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PCB | May 28, 2009

Incorrect design of PCBs will cost customers big money

The reality is that quality issues and defects of PCBs can be very expensive. The problem lies not only in the production; a large number of errors already occur in the design stage. This stems mostly from poor communication between end user, EMS-provider and PCB-supplier.
Those quality cost - mentioned in many contexts – are in fact only a fraction of what the real cost is. Let’s look at ENIG – the surface treatment might not be solderable due to black pad – which results in an enormous loss should the PCBs not be accepted by the customer. The production of new boards can increase the capacity utilisation of the factory, could mean lost sales, increase in personnel costs (overtime, fault tracing), delays (which could cause cancellations of product launches), lower cash flow, lost orders, etc. These additional costs – can increase the PCB’s price manifold – and at worst could lead to the loss of this particular customer.

New directives and an increased demand of high-tech products make the manufacturing of board designs increasingly complex. Several process steps – involving many different technologies – make quality issues and defects more or less inevitable. Is there something like the perfect PCB?

I believe that, in order to minimize quality cost, we should primarily focus on three key aspects:

Collaboration between design, CAD, EMS-provider and PCB supplier
Choices made during the development of prototypes is sometimes – in one way or another – not optimal when it comes to volume production. Collaboration in the design stage - together with the designer, EMS-provider and PCB supplier – is essential. Here the PCB-supplier provides technical advice, e.g. panel arrangement, materials, choice of appropriate surface treatment, etc., to ensure a cost effective product that will be producible in most factories. It is during the development phase that the price for PCBs is determined. The ability to influence prices for PCBs at a later stage is negligible in comparison.

Cooperation with the PCB-supplier, who takes responsibility for the entire product lifecycle
A large part of the costs incurred in connection with poor quality stems from the fact that many different PCB-suppliers are used during a product’s life cycle. One company provides prototypes and another one is responsible for volume production. This creates a gap – and the customer will have to pay for it. If the PCB-supplier instead offers several manufacturing options - both in terms of prototype and samples, as well as volume production – an optimal solution can always be offered. Product information can be managed throughout all stages of manufacturing and can easily be picked up if necessary so that errors can be avoided.

Continuous monitoring
We are extremely good at creating activity plans and improvements that become worthless when not monitored thoroughly or not followed up at all. To ensure quality of design of PCBs, follow-up monitoring must be in place at the production facilities – done on a daily basis. Even simpler process steps that are not followed up may have costly consequences. One example is the flux – used in the relatively simple HASL process. Follow-up to, whether or not the correct type is used and the process parameters are in order will minimise the chances of costly problems. This may seem a trivial problem, but the fact remains that ‘on-site’ monitoring is necessary, even for ‘natural’ processes.

Many factors affect the quality of the PCB and the resulting quality costs. With a strong focus on collaboration, accountability and monitoring, we will be able to minimise quality costs. There are no shortcuts for the perfect PCB!

Author: Hans Ståhl, CEO of NCAB Group

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