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The latest technology behind PCB assembly

1 March, 2021

The latest technology behind PCB assembly

Without advances in equipment or technology, manufacturers would not reap the benefits of today’s high-speed, high-density, complex printed circuit boards (PCBs). Across many fast-moving industries, from computing and telecommunication to IoT, it is essential for contract PCB assembly service providers to rely on the latest PCB manufacturing methods and most up-to-date, modern machinery to get electronics built efficiently, precisely and to a high level of quality every time.

The world of PCB assembly is not about a ‘one size fits all’ approach. From shaping the boards and component placement to soldering, coating and testing, there are a multitude of machines performing different operations throughout manufacture.

An unwavering commitment to ongoing investment in its equipment ensures that UK Circuits can always guarantee meeting its customers’ requirements. Here’s a quick guide to show how technology in PCB assembly is meeting the needs of today’s customers:

Pick and Place Machines

As a key element of any PCB assembly line and considered to be relatively sophisticated, pick and place machines, as the name suggests, enable components to be automatically placed on a PCB quickly and accurately.

With some electronic circuit boards using a high number of very small components requiring very accurate placement, manual placement simply is not feasible. Pick and place machines pick up PCB components, such as capacitors, resistors and integrated circuits, and place them on to the board accurately and in a repeatable fashion.

Components are loaded up into the machine via many feeds on either side, known as smart tape or stick feeders, with the most advanced machines having the capacity for large numbers of them to feed in. High-end pick and place machines also have the capability to handle an extremely broad range of components of all sizes, including component reels and tubes, some extremely small, while applying very fast operating speed. An integrated computer system pre-programmes the machine, whilst internal high-resolution cameras ensure correct placements of components.

Reflow Ovens

As one of the most important elements of a PCB assembly line, a reflow oven involves the thermal processing of solder paste on PCBs. This reflow soldering process is used primarily on surface mount assemblies, rather than on through-hole assemblies where wave soldering is more commonly used, which is where specific areas are pinpointed for heating and cooling to solidify the solder without causing any damage to the intricate components. For large scale operations, the most commonly used reflow ovens have a conveyor belt to carry the boards through the different temperature zones, each with specific timings.

Stencil Printers

The printing phase is the most critical part of a PCB assembly. Using a stencil, this method allows for accurate transfer of solder paste when assembling printed circuit boards with SMT components. As it is becoming increasingly difficult for operators to solder SMDs manually, this simplifies the process of mounting small parts.

There are three different versions - manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic – with the most advanced automatic versions capable of being applying solder very quickly and accurately. Advanced machines have automatic stencil cleaning, enabling a very quick, smooth process.

Once the stencil is removed from the board, the solder paste remains and the board is then ready for SMD placement.

Wave Soldering Machines

Wave soldering is a technique used for both surface mounts and through hole assemblies, for fast soldering of boards. Far less widely used in PCB assembly than it was in previous years, wave soldering nevertheless is a process which can be used effectively in a number of areas, and involves the PCB being passed across a pan of solder, which has been pumped to create a wave effect. There are a number of factors which can all have a huge influence on the quality and functionality of the final product, namely the temperature of the solder, the conveyor speed and the board’s temperature prior to the process beginning. The PCBs are held firmly in place on the conveyor using metal fingers which are typically made of titanium in order to withstand the temperatures and ensure it is not affected by the solder.

Manufacturing the best quality PCBs means using only the best and most advanced equipment; for UK Circuits, there is no other option for creating high quality PCBs.

Want to find out more about your future PCB assembly partner? Talk to us now on +44 (0)161 654 5969 or drop the team an email at: