December 1, 2022

Challenges Manufacturers Face With PCB Inspection – Metrology and Quality News

The ever-increasing pace of development and diversity of electronic devices means growing production challenges in printed circuit board (PCBA) assembly, a complex process that involves numerous component suppliers, sophisticated assembly machinery and manual labor. In addition, the miniaturization and increasing complexity of printed circuit boards (PCBs) and the associated assembly work add to the complexity of this phase. This makes quality assurance (QA) of PCBA an invaluable but difficult step in the manufacturing process.

In this article, Ofer Nir, VP of Product and Marketing at standalone visual inspection specialist Inspekto, explores the challenges faced in PCB inspections.

To quote Leonardo da Vinci, “Details make perfection, and perfection is not a detail.” This is certainly true for the manufacturing and quality control of PCBs, the basic assembly unit of any electronic device, where a slight assembly deviation can lead to a significant performance issue in the final product.

Rising demand for consumer electronics and smart connected devices in Industry 4.0 is driving tremendous growth in the global PCB market which is expected to reach USD 86.17 billion by 2026. The market has also become more demanding, demanding cards with increased accuracy and precision during the manufacturing process.

PCBA quality and reliability have a direct impact on production efficiency and cost, as well as the functionality and reliability of end devices. In the highly competitive consumer electronics industry, manufacturing margins are key to survival; any variation in production efficiency and cost has significant implications for manufacturers. Reliability and performance are especially important in safety-critical industries such as aerospace, automotive, defense and medical technology. For example, PCBs are a key component in the production of cochlear implants, pacemakers and medical imaging equipment, where accuracy can be a matter of life and death.

In recent decades, PCB manufacturers have also strived to produce smaller and increasingly complex boards. Higher-density placement of smaller components makes design, manufacturing, and assembly processes even more challenging. For these reasons, quality assurance (QA) is essential to ensure that the transition from PCB design to manufacturing is error-free.

Need for reliability and inspection agility

Due to the high complexity of modern PCBs, which incorporate a large number of barely visible elements, manual inspection is not a reliable or scalable QA method. Faults on tiny sub-components are hard to see and can become nearly impossible to spot after an eight-hour shift. Moreover, even if inspectors manage to keep their concentration unchanged throughout a shift, the time required to examine a PCB makes this method unviable.

For these reasons, automated visual quality inspection has long been sought after for inspecting PCBs. Machine vision (MV) solutions have alleviated the main challenges for human inspectors: they are accurate, non-fatiguing, and analyze huge amounts of small details. MV seems ideal for detecting common defects such as soldering errors, warped board, surface finish errors and more.

PCB seen by the INSPEKTO S70

However, traditional MT solutions struggle to meet a PCB manufacturer’s need for flexible yet accurate quality assurance. These conventional solutions typically involve the commissioning, design and integration of a custom project that relies on the constant services of a systems integrator or MT expert. The whole process can be expensive and time-consuming, and the final solution will be suitable for inspecting only a specific type of PCB. At best, these solutions may be suitable for highly technical rigid assembly lines with large production batches.

Additionally, another common attribute of PCBA lines is the constant change of the assembled module. In today’s global supply chain reality, component suppliers are constantly changing, which inevitably changes the appearance of the PCBA.

Given the dynamics of the PCBA market – and its need for customization, small-batch manufacturing, and the frequency with which PCBs change – it’s easy to see why the fixity of traditional MV discourages many manufacturers from switching. to automated QA.

However, to be globally competitive, PCB manufacturers must aim for nothing less than perfection. Autonomous quality assurance can give manufacturers the competitive edge they need and ensure that PCBs leave their facilities without error – after all, as Leonardo da Vinci said, “Details make perfection.”

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