Advanced Circuits Blog | PCB Manufacturing & Assembly News
Advanced Circuits specializes in printed circuit board manufacturing and PCB assembly, including PCB prototype and production circuit boards. Read the Advanced Circuits blog to get the latest information on the PCB manufacturing and assembly industry.
Printed circuit board assembly, also known as “stuffing” or “populating the bare printed circuit board is quite an intricate process involving many different phases. Advanced Circuits’ in house printed circuit board assembly service makes ordering your turnkey printed circuit boards a hassle-free experience because you can rely on the industry’s largest support team to help you navigate every step of the process.
In this post, we define some of the basic elements involved in the printed circuit board assembly process. For a detailed list of PCB assembly requirements, frequently asked questions, and a helpful Assembly Checklist, please visit our Printed Circuit Board Assembly services page.
Solder Paste – Solder paste is a combination of flux, a chemical created to assist in the bonding and melting of the metal, and small fragments of metal (solder) in order to apply the electronic components to the printed circuit board. The paste is placed on the board in specific places along the board in exact amounts with the use of a Solder Stencil and a paste application machine, automatically. When an automatic machine is not available to you, it must be executed manually and with the utmost precision.
Pick and Place Machine – This machine is essential in an automated printed circuit board assembly process. The machine is programmed to automatically coordinate with complete accuracy the places to precisely mount each electronic component to be soldered to the printed circuit board. These machines are exact and quick. Human pick and place has a much higher potential for errors in addition to being a much slower, more tedious process.
Infrared Reflow – After the precise bonding element (solder paste) is applied to the PCB, the board will be directed to the reflow oven to join the electronic components to the board by melting the solder paste. This “oven” is comprised of many heaters whose main function is to heat the board to a precise temperature and control the level of cooldown as the solder hardens. This process is crucial to the creation of properly functioning electronics. The printed circuit board will run through a series of testing to ensure no issues or short-circuiting nor misalignments have occurred.
Thru-hole PCB Assembly – A method of soldering electronic components in place by hand using drilled holes in the printed circuit board and connecting pads. This technique creates a stronger physical bond of the component to the printed circuit board but is much more time consuming and the cost of the printed circuit board can increase due to the higher volume of drilled holes.
For a more in-depth list of printed circuit board industry terms, please visit our Glossary of Terms page.
From simple prototypes to the most advanced of electronics require a custom PCB to be designed and fabricated. Advanced Circuits’ broad range of custom PCB manufacturing capabilities can meet the design requirements for all of your custom PCB fabrication projects for both prototyping and production quantities. Our custom PCB manufacturing capabilities to support circuit board designs with demanding requirements include: laser-drilled microvias, cavity boards, heavy copper up to 20 oz., via-in-pad, microwave & RF boards, up to 40 layers and others. To see our complete list of capabilities, click here.
Laminate Materials for Custom Printed Circuit Boards
Many different types of laminate materials are designed to properly meet the provisions of a custom PCB. Your choice of laminate material to use for your custom PCB will depend on your design and application requirements. Advanced Circuits offers laminate materials suitable for applications such as: High power amplifiers, Radar systems, Mobile communications, Complex microwave, High speed digital RF components and more.
Advanced laminate material options that may be used in the production of a custom PCB include:
RoHS Compliant Laminates
Advanced RF Materials
Advanced Signal Integrity
Advanced HDI Laminates
Custom PCB Plating Finish Options
A plating finish is comprised of precise amounts of metal placed over the uncovered outer copper and plated thru holes. Design engineers have the ability to precisely indicate and lay out the surface finish, solder joint integrity, shelf life, and compliance of the product. The following are PCB plating finish options available for your custom PCB:
For more advanced custom PCB designs, Advanced Circuits offers custom elements and features. Working with the right PCB manufacturer is crucial to the accurate execution of your custom PCB with advanced features. The following are additional design features for custom printed circuit boards:
Controlled Depth Drilling
Industry Certifications for Custom Printed Circuit Boards
Advanced Circuits has the industry certifications and qualifications to meet demanding requirements for your custom PCB requirements. Our PCBs meet IPC-A600 Class 2 requirements trusted for dedicated service electronics that require high performance & extended life. Additionally, Advanced Certifications for Mil/Aero, Medical, and Commercial applications are also available with our Custom Spec option. Advanced Circuits is MIL-PRF-31032, MIL-PRF-55110, AS9100D, ISO 9001 Certified, IPC 6012 3/3A, IPC 6018 Class 3 Qualified, and ITAR Registered as well as being DOD contracts ready.
