Fresh PCB Concepts: Advantages of Application-Engineered PCBs

NCAB-JeffBeauchamp.jpgWhen working with your PCB supplier, do you have a dedicated engineering resource to help with the design of your PCB before fabrication? How about a resource that has experience and knowledge about the different applications for PCBs? This is one of the most important and valuable factors when producing high-reliability PCBs.

First, let’s discuss how field application engineers (FAEs) could be this resource. An experienced FAE will have experience with many PCBs for a variety of applications and have the capability and knowledge to recommend the best design practices, materials, etc. It’s best to have your PCB supplier involved as early as possible in the design phase. Approximately 50–60% of the cost is built in the design before we even see it.

Each time we receive a new PCB design, one of our FAEs will thoroughly inspect the design and all fabrication notes. During the engineering process, we apply specific demands to benefit the application. Maybe it’s a down-hole PCB, and the customer asks for FR-4 material. Typically, we expect to see a rigid polyimide material compliant to IPC-4101/41, which is intended for the high heat and harsh environment seen in this application. We first check if the material is correct. If it’s not, then we would ask our customer for confirmation the material requested is not intended for the application.
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The same goes for other applications as well. Maybe it’s a high-speed application, and the customer chose ENIG for a surface finish when we would usually recommend immersion silver. For example, we recently had a customer design a PCB to go into a thermometer, and the customer asked for low-temperature FR-4. We recommended a higher-grade material so that it can withstand a higher temperature. The customer was unaware of this, and it really saved them in producing the final product reliably and for volume production.

Even if it’s a new application for you, a knowledgeable FAE will have familiarity and experience with various applications and be able to share this knowledge with you. There are unique demands for each application, such as: 

  • Telecommunications
  • Automotive
  • IoT
  • Optical
  • Industrial
  • Medical
  • High-speed
  • Aerospace

Did you know that when producing PCBs for automotive applications, you must follow the IATF-13949 standard? Or with medical applications, ISO 13485 requirements must be implemented? This is knowledge your PCB producer should be able to share with you.

There are many other factors to consider, too. When we receive a PCB design, consider the following data:

  • 30% are not optimized for volume
  • 30% will have a mechanical problem
  • 50% do not know which factory to use
  • 70% do not know the unit cost of the PCB in volume
  • 30% have design errors

FAEs will implement a variety of steps to ensure seamless production by utilizing design for excellence (DFX) techniques. DFX goes beyond the traditional design for manufacturing (DFM) review and looks at all the factors from DFM through design for assembly (DFA). The value of DFX is reflected in the design phase to anticipate and solve future production problems. The later we find it, then the larger problems, the greater the cost to solve, and the longer the production cycle. The benefits of working with an FAE early on include a faster time to market, responsibility from design to volume production, and early identification of cost drivers and project risk. Sustainability is also a factor, as there will be less product waste.

My advice to any PCB designer is always to involve your PCB supplier, and the earlier, the better. And if your PCB supplier isn’t providing this type of support, I would be cautious about continuing to work with them. Application experts not only have in-depth knowledge of these applications but also an established record of success in supporting multiple types of technology in each application. Whether it’s your first flex-rigid design for a telecom application or an IMS for a power supply, consider having an FAE assist with your next project.

Jeffrey Beauchamp is a field application engineer at NCAB Group.

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2020

Fresh PCB Concepts: Advantages of Application-Engineered PCBs

09-17-2020

When working with your PCB supplier, do you have a dedicated engineering resource to help with the design of your PCB before fabrication? How about a resource that has experience and knowledge about the different applications for PCBs? Jeffrey Beauchamp explains how this is one of the most important and valuable factors when producing high-reliability PCBs, as well as what—or who—this resource could be.

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Fresh PCB Concepts: How Do You Calculate Finished Copper?

08-13-2020

How do you calculate finished copper on a PCB? This may sound simple, but Ruben Contreras has seen copper thickness called out either on the drawing or the specification, which can lead to additional EQs and, in some cases, additional costs. In this column, he explains the unintentional results that can come from misunderstanding what was requested.

