PCB Assembly Techniques: Manual vs. Automated

February 13, 2024
PCB assembly techniques: manual vs. automated

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are the small (typically green) chips covered in lines and copper parts that you will find at the core of nearly every type of electronic device imaginable these days. 

These tiny chips are critical to the functioning of the devices in which they are located, providing electrical connections and mechanical support to the various electrical components of a circuit. However, before PCBs can assume this vital role, they must first go through a thorough assembly process.

After all, a PCB cannot function as intended until its components are mounted on it during a process known as PCB assembly (PCBA).

The copper lines on a bare PCB, which are called traces, electrically link various components and connectors to one another, running signals between these different parts of the board to allow it to function in a particular way. 

PCB assembly sets up the infrastructure to make this complex circuit possible using various processes such as mounting and soldering.

The Differences Between Manual and Automated PCB Assembly

When it comes to the assembly of PCBs, there are two main approaches: manual or automated assembly. There are some major differences that exist between these two techniques.

Both of these techniques have their advantages and disadvantages, and different PCB manufacturers vary in terms of which method they prefer. Thus, it is important to fully grasp how each of these techniques works and how they are distinct from one another in order to decide which of them best aligns with your preferences. 

Manual PCB assembly involves skilled technicians physically placing and soldering electronic components onto a PCB. This method is typically preferred more so when low-volume production or prototyping is necessary.

On the other hand, automated PCB assembly is more commonly used for high-volume production runs and involves the use of machines to place and solder components onto a PCB.

Therefore, in many ways, these two approaches to PCB assembly are totally opposite to one another. This extends to the benefits that each of them provides as well, as one technique or the other tends to excel in certain situations where the other fails, and vice versa.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Manual PCB Assembly

There are many reasons why you may opt for manual PCB assembly. For example, this technique provides more flexibility when it comes to design changes and modifications. It is easy for a technician to modify a PCB’s layout or components without incurring significant costs or requiring substantial downtime. 

Manual PCB assembly is also more cost-effective for a small-volume production run, as the necessary equipment is inexpensive, and the associated labour costs tend to be lower as well.

Finally, manual PCB assembly makes better quality control possible because technicians can visually inspect each component throughout the process to ensure everything is properly placed and soldered. 

At the same time, manual PCB assembly comes with certain limitations, such as the fact that it is prone to human error and technicians can occasionally make mistakes while placing components. 

Manual PCB assembly can also result in inconsistencies based on variances in the skill level of different technicians. As well, this technique is considerably more time-consuming, and it can take hours to correctly place and solder all of the components on a single PCB.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Automated PCB Assembly

Utilizing the automated approach to PCB assembly comes with several notable advantages. For example, this technique is much faster than the manual approach, as automated machines can place and solder PCB components in just seconds, which is why it may be preferable for larger-volume production runs. 

Automated PCB assembly also tends to be praised for its extreme precision and accuracy, resulting in the assembly of consistently high-quality products that have fewer defects. 

In addition, automated PCB assembly generally leads to a higher degree of consistency. When a run of PCBs is assembled in this manner, they are all identical in terms of their dimensions, component placement, and solder quality. 

The main disadvantage of automated PCB assembly is that it tends to be much more costly, as it necessitates the use of expensive specialized equipment as well as expert technicians to operate and maintain these machines.

As well, there is a general lack of flexibility with this technique since it is difficult to make modifications once a machine is set up to work with a particular PCB design. If changes are necessary, they can be rather expensive and time-consuming.

Additionally, extra quality control measures are required with automated PCB assembly. This is because there are no consistent visual inspections being conducted during the different stages of the assembly process (as there would be with manual assembly).

How Circuits Central Can Help Meet Your Manual or Automated PCB Assembly Needs

If you are interested in developing electronic devices that require high-quality PCBs and you need assistance with the PCB assembly process, it is important to work with a reputable company. 

With over 25 years of experience in the industry and a team of PCB technicians that have an unmatched level of expertise, Circuits Central has the know-how and capacity to provide consistently high-quality solutions that meet and exceed all of your PCB assembly-related needs. 

When you work with us to assemble your PCBs, you can gain access to our state-of-the-art flexible-by-design production facility and leverage it to produce top-of-the-line PCBs for use in various types of applications. 

Our experts know everything there is to know about the PCB assembly process and can handle either manual or automated PCB assembly, depending on your preferences and the volume of production that you require. 

In addition to PCB assembly, we offer a wide range of other services, from schematic and PCB layout design to product upgrades to post-manufacturing testing and development. Thus, we can help out no matter what stage of the PCB production process you are at, and can even handle the entire operation from start to finish if that is what you need. 

For more information about the benefits of utilizing our PCB assembly services, or to learn more about our PCB production facility, call Circuits Central at 1 (888) 602-7264 or email us at info@circuits-central.com.

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