also allowed for increased reliability of PCBs, reducing the risk of damage to the board and allowing assemblers to place smaller and lighter components with high accuracy.

Increases in Design Complexity

As electronics technology continues to advance, the complexity of PCB design increases as well. Many systems require multi-board designs for PCBs, which can help with power distribution, routing, and mechanical assembly demands, but also requires extensive testing in order to get the system to perform as required. Circuit layouts are also a major part of PCB design and assembly, and as more and more functionality is packed into the PCB, the circuit layout becomes more and more intricate and requires higher precision. More connections are needed, with multiple layers of copper traces and often more advanced technologies.

And as PCBs grow smaller, more flexible, and more powerful, their designs often become more complex and often harder to manufacture. Sometimes they require irregular shapes than a simple rectangular board, whether flexible or not. The best way to meet these challenges is to ensure that the design is right the first time around, including an account of component availability and every specific detail and location of the components. This will save time, energy, and money in the long run.

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SI Manufacturing offers contract manufacturing and custom electronics solutions, including magnetics, PCB assembly services, comprehensive testing, and custom power distribution component manufacturing. For more information, check out our website today.