PCB Fabrication

PCB Board Fabrication Process: Essential Steps and Best Practices

PCB fabrication

The world of PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) comes with a lot of jargon and complicated processes that may get overwhelming for you to explore. Whether you are an engineer, a buyer, a business owner or a hobbyist wanting to design your own electronic device, you need to go through the journey of understanding PCBs because they are essentially the foundations of all electronics devices.

Printed circuit boards are the green-coloured boards that you must have seen while getting one of your electronic devices repaired. In most repairing cases, the engineer/electrician needs to disconnect the damaged part from the PCB and solder a new, functioning part in its place. This is because various components that are present in a device are connected to each other via a PCB board. In other words, all the joints and connections are present on the PCB only and not anywhere randomly inside the device.

If the PCB board fabrication process is not carried out well, the entire device may fail to function at all. This is why PCBs are considered the foundation stone of most devices.

  • All the connections between various components present inside a device are made through a PCB board.
  • PCB boards also provide mechanical support to delicate components and the device.

Here is a comprehensive yet easy-to-understand guide explaining all the steps of the PCB fabrication process. But before that, find answers to some of the most asked questions related to PCBs.

PCB fabrication process

PCB fabrication process

Why is a Custom-designed PCB Required for Electronic Devices?

While all PCBs have similar manufacturing processes and basic functionality, a PCB designed for one device cannot be used in other devices.

Reasons include:

  1. Electronic devices vary in terms of size and dimensions. Therefore, the PCB board needs to be designed in compatible dimensions only.
  2. Each device has its own components and connection requirements. Engineers consider these factors and then design a PCB to suit these specific requirements. They design a PCB such that it can serve all the requirements while taking the least amount of space.
  3. Even if two devices have mostly similar types of components and functionality requirements, the placement of the components may vary. This may complicate the process of PCB assembly. To avoid such complications and manufacture a device with clean connections, PCBs are custom-designed accordingly.
  4. There are certain components that cannot be assembled via machine. Manual assembly is carried out in such cases. This further calls for a custom-designed PCB that is easy to handle manually.
  5. The cost and quality requirements may vary from one project to another. Therefore, PCBs are designed and fabricated keeping such factors in mind.

Besides the above-mentioned major reasons, there are many more reasons why PCBs are always designed and fabricated separately for various devices. In any case, it is best to get your PCB customised instead of using a pre-manufactured PCB and then redo your entire project later. Of course the PCB fabrication process for custom circuit boards is much more complicated.

Should You Use Custom PCB Fabrication or Use a Generic One?

As you have understood above, every electronic and most electrical device needs its own custom-designed PCB to hold all the connections. However, when it comes to developing prototypes, people sometimes consider using a generic PCB because custom PCB fabrication process are too complex. While this may save some of your time and money, it may affect the functioning of the prototype. Also, you would be required to work on the PCB design and assembly ultimately after the sampling of the prototype. So, why not do it before?

Prototypes made with a custom-designed PCB work better in the long run and show the exact way they are going to function. They are also designed as per the comprehensive structure of the prototype and are suitable to fit in properly. Generic ones may take up more space and if they are smaller in size than your requirement, it might get difficult to work on them. In short, a PCB designed specifically for your prototype is better than a generic one on any day, though the PCB board fabrication process is sophisticated.

So, from where to get a single PCB designed and manufactured as per your need? Certified companies like Viasion Technology Co. Ltd. not only deal in small to medium-scale PCB manufacturing but also offer single PCB design and fabrication services. They follow best industry practices to carry out the PCB fabrication process and thus, provide maximum customer satisfaction.

Continue reading to explore the PCB fabrication process in a step-by-step manner.

PCB Board Fabrication Process: Essential Steps

The PCB fabrication process is a long process having a number of steps that must be carried out with utmost care and precision. A team of professionals and advanced machineries are required to fabricate quality PCBs. The engineers and qualified staff members carry out testing and inspection at various stages of the PCB fabrication process. While this is an elaborate procedure and differs from one type of PCB to another, the basic and essential steps are listed below.

1. Designing the PCB board

If a PCB is the foundation of an electronic device, the design is the foundation of the PCB. No matter how experienced the manufacturing staff may be, proceeding to the PCB fabrication process without laying out a clear and detailed design is an invitation to failure.

