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Top Challenges to overcome while manufacturing Lead Free PCB Assembly!

By | Date posted: | Last updated: April 16, 2021
Lead Free PCB Assembly

You know that PCBs are the primary units in the electronic systems and PCB assembly is the most impacted phase in board manufacturing. The components are attached through a soldering process during the assembly of the boards and the solder used for PCB assembly has always been a lead alloy. However, in recent years, the safety of the people and environmental protection have become prominent issues for electronics manufacturers across the world.

There has been an increasing demand for manufacturing lead-free PCB assembly.

But it is not so simple as it seems at the outset. There are certain challenges while you use lead-free materials. Let’s dig into some of the frequent challenges OEMs face while manufacturing lead-free PCB assembly.

What is RoHS?

The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) is one of the primary standards enacted by the EU countries to restrict the use of toxic and harmful materials in the Printed Circuit Board Assembly. In 2003, the European Union adopted the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive which levies restrictions on the use of hazardous materials in the manufacture of both electrical and electronic devices. Some of the restricted materials are lead, mercury, cadmium, Butyl Benzyl Phthalate (BBP), hexavalent chromium, Bis(2-Ethylhexyl) Phthalate (BEHP), polybrominated diphenyl ether, and many others.

Among these, lead is one of the toxic metals that is increasingly used in PCBs and RoHS directive also includes the replacement of lead-based solder with lead-free alternatives. Compliance with to RoHS directive has become mandatory for European manufacturers as well as those who produce electronics products for the EU market.

Challenges while manufacturing Lead-free PCB Assembly

Here is a list of some of the top challenge’s OEMs face during RoHS-compliant PCB assembly.

Choosing PCB Substrate – The base or substrate of the PCB forms the crucial element of the circuit board. It helps in resisting and withstanding voltage, insulation resistance, dielectric constant, and more other elements. Hence, unlike the conventional PCB with lead-based board assembly, the substrate and finishing of lead-free PCBs should be separated and selected based upon their temperature attributes. This is because lead-free systems demand high-temperature and hence divided into several layers. So, there could be heat-related issues as the board gets heated multiple times when PCB rework is required. Hence, any OEM should focus on gathering efficient heat-dissipation elements and high-temperature tolerance materials. The lead-free finish is just one of them and RoHS compliance is just one of the considerations. Our experienced material management team and advanced PCB material management system can efficiently manage your projects and requirements. We have the resources available to locate parts and materials you need to eliminate the delay and reach quickly to the result.

Bridging at Reflow – Whether it is due to solder paste squeezing out between the PCB and stencil or due to PCB fabrication issues, placement pressures, or any reflow over settings, bridging at reflow occurs. But this can also occur when a component lead is exposed to heating. Lead-free packages usually have uniform heating and unlike Gullwing packages that have limited surface area amount, you have too much solder and this can result in excess spilling off onto the PCB. Hence care must be taken while reducing the solder paste volume. Make sure that it is centered on the gullwing foot and lead-free. Lead-free solders volume reduction can leave PCB exposed after reflow that impacts reliability.

Finding RoHS-compliant Components – If you give in for lead-free surface finish demands, you need to factor in high melting temperatures. You need to make sure the required components are RoHS-compliant, and one needs to make sure these are not from the prohibited list. Whether they are switches, or components, or some others, they need to work in all situations. Certain switches and LED components do not perform as expected under high temperatures. But we have good news for you! The RoHS-compliant components usually have high-temperature ranges. They function without any hassles even at extreme temperature ranges.

Withstanding High Temperatures – Temperatures reach unprecedentedly high levels during the reflow process as solder changes to a liquid form before cooling down. If you are going for a lead-free PCB assembly, then the temperatures are even higher which would have implications for both component selection and board construction. You need to make sure that your board materials selected shouldn’t have low decomposition temperatures which may cause irreversible damage when exposed to such elevated temperatures in the lead-free PCB assembly. If you know that high temperatures prevail on your board for a longer period of time, care must be taken while choosing components.

Moisture-sensitive components – When you go for a lead-free surface component or finishing, by default they are moisture-sensitive. These are coated with a moisture-protective package that comes with an expiry date printed on it. Any OEM that is going for lead-free materials should be mindful of the expiry date. The possibility of damage due to moisture or water vapor is high with the expired components. Another thing is if you for expired date components or the ones with opened packaging, make sure to heat them to remove any moisture trapped inside.

