How to Troubleshoot Common PCB Manufacturing Issues

March 5, 2024
How to troubleshoot common PCB manufacturing issues

Nowadays, more printed circuit boards (PCBs) are being manufactured, as they are central components in a wide variety of electronics. Still, the production process has not become much easier for the most part.

There are a handful of different approaches to PCB manufacturing. However, all of them are highly technical and require many steps that involve incredibly careful precision and accuracy.

In addition, as the need for smaller PCB designs grows in response to various devices shrinking in size for better portability and ease of use, the challenge of working with a plethora of minuscule parts and components while assembling a PCB has grown exponentially.

Main Issues of PCB Manufacturing and How to Troubleshoot Them

There are several different potential causes behind PCB failure. Even when a PCB does not completely fail, its performance may be negatively impacted by certain issues that can arise during manufacturing.

Fortunately, there are ways to troubleshoot these issues and strategies that can be applied as a PCB is being manufactured to ensure it is problem-free when installed in its end product.

The following are some of the main problems that could potentially arise in PCB manufacturing and some of the best ways to solve or prevent them:

1. Insufficient copper-to-edge clearance

As a highly conducive metal, copper is utilized as an active component of PCBs. Unfortunately, copper does not come without its flaws—it is relatively soft and can potentially corrode.

To accommodate these vulnerabilities, most PCBs are designed so that the copper contained within them is covered by other materials. Sometimes, however, if the copper is too close to the edge when a PCB is trimmed, a portion of this coating could also get trimmed, thus exposing the copper layer beneath it.

Such exposure could result in a wide variety of issues, such as a short caused by exposed copper planes making contact with one another, corrosion, plating voids, and even electrical shocks.

Fortunately, troubleshooting these issues is relatively easy, as it just requires extra caution during the trimming. Just make sure that the space between the copper and edge of the board, which is often referred to as the plate-to-edge or copper-to-edge clearance, is in line with the acceptable standards of the board type you are working on.

Performing a thorough design for manufacturability (DFM) check should also help catch any potential problems relating to this factor.

2. Soldering defects

Soldering is a necessary part of some of the main steps of PCB manufacturing. Still, there are other different problems that could occur during these steps, resulting in soldering defects and consequent PCB issues. Many of these issues can arise from poor welding; luckily, there are ways to counter each of them.

Solder joints could potentially be damaged or moved during the welding process because they are easily affected by external factors before they solidify. If this happens, these joints just need to be reheated so that they can be refused or corrected.

Another common issue is cold welding, which is when insufficient solder fusion results in a rough surface and a weak connection. This can be corrected by reheating the joint and removing any excess solder.

Sometimes, if two leads are welded together and the current is greater than the rated voltage, the components or the wires could be burned. The best way to troubleshoot this issue is to carefully control the amount of solder that you use.

3. Slivers

During the PCB etching process, narrow pieces of copper or solder mask, often called “slivers,” are occasionally produced. These slivers can lead to many problems during PCB fabrication.

The first way such slivers can be produced is when a very long, thin feature of copper or solder mask is etched away and detached before it dissolves, floating around in the chemical bath and landing on another board, forming an unintended connection.

Similar slivers can also form when a section of the PCB is cut too narrowly or deeply, leading to a completely or partially detached floating or peeled-back sliver.

The best way to avoid the generation of these types of slivers and prevent the problems associated with them is to design PCB sections with minimum widths. In addition, potential slivers can typically be spotted during a good DFM check.

4. Starved thermals

The small traces surrounding a PCB’s pads and connecting the pads to the plane are called thermals. They are important components, as they allow the pads to effectively disperse heat.

However, sometimes, there can be voids between a thermal and the pad or a thermal and the rest of the plane, leading to an incomplete connection and reducing the effectiveness of this heat transfer system. This is a problem because it can cause overheating or heat damage.

The most common deeper cause behind this problem is manufacturing issues taking place during the thermal moulding or machining process, like over machining or improper moulding. The best way to fix this issue is to completely replace the affected thermals.

How Circuits Central Can Help You Avoid Dealing With Issues During the PCB Manufacturing Process

Most of the time, the PCB manufacturing issues mentioned above can be largely avoided if you hire a reputable PCB manufacturer like Circuits Central to get the job done.

With over 25 years of experience in the industry and an unparalleled track record of customer satisfaction, you can be confident in the quality of work that our team of experienced PCB technicians will do while manufacturing your PCBs using our state-of-the-art facility.

The level of precision and attention to detail that we put into each PCB project we take on, and the high standards we hold ourselves to, ensure that we always manufacture high-functioning and problem-free PCBs.

We offer a full range of different PCB-related services. So, whether you need PCB layout design, prototyping, or assembly, we are able to provide the solutions you require.

In addition, if you already have PCBs designed and manufactured, but have run into issues such as those mentioned above, we can perform product upgrades as well as reballing and repair services.

Our ultimate goal is to ensure that you are satisfied with how your PCBs are functioning and that you never have to worry about failure or underperformance. This is why we constantly update and upgrade our PCB designing, manufacturing, and testing approaches to minimize issues.

For more information about how we handle PCB manufacturing, or to learn more about the practices we implement to eliminate manufacturing errors, call Circuits Central at 1 (888) 602-7264 or contact us here.

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