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Fresh PCB Concepts: Pros and Cons of the 6 Most Common Surface Finishes

07-23-2020

There are only two different types of surface finishes for PCBs: organic and metal. Harry Kennedy describes the pros and cons of the six most common finishes on the market.

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Fresh PCB Concepts: 7 Options for Via Treatment

06-18-2020

In some cases, it's acceptable to have via holes that are completely exposed in a PCB design. But there are many others where the hole should either be covered and/or tented, or in most cases, plugged. Jeffrey Beauchamp shares seven different via hole protection types based on IPC-4761.

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Fresh PCB Concepts: Why Design and Produce PCBs Beyond Industry Specification?

05-07-2020

While questions may be an annoyance, especially when you finally have a board designed and are ready to have it built for a product, Ruben Contreras explains the importance of asking these questions and requiring specifications.

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Fresh PCB Concepts: What You Should Know About Your Board’s Solder Mask

04-09-2020

It’s a weird time we’re all in, and for most designers, work has slowed down or even stopped. While work might have slowed, now is a good time to review some of your past PCB projects to see if you can improve functionality and reduce field failures. Harry Kennedy explains how one of the simplest ways to do that is to start from the top: solder mask.

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Fresh PCB Concepts: The Benefits of Being a PCB Producer Without Owning Any Factories

03-19-2020

With NCAB's infrastructure and factory management team based in China, many customers ask why they don’t own any factories. Jeffrey Beauchamp explains how it's part of the company's long-term strategy and an advantage to our customers that they don’t own any factories. Instead, they “own” what is most important: the relationship with the factory.

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Fresh PCB Concepts: Controlled Impedance—Design to Testing

02-12-2020

Ruben Contreras often gets questions from customers on one of his favorite subjects in PCB design: controlled impedance. Ruben explains how controlled impedance is a science, which is why he likes it; therefore, it must be designed and tested comprehensively.

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Fresh PCB Concepts: Create PCB Fabrication Notes for Success

01-09-2020

When NCAB Group receives Gerber files for an order, there are times Harry Kennedy cringes because there are missing pieces of information necessary to make sure the PCB is made with zero defects. As we come back to work for the New Year, Harry shares some key factors he wishes customers would consider before they send their files.

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2019

Fresh PCB Concepts: Designing a PCB for Telecom Applications

12-12-2019

Jeff Beauchamp and Harry Kennedy discuss PCBs for telecommunication applications, including key factors to consider, such as design and material considerations. They also recommend involving your PCB supplier at the time of design to help ensure manufacturability at the lowest possible cost.

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Fresh PCB Concepts: The Current Material Situation

11-11-2019

We have all heard about the component crisis in the circuit board industry, and maybe you heard about the CCL shortage, but how many are aware of the bare board material shortage? Ruben Contreras explains the current material situation and tips to address this issue.

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Fresh PCB Concepts: Getting It Right From the Start

10-23-2019

When faced with critical time-to-market situations, it is all too easy to say, “It doesn’t matter because this is just the prototype; we can fix this later.” However, if the design is perfected from the beginning, cost savings can be applied, and manufacturability can be ensured. Perhaps most importantly, the design can be adapted with reliability in mind, leaving a seamless transition from prototype to production. How do we get it right from the start?

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Fresh PCB Concepts: Why Material Selection Matters

10-02-2019

When you’re designing a PCB, it’s standard to call out FR-4 material, but you could be holding yourself back or even exposing your board to risk by not knowing more about PCB materials. Let’s take a small look into why. What Is FR-4, exactly? Harry Kennedy of NCAB explains.

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Fresh PCB Concepts: Qualities of Medically Applied PCBs

08-26-2019

In this inaugural column from NCAB Group, Alifiya Arastu discusses details of PCBs used in medical applications, highlighting some of the differences in terms of demands and how the design must be handled.

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