PCB Assembly Automation: The biggest benefits for tomorrow’s manufacturing problems
When it comes to modern electronics, printed circuit boards (PCBs) are a vital component for their success. While traditionally, PCBs were hand assembled which led to delays in production as also lack of consistency, with technological advancement it is now far easy to mass produce. In fact automation of PCBs brings with it a whole lot of advantages for business. Here are only a few of them:
With automated PCB Assembly, one immediate benefit has been reduced costs. In fact a number of assemblers assemble the board digitally prior to the actual production. It is therefore easy to fix any errors prior to the actual production process. This in turn helps avoid costly mistakes later on. The cost benefit also accrues on account of reduced employee cost that comes on account of the automation leading to significant financial savings.
Reduced probability of human error
The one thing that assembly of circuit boards calls for is an extreme attention to detail. This is more so since sizes are continuously shrinking and components are getting smaller. In turn this can mean increased chances of error in case of human intervention. With the process being automated the chances of error are significantly reduced. Automation not just reduces the margin of error but also optimizes the time taken for the assembly process.
Quick Product Development
With hand assembly since the time taken is more, it significantly impacts product development life cycles. By contrast, automation lends itself to quicker product development especially since you are assured of the board delivery timelines and can complete other processes parallelly.
With the error margins that need to be factored in on account of hand assembled circuit boards, consistency is always an issue. Automation, on the other hand ensures predictability and consistent quality.
Lends itself to production on a large scale
With reduced production timelines and reduced cost of production, automation lends itself to mass production. Also since consistency is a given, you can be assured that quality will be adhered to in large batches.
In order to reap the advantages of PCB Assembly automation, there are some design guidelines that need to be followed. In fact at the design stage itself, engineers need to take into account the fact that the process will be automated and hence choose a design that lends itself to mass production. Taking into account any assembly bottlenecks at the design stage itself, goes a long way in saving costly errors later. These days advancement in surface mount technology permits that even low volume prototypes can be automated bringing in the benefits of speed and precision. Wherever possible, the number of components must be minimized. This can be achieved both by eliminating any excess parts as well as combining two or more parts together wherever possible. In determining the excess parts some basic thumb rules can be followed. These include:
- Does the part need to be isolated from other parts?
- Does the part move relative to other parts?
Also automatic assembly guidelines call for the fact that components need to be:
- High quality
- Have tight geometric tolerance
- They need to have reduced number of screws replacing them instead with self-aligning features. This makes the assembly process fast as well as easier. In places where screws are a necessity, it will help to have identical screw heads.
- Additionally, components should not be flexible, fragile, or abrasive.
- Each part needs to be strong and rigid so that they can bear the forces that are exerted during the assembly process.
- Parts that can be easily oriented, also take away the need to pass reorienting stations before they are sent into the assembler. If this is not done, the parts may be rejected by the assembler.
- Care also needs to be taken to see that the number of assembly movements are minimized
- Also, parts that have been made using 3D printing, sheet metal are easy to modify. In fact the 3D modeling software ensures that scenarios are tested before hand so that costly mistakes can be avoided at a later stage.
More than anything else one needs to remember that automated assembly cannot make up for a poor design, therefore due importance must be laid at the design stage so that the benefits of automation can be realized later. Due design emphasis will ensure that there is little rework that is required later which delays the entire production cycle as well as the time to go-to-market, which in today’s competitive times can prove to be lethal.