Need to have your prototype PCBs assembled to receive turnkey circuit boards? Finding the right partner for your prototype assembly is crucial. Advanced Circuits is the leading PCB manufacturer that offers quickturn PCB prototype manufacturing and with in-house prototype assembly services for your small quantity needs with no minimum order requirements.
Why Start With Prototype Assembly?
Some design engineers choose to go straight to production after designing and manufacturing a PCB; this, however, is not wise. There are many issues that may arise in the many stages of fabrication, assembly, and testing. Here is why it is important to start with low quantity prototype assembly:
Cost – Prototype assembly of your first prototypes can lead you to discover ways to reduce costs in manufacturing and assembly of your circuit board; plus, mass producing a design with flaws can cost a fortune.
Discover Design Flaws – PCB prototypes may help you discover design flaws that can be corrected before your production run.
Proper Testing – Testing ensures proper functioning of your PCB design and reduces the risk of errors prior to production.
How to Choose a PCB Prototype Assembler
Before embarking on the design and production of a PCB prototype, it is crucial to select the right prototype assembly partner. Here are important questions to make the proper selection:
Does the PCB assembler internally manufacture the bare printed circuit board?
Will all or some parts of the manufacturing be sub-contracted to third-party?
Does the PCB assembler have technical experience and capabilities for your circuit board design requirements?
Does the assembler have direct and prompt access materials and components needed?
Can the PCB prototype assembler produce the pieces by the required timeline?
What Information is Essential for a PCB Assembly Order
Prior to a PCB prototype assembler beginning a new project, the majority will require this relevant information:
Amount of prototypes needed
PCB Gerber files
Bill of Material (BOM) detailing all components
Precise timeline of prototype turn-around
After receipt of the necessary information, assemblers can review the material and determine if they can properly meet the deadlines and specific execution of the PCB prototype. For a complete list of PCB assembly requirements from Advanced Circuits, click here.
Advanced Circuits is the best choice for all your PCB manufacturing needs, especially for demanding requirements that call for advanced precision and expanded capabilities. PCB manufacturing for both production runs and small quantity prototyping with Advanced Circuits’ broad range of services, such as quickturn expedite options, free PCB design tools, and in-house PCB assembly, make for a smooth and worry-free process.
Advanced Circuits’ three manufacturing facilities have the capabilities and advanced industry certifications to handle PCB fabrication of many different types of circuit boards; including PCBs for military/aerospace, medical, and commercial applications.
Below, we list common types of PCBs manufactured for various applications. For a complete list of Advanced Circuits’ PCB manufacturing capabilities, click here [PDF].
Common Types of PCBs
● Single Layer PCB
A single layer PCB can also be referred to as a single-sided board. These boards possess a conductor pattern on one side only and may have non-conductive components on the opposite side of the board. The board is comprised of merely one layer of a conductive metal layer (usually copper), finishing with a shielding solder cover called Solder Mask. These single layer PCBs are most commonly found in more simple electronics.
● Double Layer PCB
Also known as double-sided boards, these PCBs possess two conductive copper sides on opposite sides of a non-conductive substrate. The two sides may be connected to each other by small plated thru holes known as vias that let signals pass through from one conductive side of the board, through the non-conductive substrate, to the other side.
● Multi-Layer PCB
Three or more conductive layers in a PCB is commonly called a multi-layer PCB. A multilayer board is fabricated by using epoxy resin, immense pressure and precision. Materials used in the lamination process include: inner layer core, sheets of “prepreg” (woven glass cloth with epoxy resin), and sheets of Cu foil. Once cured, the resin will join the glass sheets, core, and foil together into the multilayer PCB panel. Advanced Circuits is able to manufacture up to 40 layers boards.
● High Frequency PCB
Each design of high frequency PCBs differs from the next. These boards were designed and created to carry electronic signals comprised of over 5 Gigahertz and require advanced PCB laminate materials for optimum performance. High frequency PCBs found in high-speed electronics and advanced technology communication products. Advanced Circuits works with top PCB laminate providers to bring you a wide range of material options such as high-frequency ceramic filled laminates, and other suitable materials for high frequency applications.