Ball-Grid Array (BGA) Solder – We know that a ball grid array comes with solder joints. And matching these BGA metallic solder balls with lead-free assembly types is not always easy. Usually, components work without any issues even if they do not comply with the lead-free guidelines. But that’s not the same case with BGA. If any non-lead-free solder balls are prone to lead-free temperatures and reflows, BGAs tend to fail.

How can you overcome the challenges?

Lead-free PCB assembly is becoming the standard today owing to the regulatory requirements as well as environmental concerns. You can ensure that your contract manufacturer (CM) picks only those components, soldering materials, solder mask, surface finish to be RoHS-compliant. Mer-Mar Electronics is the industry leader in delivering high-quality lead-free PCB assemblies. We have a strong supply chain of vendors and distributors and utilize advanced equipment and computer-based process to build your boards that meet all the regulatory requirements.

We have the capabilities to ensure that your design objectives are met and assist you to get started on the best foot. We furnish the necessary information for your DFM checks and make it easy for you to view and download the DRC files. We educate our clients about lead-free PCBs and assist them in making the right surface finish.

Conclusion

Each PCB varies from the other in the board design, while some remain simple, the others could be complex. Due to varying complexities of the PCB design, chances of lead-free PCB failure and the occurrence of issues or errors are bound to arise if adequate care and attention are not taken. Only an experienced contract manufacturer like Mer-Mar Electronics that has a deeper understanding of the process can overcome the challenges and fix any issues that arise in the journey.

If you are looking for a PCB manufacturer for building lead-free assemblies, you can upload your BOM files by requesting a quote for PCB assembly.

What’s the difference between Commercial & Defense Aircraft Cable Assemblies?

By | Date posted: | Last updated: April 14, 2021
Aircraft Cable Assemblies

“A good craftsman knows his tools”

But is that the same case with a layman? Suppose a layman looks at the cable assemblies, every kind of cable assembly is one and the same and does not notice any visible differences. Every kind of cable assembly has the same outward appearance and shows a similar construction. This makes them jump to the conclusion that all cable assemblies look alike and even the functionality is the same. But that’s a wrong assumption. In fact, it’s very naive to think this way.

Every cable harness assembly is different from the other one in both its form and function. Let’s say, a cable assembly that is used in automobiles is totally different from the one that is used in aircraft. And furthermore, do you believe that cable assemblies used in commercial aircraft are also different from the one that is used in defense aircraft.

Let’s look into what are the differences between commercial aircraft cable assemblies and defense aircraft cable assemblies.

What is a cable assembly?

Firstly, let us understand what exactly is a cable assembly. Cable assemblies are a group of cables that are arranged or bundled into a single unit for a particular purpose. Cable assemblies are often referred to as wire harnesses as well. These could be either simple or complicated depending on the application it has to be used in and the size it needs to be. For instance, cable assemblies used in an aircraft are comparatively larger and complex than the ones used in a car.

Cable assemblies used in aircraft generally involve having thousands of wires with hundreds of connectors. With these numbers, even a single cable assembly may weigh staggeringly high. However, cable assemblies take away the hassles of installing thousands of wires at a time. You can install everything as a single unit. It makes it easier to build them without the need for putting in wires one at a time in the aircraft and then thinking of connecting each wire to either connector or terminal.

This is the fastest way to route a group of wires that are bundled already instead of routing each of them individually. This not only reduces the space used but also facilitates the organization in a clean and neat way. This is also the easiest and quickest way of finishing the setup. Even repairs, replacements, and maintenance also become simpler and quicker.

Commercial Aircraft Cable Assemblies Vs Defense Aircraft Cable Assemblies

Both commercial and defense aircraft cable assemblies have recorded an increase in their revenue which has set out bullish trends in the industry. As both of these have started to surge, extra care and attention are being taken while procuring the components for both the halves of aerospace markets. The propulsion segments used in the aerospace industry outpace all other industry niches by a great deal.

