How it’s Made Printed Circuit Board Fabrication

Prototype circuit boards

Believe it or not, printed circuit boards (PCBs) are all around you. They’re designed to mechanically support and electrically connect electronic components using conductive pads, tracks, and other features in various devices like computers, keyboards, and even your phone.

Though you may not realize it, prototype printed circuit boards are extremely important to the level of technology in the world today, and without them, most of it wouldn’t be working. So if you’re wondering how it works, here’s a short glimpse into the fabrication process.

Manufacturing starts from PCB fabrication data generated by CAD. Although this data is never used directly on the manufacturing equipment, it is always read into the CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) software in production.

After all of the data has been processed and verified, prototype PCB panelization occurs. This process is a procedure in which a number of PCBs are grouped for manufacturing onto a larger board — the panel. Usually this panel consists of a single design, but sometimes multiple designs can be compiled on a single panel. There are two types of panels: assembly panels — often called arrays — and bare board manufacturing panels.

Once the panelization process has been completed, all of the digital tools are output; copper patterning, chemical etching, and drilling being among these processes.

After each of those PCB fabrication processes is complete, the unpopulated circuit boards go through what is called a “bare-board” test for any shortages or open circuits. If everything tests well and functions properly, the board moves on to assembly.

During prototype PCB assembly, the bare board is equipped — or populated — with all of the electronic components it needs to form a functional printed circuit board assembly. After the board has been assembled, it goes through another round of testing, both with and without power. One of the tests is simply a visual test to ensure that everything looks to be properly installed.

Once all of the assembly and testing is complete, the circuit boards are ready to go. They must be handled with precise instructions to ensure that they function properly once they’ve reached their final destination, which could be in a computer, or even in your phone.

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