● High Density Interconnect (HDI) PCB
HDI PCB manufacturing requires an advanced level of technical expertise and the latest state-of-the-art equipment for exacting precision. Fitting more technology in less space through miniaturization, multiple conductive layers, advanced components, and lasered through-holes offer steady and rapid processing on a much smaller scale than its counterpart boards. Advanced Circuits achieves high quality and precision with in-house laser drill capabilities that include precise depth control. Laser direct imaging (LDI) capabilities ensure exacting registration and all multilayer inner cores receive a thorough check using Automated Optical Inspection units for excellent defect detection of the finest features.
Advanced Circuits’ PCB Artist software takes the annoying limitations that come with other free PCB design software and eliminates them to make it easier to design your PCB, quote, and send your part to production – all within the software. While many PCB design software packages are highly capable, they sometimes limit their functionality with paywalls or require subscriptions to enable them. These limitations include the number of signal layers, the size of your circuit board design, and the number of schamic sheets you can use.
Below, we list the many reasons why our customers choose PCB Artist for their PCB design projects and why it has become the best 100% free and unrestricted PCB design software available.
PCB Design With In-App Quote & Ordering – When you use PCB Artist to create your circuit board design, you are able to get a quote for the cost of the board with your design requirements. Once your PCB design is ready for fabrication, PCB Artist makes it easy to send your design to Advanced Circuits and process the order within the software.
Free Live Tech Support – It is not often that a PCB Design software comes with tech support, much less Live Tech Support from the industry leading PCB manufacturer in North America. At Advanced Circuits, we pride ourselves in providing outstanding customer service, when you order your printed circuit boards from us, you get hands-on support from the industry’s largest support team.
Huge Component Library – Designing your printed circuit boards with PCB Artist enables you to used its free components library of over 500,000 parts. While PCB Artist software also includes an easy to use Parts Creation Wizard, the Component Library lets you find the parts you need with corresponding symbols, footprint, and manufacturer data.
Powerful PCB Design Features – With our PCB design software you have the ability to create advanced layouts using multipage schematics, up to 28 layers, controlled autorouter, and many more features. PCB Artist has evolved and has been improved upon over the years to offer more complex features for advanced layouts with comprehensive tools while maintaining a user-friendly interface. Features include:
Native Eagle File Import
Symbol/Footprint/Part Creation wizard
Components/BOM/Positions CSV Export
Design Rule Check & Report
Individual Colored Nets Options
Ratsnest Connections Optimization
Design Status Reports
Moved Component Tracks Stay Connected
Integrity Check & Cross Probe
Adjustable Design Rule Check/Navigation
To download the full software package for PCB Artist, click here.
Creating a circuit board can be a complex process beginning with the design itself. With advancing and progressive technology, the processes have become increasingly simplified with the help of PCB design software and innovations in the PCB manufacturing industry.
Advanced Circuits is the leading PCB manufacturer known for its high quality and innovation. The company offers expanded circuit board manufacturing capabilities, quickturn circuit board prototyping services, and in-house circuit board assembly. To learn more about how Advanced Circuits can help with your PCB design, manufacturing, and assembly requirements, click here to contact your Sales Representative.
In this blog post, we discuss the basics of circuit boards in a general sense. For more in depth information and PCB manufacturing resources, click here to access our Circuit Board Resources page.
What is a Circuit Board?
The purpose of a circuit board is to hold copper circuitry (or trace) to conduct signals equivalent to the way a wire would, while acting as the physical support to mount the independent electronic components it connects together for a desired function. The copper trace etched on the circuit board supplies the direct connection. The material used as the foundation for circuit boards is customarily glass-reinforced epoxy laminate, but there are many different types of laminates that can be used to support different circuit board requirements and end-use specifications.
A PCB is the electronic device’s skeletal frame and a solid base. A PCB possesses electrical interconnections amid the mechanisms. There are a variety of circuit board types including: single-sided (one copper layer), double-sided (two copper layers), and multi-layer (inner and outer layers), microwave and RF circuit boards and more.
