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Something that I frequently hear these days is that we are losing the older, seasoned, well-trained people in the PCB business—people who really know how to manage and keep a plating area producing high-quality product. The entire process of plating from end to end, with all its subtle nuances and time-learned tricks, is not something you can just pick up in a few years.
A good plating manager is a seasoned veteran with many years of hands-on experience and probably an engineering degree. I also see firsthand how PCB manufacturers, without the proper plating shop set-up operations, knowledge and experience, adapt and accept poor practices as normal while they continue with poor quality processes—even after attempted corrective input from vendors and consultants. These same companies accept their yields at 70%, while unnecessarily losing millions each year, and just accept it as part of doing business. Yet when told of other manufacturers who are routinely above 98% first-pass yield, they argue with you, find 100 reasons why you’re wrong, and do nothing about their own situation.
So I’ve documented a few of the bigger mistakes I see PCB shops making in the hope of educating readers and changing the way they look at the plating process as a built-in quality requirement, rather than just a dirty, stinky old line that plates copper.
First, if you need rubber boots to walk in your plating area, then it’s time to clean it up; good plating areas are clean, well-lit, low-dust areas that have well thought out ventilation. A dirty plating area is hard on quality, because you are fighting contamination and dirt; both have potentially big effects on plating. If your copper tanks sit uncovered and there is dust in the air from either a routing operation that’s too close or open doors to the great outdoors, the dust will settle into the tank and give you plating bumps. I have seen plating areas where all boards had to be sanded flat because the copper bumps were so frequent and large. Typically we sort out the problem by finding the dust source, correcting it, super-cleaning the tanks, and adding new solution.
This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of The PCB Magazine.