Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are manufactured in large panels. Once the panels are printed, and all the connections are embedded on the boards, the assembly tasks are next. The pcb assembly process includes separating the panels into individual boards, attaching them to electronic components, testing the connections, packaging, and transport or shipping. Businesses have a few options for assembly.
Many suppliers have in-house departments that get the panels from manufacturing and assemble the boards, test them, and package the end product. Every step is completed by one business. That is efficient for quality control but is very expensive and not always feasible. Some businesses lack the space and expertise to build facilities and staff the workforce for assembly.
Purchasing, repairing, maintaining, and operating all the equipment needed for testing and assembly is a business in itself, not to mention hiring and training the workforce needed. Many companies, across industries, send their printed circuit boards to other companies that specialize in testing and assembly processes and procedures.
Testing, for example, can be done using a number of methods. Some circuit boards require manual testing, such as a visual inspection. That takes experienced technicians and specific tools. Other testing, like analog signature analysis and optical inspection, can be done through automation. Other testing methods include functional tests and in-circuit tests. Those are conducted after assembly when the power is on. Outsourcing testing and assembly is often more cost-effective for businesses than having it done in-house.
Most assembly processes are now automated for any type boards. Surface mount devices need several components placed on a mother board to complete a product, for example. Some boards have holes in them and can be connected via through-hole assembly. Other are connected using cable and wiring harness assembly. Different machinery and technicians are needed for each type. Manual assembly is still needed for more complex components and products comprised of several different printed boards.
Sending panels out to be assembled can help businesses stay competitive in a global market by allowing them to focus time and money on development of new products, lowering overhead expenditures, and taking advantage of the honed experience of companies that specialize in assembly.