The 2 layer and multi-layer PCBs rank among the most popular and can harbor 40 or even more stacked conductive layers into a single circuit board.
How Does a Circuit Board Work?
Circuit boards are engineered to for many different applications and every circuit board design is intended to connect different electronic components to achieve a desired result, but most circuit boards make use of the following common components to manipulate electrical conductivity:
Capacitors – Store the electric charge of the circuit board
Resistors – Provide set amount of electric current resistance
Inductors – Stores energy as a magnetic field
Diodes – Enable the electric current to move in one direction
Other essential elements found in circuit boards are:
Copper – The copper layer is essential to the PCB and are thinner than its counterparts. The copper is responsible for carrying the electric charge.
Via holes are drilled by precise drilling instruments and cleaned to ensure they do not become clogged. Electric charge flows through these holes and is carried between each layer of the PCB.
Solder Mask – The last layer protects the copper and metal from damage. The solder mask provides a protective plating, which is usually green in color, but it can be any other color.
For a more complete list of key industry terms, please visit our online PCB Glossary.
At some point in your life, curiosity might’ve prompted you to crack open a computer or another electronic device. With its interior exposed, you discovered an assortment of chips, circuits, and etchings painted upon a green canvas.
That canvas, layers of copper and substrate, represents an ever-growing multibillion-dollar business. Having existed for the better part of a century, printed circuit boards are used in virtually all facets of electronics. As technology advances, the circuit board design continues to evolve.
Printed Circuit Board Design Advancements
From hobbyists to the aerospace industry, the applications of the printed circuit board have grown over the years. As these expand, so does the need for advancements in material and capabilities. This trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
Imagine the world before the advent of the Information Age.
Before smartphones and the internet craze, PCBs were already widely used – from toys to fighter jets. There was a time when pocket calculators were considered high-tech. As society grew more dependent on technology, newer innovations continued to be introduced.
Moving forward into the new century, electronics have become more powerful, compact and mobile. People have grown accustomed to being connected. The advances that provided greater connectivity also required more to be packed into each PCB.
Modern Applications in the Automotive Industry
Technology has become firmly integrated into all facets of our lives – including our automobiles.
The demands for safety, convenience, and connectivity require circuit board design to keep pace – if not stay a step ahead. Advancements in the automotive industry meant PCB applications had to accommodate these complex systems.
All new cars require computers to operate. PCBs are at the heart of these system designs and can range in type – including single-sided, double-sided, multilayer, rigid, flexible, and so on. They cover a broad range of applications that are spread throughout a vehicle’s operating systems.
Trucking & Delivery Industry
The initial investment is only the beginning, as there are expenses involved in keeping any vehicle roadworthy. This is particularly true of large trucks that spend their days traversing the nation’s highways.
It’s been stated that as much as 43% of the operating cost of a commercial truck is putting a human in the driver’s seat. With costs continuing to rise, it’s no wonder that the industry has shown great interest in self-driving technology.
While the trucking industry might be looking at autonomous vehicles as a means to save on costs, the consumer market seems focused on other goals. Today, personal automobiles offer incredible technological capabilities made possible by printed circuit board systems.
Convenience is certainly a factor. Still, it’s the potential benefits of safety that make the promise of self-driving cars so attractive. Many auto manufacturers are investing heavily in the future of this technology. It’s not a matter of if but when we’ll see cars driving themselves.
For now, personal automobiles offer precursors to self-driving systems, that take full advantage of PCB technology.
An automobile’s engine, transmission, and other components have various electronic control modules. As powertrain designs require more functionality, the number of modules must also increase. Without this medley of synchronized computers, your car wouldn’t get very far down the road.
Comfort and Technology Features
It’s easy to surmise that automotive features like smart keys and navigational systems require computers. Less obvious ones – including numerous sensors and the automatic braking system – are also peppered throughout modern automobiles.
Advanced Driver Assistance Systems
ADAS systems are electronic safety measures that provide state-of-the-art protections. These system safeguards – video cameras, radar receivers, and other sensors – enhance the driver’s ability to avoid potential accidents.
Dawn of the Autonomous Vehicle Revolution
Imagine a future where a self-driving car stops to pick up passengers. The autonomous drone navigates the roadways along a preset destination – while managing to avoid plowing into anything along the way.
Sound like something in a science fiction movie?