Both commercial aircraft assemblies and defense aircraft cable assemblies use wires, connectors, contacts, and covers for bundling up. Both of these are tested the same way for continuity and insulation resistance. Basically, if we notice, there is not much difference in military and commercial aircraft cable harnesses. They are in fact essentially the same.

However, they do differ in one aspect. Quality Inspections! Quality checks for both are inspected and approved by different authorities. Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) performs the quality inspection for defense and military aircraft. However, if you have commercial aircraft cable assemblies, you do not need a quality inspection by DCMA. This is taken over by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). FAA usually requests the companies to provide feedback and focuses on continual improvements. The FAA also provides aviation industry Quality System Audits (QSA).

Bottom line

Mer-Mar Electronics is your go-to place whether you need commercial aircraft or defense aircraft cable assemblies. We offer comprehensive cable assembly services for high-performance applications like aircraft. You can understand how superior our cable assembly services are right from the prototype stage to production.

We also engage in various aviation projects like versatile helicopters, cockpit harnesses, radar refurbishing projects, fighter jets, light transport aircraft, missile launchers, and many more. You can also take a look at our aerospace electronics services. In addition to the various design and manufacturing aircraft cable assembly services, we also offer a wide range of options to our customers like quality management, support, and more. So, whatever your current Aircraft type is, Mer-Mar Electronics is meant to do miracles.

Get a Quote for Aircraft Cable Harness Assembly

The importance of ITAR compliance in Aerospace PCB Assembly & Manufacturing Company!

By | Date posted: | Last updated: April 12, 2021
Aerospace Printed Circuit Board

The aerospace industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in recent decades. Many developed and emerging economies have been keen on making their strides in the aerospace niche to have their mark on the global arena. These aerospace equipment are built with various sophisticated electronic assemblies and sub-assemblies. Care has been taken to diligently choose these electrical components and, safeguarding the intellectual property of these components.

With rapid advancements spanning every field, the need for increased regulation also has arisen especially, regulations in data and file sharing. This resulted in the creation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The influence of ITAR has become more valuable than ever before. International Traffic and Arms Regulation (ITAR) came into existence around 1976 owing to the need of controlling the export of aerospace equipment and other related sensitive information. The enforcement of these regulations became more stringent now.

Let us understand what goes into ITAR compliance and break it down for you the major reasons why ITAR compliance is vital for aerospace companies and why it is important for you to find an ECM that ensures ITAR compliance.

What is ITAR?

International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) monitors the import and export of defense-related and space-related services and technologies in the USA. The government has made it mandatory that all the manufacturers, exporters, brokers, and whosoever is in the supply chain to make sure that these services, equipment, or any related technical data must be ITAR-compliant.

While most regulations, industry standards, and restrictions on PCBs are intended to ensure quality, worker safety, reliability, environmental safety, some regulations are intended to protect the end customer and the broader public in general. These are valid in PCBs that are used in aerospace electronics.

Importance of ITAR PCB Manufacturing compliance for Aerospace

  1. Aerospace is a global Industry

    Aerospace is an international industry and the demand for airlines has been increasing with each day. The number of airline passengers is at an all-time high currently. If are you wondering how would complying with the US guidelines like ITAR is crucial for a global industry like aerospace? Undoubtedly, the US is a global leader in the aerospace industry and some of the largest aerospace companies in the world are currently based in the US alone.

    Hence both the domestic and international companies who eye on having a strong foothold in the US, try to comply with the US aerospace standards and affiliated security standards like the ITAR. Many companies strive to make their operations and products meet the basic security standards that the USA government has levied. Complying with ITAR ensures aerospace companies operate in the USA.

  2. Safety and Security Perspective

    Aerospace is one of the crucial industries of any country and it is inevitable that every aspect of it should be doubly ensured that no element ends up in unauthorized hands or used for illegitimate purposes. None wants their critical information and sensitive data to be compromised. Security breaches don’t include the theft of proprietary information alone, there would be potential loss of human lives as well. So, there is a component of human safety attached to the aerospace industry.

    With rapid advances in technology, the complexities have also increased and this even led to greater automation. New technologies have also paved way for many exploitations and weaknesses as well. The threats have also increased with many hackers trying to break into the system for data breaches. Imagine the repercussions if more there is a data breach! The hackers would have more opportunities for disrupting the flights.