Good companies never shy away from investing their time and skills in designing a PCB. A PCB designed with orientation to detail pays well in the long run.

Companies may design a PCB manually or use PCB designing software.

2. Cutting Base Laminate

Once the design is ready, the PCB fabrication process officially begins. It starts with the cutting of the base copper clad laminates into small pieces which is more convenient in production. PCBs can be single-layered, dual-layered or multi-layered, but all the base laminates are substrate with one layer or two layers of copper sheet.

3. Copper Pattern Printing

The design defining the pathway and layout of circuits is then printed on the laminated board. All the steps are to be followed with a knack of precision because small negligence at any step can lead to the failure of the entire circuit. So this is a very critical PCB board fabrication process.

4. Etching

Etching refers to the removal of excess copper. Once the pathway is printed on the board, it is covered to prevent exposure to the copper-removing chemical. Here, you must note that several rounds of testing and inspection are conducted throughout the PCB board fabrication process to ensure that every step is carried out well.

5. Lamination and Pressing

At this step, all the layers are stacked up and laminated together by heating them at a high temperature and applying pressure by machines. Punch holes are used to align all the layers. While machines carry out many of the steps of the PCB fabrication process, certified technicians are required to monitor the process at every stage.

6. Drilling Holes

After locating the drill spots using an X-ray machine, they are drilled using a computer-guided process. This is necessary to expose the inner layers. A copper layer is deposited on these freshly drilled holes.

7. Plating and Etching

Yes, etching has been mentioned before, but a final etching is required before a PCB can be sent further for assembly. So, unwanted copper is again removed using chemical washes in this step. Via holes copper plating is extremely important in the PCB fabrication process, because all the traces connected through these small drills.

8. Solder Mask Printing

The typical green color of PCBs is obtained thanks to this step. The PCB board fabrication process includes a step where a protective coating is added to the surface. This step is called solder mask application.

9. Silkscreen Printing

This is one of the crucial steps in the PCB fabrication process. This includes the printing of essential signs and markings on the surface of the circuit board. Logos, reference numbers, polarity indicators and other such markings are printed in this step.

10. Surface Finishes

In this process, a thin layer of metal will be applied on the copper pads which are not covered by solder mask. This step is necessary to prevent the pads from oxidation. It gives a final finishing touch to the pads on the PCB board and helps enhance its quality in PCB assembly. The commonly used surface treatment is HAL, ENIG, OSP.

11. Testing and Inspection

While several rounds of testing and inspection are conducted throughout the PCB fabrication process, a final round is essential before sending the PCB further for assembly. Without performing this step, the PCBs cannot be passed for further use.

PCB fabrication

PCB fabrication

PCB Board Fabrication Process: Best Practices

You may find many companies manufacturing PCBs but trustworthy are those that follow best industry practices while doing so. The PCB board fabrication process is not to be taken lightly and only certified companies like Viasion Technology Co. Ltd. should be trusted for the process.

Here are some of the best industry practices in PCB fabrication process:

  1. Good companies always prioritize timely and transparent communication to ensure maximum client satisfaction. They understand the importance of keeping their clients updated and do the same.
  2. While designing the prototypes, experts conduct a design for manufacturability (DFM) test. This helps ensure that the design can be manufactured on a large scale quickly and economically. Therefore, the manufacturing costs and time can be reduced by adopting this practice.
  3. Multiple rounds of inspection conducted are necessary to ensure that the PCB fabrication process is carried out well. For this, renowned companies conduct manual inspections along with automated inspection and X-ray inspections.
  4. Documentation is quite essential while conducting such operations. It helps keep a log of design changes and testing results. This in turn comes in handy while tracing errors. Therefore, good companies never skip the documentation process.
  5. Continuous upskilling of the workforce is required to keep up with the ever-changing industry trends and advancements. Established PCB manufacturers never get too confident or stop learning. They know the need to stay up-to-date with the latest technology and industry requirements.

Summing up

How the PCB fabrication process is carried out can eventually make or break your entire project. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the basics of the process and then outsource the PCB fabrication. Blindly trusting any manufacturer may make you regret it later. Therefore, do not hesitate to ask questions related to the process from your manufacturer, check if the company is following best industry practices, and keep in touch with the manufacturer throughout the process.

For the best services, hire certified and experienced companies like Viasion Technology Co. Ltd. You may check their website for more information.

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