Fiction tends to become reality eventually. Autonomous vehicles already exist. In fact, many segments of the industry are actively testing this technology. Their wide-spread and commercial use are just around the corner.
Printed Circuit Boards in the Self-Driving World
Regardless of the industry, the move to autonomous vehicles requires advancements to make it happen. Printed circuit boards are more than an essential part of the equation – they’re a requirement.
Though technology has helped alleviate human errors that generally cause accidents, people are still skeptical about allowing machines to pilot themselves. A combination of reliable software and hardware is required to ensure as failsafe of a system as possible.
PCB Technology Pushes the Envelope of Emerging Innovations
The automobile had already grown into a complex collection of systems and software – even with humans at the controls. With the ambition of having vehicles take over the driving as well, it’s paramount that the brains of these decision-making vehicles are of the highest quality.
PCB manufacturing and assembly companies, such as Advanced Circuits, are positioned to be key contributors.
Advanced Circuits Leads the Way
In an impatient world awaiting the self-driving car, it makes sense to let a leader in PCB technology take the wheel.
Since 1989, Advanced Circuits has been a leader in printed circuit board manufacturing and assembly. As one of the three largest manufacturers of circuit boards in the US, Advanced Circuits is renowned for quality, reliability and customer service.
One of the few PCB suppliers for DOD contracts, Advanced Circuits manufactures 100% of their boards in the US. Along with the best on-time PCB shipping record, there’s also 24-hour tech support (where you’ll get a live person). Contact us today to discover our advanced PCB manufacturing capabilities.
Printed circuit boards are packed with different features and elements that make their design and functionality unique for their particular application. In this post we list key printed circuit board design terms that are commonly used in the electronic design industry. For a complete list of printed circuit board design and manufacturing terms, please visit our online Glossary.
Advanced Circuits offers many free tools and resources to help you understand the different PCB fabrication capabilities, tolerances, ordering process, and more. Click the links below to find our PCB design resources:
Annular Ring – That portion of conductive material completely surrounding a hole.
Array – A group of elements or circuits arranged in rows and columns on a base material.
DRC – The acronym in the circuit board design and fabrication industry stands for “Design Rule Check”. Similar to DFM which stands for “Design For Manufacturing”.
Finger – A gold-plated terminal of a card-edge connector. (Derived from its shape.)
Mouse Bites – These are also known as perforated brake-away tabs in printed circuit boards and are an alternative to v-scoring.
Pad – The exposed metal on a printed circuit board design that is intended to connect a component.
Panel – Material (most commonly an epoxy- copper laminate known as FR-4) sized for fabrication of printed circuit boards. The standard size at Advanced Circuits is 18″ x 24″.
Paste Stencil – Stencils ensure the right amount of solder paste is applied to achieve optimal electrical connections. See why Advanced Circuits’ stencils can help you apply the exact amount of solder paste to your printed circuit boards.
Pick and Place – The machine used to automatically place components on a printed circuit board. This process is also known as SMT which stands for “Surface Mount Technology”. Review our full list of PCB assembly capabilities to learn more.
Plane – Also known as a copper pour. Rather than copper in the form of a path or trace, a Plane is a continuous area of copper in a printed circuit board design.
Plated Thru Hole – A hole in a PWB with metal plating added after it is drilled. Its purpose is to serve either as a contact point for a through-hole component or as a via.
Silkscreen – The decals and reference designators in epoxy ink on a printed wiring board so called because of the method of application – the ink is “squeegeed” through a silk screen, the same technique used in the printed of T-shirts. Minimum line width at ACI for silkscreen is .008. Also called “silkscreen legend”.
Slot – Elongated holes in the circuit board that may be plated or non-plated.
Trace – A continuous path of copper on a printed circuit board that is the equivalent of a wire for conducting signals.
V-Score – A v-shaped groove cut into both the top and bottom of the boards for break-a-way.
To view our complete online glossary of printed circuit board design and fabrication terms, click here.
Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are the heart of all electronic products, but not all are created equal. There are many different types of printed circuit boards made from different materials and manufacturing specifications for a broad range of applications. Since the early 1900’s PCB have evolved considerably and today manufacturers like Advanced Circuits offer a broad range of circuit board fabrication capabilities, laminate materials, and certifications to meet the quality, precision, and performance demands for the latest technology requirements.