    So, the need for strong data security measures is vital than ever before. Compliance with ITAR guidelines means more data security and safety to human lives. ITAR was designed to provide baseline data security for the aerospace industries. This centralized set of recommendations are meant to identify the potential security threats and to make sure these are adhered to.

  3. Avoid penalties and comply with the Enforcement rules

    Till now, we have been focusing on the positive business impact and data protection impact of aligning with ITAR regulations, lets now look into the consequences of non-compliance. Post 9/11, aerospace security has been bolstered with additional measures to safeguard the industry. The US government has taken every measure to bolster the security of people and the aerospace industry. So, when you fail to comply with these guidelines, being mindful of the human loss, there are non-compliance fines and penalties. This may vary from a few thousand dollars to millions. The fines of magnitude could cripple many businesses and besides fines, there would also be criminal charges in the most extreme cases.

How to ensure ITAR compliance?

Failure to comply with ITAR standards could mean putting your business existence in jeopardy. No company can afford to bear the consequences of ITAR non-compliance. You can first begin with understanding ITAR guidelines and identify where you need to make the changes. Find a PCB assembly and manufacturing company that offers solutions in line with ITAR guidelines.

Ensure equipment delivered to you is ITAR compliant which has the potential to put you ahead of your competitors. ITAR compliance is not a one-time effort. It’s an ongoing process and you should be committed to it. You can run a regular analysis or audit to make sure there are no potential breaches. Also, stay up-to-date with ITAR regulations and keep up with the emerging trends.

Not all aerospace PCB assembly and manufacturers have in-house capabilities to build ITAR-compliant aerospace PCB electronics designs.

Summary

Every OEM creating PCBs for Aerospace should ensure that the electronics contract manufacturer (ECM) adheres to ITAR. Any deviation or non-compliance can cause serious collateral damage putting not just your intellectual property at risk but also your national secrets out in the open. Smart aviation software is the key to ensure compliance with one of the most intricate regulatory systems like ITAR.

At Mer-Mar Electronics, we strictly adhere to ITAR compliance in regards to aerospace industrial applications and take extra care and attention to verify the nitty-gritty of the industrial appliances. The experienced team at Mer-Mar Electronics shows tremendous commitment to build ITAR-compliant Aerospace PCB Assembly. We at Mer-mar Electronics, we assist our customers from initial design to mass production & delivery stage; as one of the leading Aerospace electronics manufacturing service (EMS) providers.

Top Considerations while selecting a PCB Assembly Manufacturer!

By | Date posted: | Last updated: March 26, 2021
PCB Assembly Manufacturer

Are you wondering whether you need PCB assembly ever? Of course, you do. There are certain applications that do require low-volume or high-volume PCB assembly. But if you are constrained by the resources like budget, you would want a certified PCB Assembly Manufacturer to help you out within your constraints.

But what do you need to look for when choosing a PCB assembly manufacturer?

Of course, the cost would be your first and foremost priority. You need your PCB assembly manufacturer to reduce the cost which is the trickiest part in fact. Think about it, with the rapid evolution in technology, you often require the latest components and sophisticated parts but they shouldn’t exceed your budget limitations. The million-dollar question is how can you incorporate these modern components and out-of-box features within your PCB without letting the prices go sky-high?

Undoubtedly, your circuit boards would be amazing but if the prices are skyrocketing, can you afford to sell them? Less likely right? So, you need to come up with a solution that offers the best technology within your budget.

So how can you cut down the costs while maintaining the quality of the PCB Assembly?

Many PCB Assembly Manufacturers claim to provide you the lowest prices but how far their claims are true? Remember, not all PCB assembly manufacturers deliver on their promise of providing you high-quality circuit boards at a lower cost. You need to find if it is credible to believe that the PCB assembly manufacturer won’t compromise on the quality. So it is vital to find out a professional and reliable contract manufacturer that can balance both the quality and cost.

Stay vigilant while making the decision. Have a clear understanding of your project requirements and do thorough research on the PCB assembly manufacturers. You can gather as much information as possible through various means to avoid any further mistakes.

Following aspects when you are choosing PCB Assembly Manufacturer.