Below is a list of the common types of printed circuit boards. For a complete list of Advanced Circuits’ PCB manufacturing capabilities, click here.
Single Layer PCB
Single layer printed circuit boards are among some of the simplest to design and manufacture. These boards have a single layer of conductive material (such as copper) on only one side of a non-conductive substrate.
Double Layer PCB
Double layer PCBs have one conductive layer on top of a non-conductive substrate and another conductive layer on the reverse side (top and bottom layers). The two conductive sides can be connected using plated holes in the substrate that connect to pads on both sides of the circuit board; these are called vias.
This term refers to a circuit board that has three or more conductive layers. The conductive layers are at the top and bottom, as well as at least one conductive layer sandwiched between non-conductive substrate. Advanced Circuits has the capability to fabricate up to 40 layer boards, but the most commonly used have lower layer counts such as 4, 6, or 8 layer boards.
High Density Interconnect (HDI) PCB
HDI PCBs take advantage of precision based manufacturing technology to pack as much functionality into a small space. This is done by using many conductive layers, laser drilled microvias, fine lines and tolerances, and advanced laminate materials. HDI PCBs can accommodate the complex routing of high pin count chips and other high-tech miniaturized components.
High Frequency PCB
The main difference in manufacturing high frequency printed circuit boards pertains to the design itself. These PCB are designed to facilitate signals over 1 gigahertz. Depending on the application, high frequency printed circuit boards may require the use of advanced laminate materials and controlled impedance.
Advanced Circuits’ PCB manufacturing capabilities range from the simplest of designs to the most complex builds with rigorous design requirements. Our capabilities include laser-drilled microvias, cavity boards, heavy copper up to 20 oz., via-in-pad, microwave & RF boards, up to 40 layers and others. We are your one-stop solution to all of your printed circuit board manufacturing. For more information about our PCB capabilities and services, contact your Sales Representative or call 1-800-979-4722.
One of the most important aspects of electronic product design is the PCB layout. For this reason, Advanced Circuits offers PCB Artist, a professional-grade PCB layout software that is free and lets you create up to 28 layer PCBs and use its library of over 500,000 component to easily incorporate into your PCB. When you use PCB Artist to create your printed circuit board layout, you are able to place your fabrication order directly through the software, making it easier to transfer your layout files to us for manufacturing knowing your design will be produced as intended. If you are designing a printed circuit board for the first time, here are a few general tips that will help you get the perfect layout.
Check Manufacturer’s Tolerances & Capabilities Before Getting Started on Your PCB Layout
It may be best to review your PCB manufacturer’s capabilities and manufacturing specifications to set up your PCB layout software accordingly before you start. If you already have a completed PCB layout and would like to check that it meets all manufacturing requirements, you can use our FreeDFM tool to upload your Gerber files and run a manufacturability check within minutes. You will receive a detailed report of any manufacturability issues found in your PCB layout delivered directly to your inbox. Each time you run a PCB layout through the FreeDFM tool you also receive a discount code to use on your PCB fabrication order with Advanced Circuits for up to $100 off.
Determine the Number of Layers Needed for Your PCB Layout
It is important to determine the number of layers needed for the PCB layout that will best fit your application and functionality requirements. While more layers can help accommodate more complex designs and functionality with a smaller footprint, keep in mind that more conductive layers can also increase the cost of production.
Consider Space Requirements for Your PCB Layout
Calculating the physical space that your printed circuit board layout can take up is key. Depending on the final application and requirements, space can be a limitation and cost driver as well. Consider more than just the space needed for the components and their tracks, but also the circuit board mounting requirements, buttons, wires, and other components or other circuit boards that are not part of your PCB layout. Estimating the size of the board from the beginning can also help you calculate the cost of production.
Identify Any Specific Component Placement Requirements
One of the key steps in the circuit board layout process is knowing how and where to place your components especially when the location of a specific component is mandated by factors outside of the functionality of the circuit board itself; for example buttons or connection ports. At the beginning of your circuit board layout process, you should make a rough plan which will detail where the major components will be placed, this way, the most convenient design can be assessed and used. Try to always leave at least 100 mils between components and the printed circuit board edge and begin by placing components that require a specific location first.