  1. Modern Equipment – For a high-quality and efficient board, you need to have the latest equipment. You can focus on choosing a company that uses Surface-Mount Technology (SMT) since it is associated with high manufacturing speed and placement of components.
  2. Single Supplier – Find a small-batch PCB Assembly manufacturer who can be your one-stop supplier for all your board needs. You can avoid coordinating and interacting with multiple vendors and multiple organizations. Everything will be handled by a single vendor.
  3. Ask for Prototypes – Irrespective of the size of the boards, you need to find out what the prototype looks like. Even if they charge you, it is better to go with it as prototypes will provide you to have a preliminary look at your design and work on improvements if required.
  4. Quality Certifications – If you want to make sure of the PCB Assembly manufacturer, you can verify their certifications to know their capabilities. You can check for certifications including ISO 9001, RoHS, etc. ISO 9001 is an international quality management guideline that aims to meet the consumer’s requirements and expectations. You can adhere to the product quality effectively and efficiently. Restrictions of Hazardous Substance (RoHS) governs hazardous substance applications in the manufacturing of electrical substances. Another Listing Service UL is also meant to test the manufacturing products thoroughly, ensure the right procedures and also reduce any product errors.
  5. Resources – Does the contract manufacturer has the resources for validating your design prior to the assembly? What are the quality controls for ensuring the standards of your design? Do they have adequate resources for optimizing the build? Find out their engineering capabilities for resolving the issues in assembly.
  6. Component Procurement – A huge amount of time and money usually gets wasted in components procurement. You save some overheads here by choosing a CM that offers components sourcing services. This helps you to avoid the unnecessary engineering process of assembling. This also avoids disjointed relationships with multiple vendors. The right PCB assembler would help you in easy procurement of the inexpensive components and place them on the circuit board.
  7. Optimize Designs – Perform a DFM check before you begin the manufacturing process. Design for Manufacturing (DFM) ensures that the products are easy to design and manufacture and these remain resilient.
  8. Via Tech – We know that Vias is imperative in building the board. There are a number of via types like buried, blind vias, and micro vias. Depending on the ones you choose, the overall cost also changes. The greater number of vias you need, the higher the price. So, make sure you ensure the proper arrangement of vias to build a cost-effective board.
  9. Flexibility – A PCB assembly manufacturer should be flexible while building low-volume and high-quality PCBs. There should not be red-tapism or multiple levels of bureaucracy in the communications and cordial relationship should be built.
  10. Surface Finish – Choose the surface that fits your requirements and also opt for a finish like ENIG, OSP, ENEPIG, HASL, etc. Surface finish ensures higher performance and solderability for preventing oxidizing.
  11. Layer Count – As you add more layers, your cost also increases. Since you are going for a small batch PCB, you need to make sure that you do not add any unwanted layers to enhance the complexity and costs in return.
  12. Size and Shape – Have an accurate design for implementing the functions within the low volume. The board should be able to have the requirements of the application. Use those panels that are of absolute necessity. The shape of the PCB also impacts the price. Going for regular shapes like squares or rectangles usually costs less.
  13. Bill of Materials – Provide a bill of materials with the list of items, raw materials, assemblies, sub-assemblies, and components to the manufacturer like manufacturer name, part number, top & bottom footprint, SMT method, package, case, description, quantity, reference, etc.
  14. Components Sourcing – A PCB Assembler would have cordial relations with a network of suppliers and distributors. They might be able to gather the components at the best prices. You can ask for the invoice to ensure trans.
  15. Order Volume – Order volume and commodity price are inversely proportional. The greater number of components you order, the lesser the price of each piece.
  16. Lead Time – Different PCB Assembly Manufacturers would have different lead times. Understand the order day, payment day, components procurement time to arrive at the lead time. The lead time and price are inversely proportional.

Bottomline

Finding a PCB assembly manufacturer is a tricky task. But if you focus on following the aforementioned tasks, you can easily find the best one suitable for you. You can focus on picking a PCB assembly manufacturer that has the engineering capabilities for providing you state-of-the-art circuit boards with less turnaround time and within budget.

At Mer-Mar Electronics, we have the expertise for your PCB Assembly low-volume runs and have the level of sophistication to help our clients with thriving boards. We have the specialization to provide full production runs in low-volume PCB manufacturing. Whether you need one or a thousand pieces, we are your one-stop solution for your PCB Assembly.

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