How to Cut Costs by Improving Quality During Contract Assembly

With so many manufacturers faced with the prospect of cutting quality in order to cut costs – we’ve learned that a more quality-oriented alternative isn’t just possible, but more viable and effective in the long-term. With this in mind, it’s important to consider the contract assembly process a critical opportunity to add value and lower costs.

In addition to being low-cost, a company’s PCBA must function well—which means that the assembly process must take into account the tolerances of both the board and its included components. A properly designed PCBA helps to improve quality, reduce manufacturing time and lower product cost.

Quality assembly takes every factor into consideration to help eliminate errors and prevent costly delays. Following, you will find the hallmarks of our approach to maximizing quality and savings throughout the contract surface mount assembly process.

  • Identify build standards and assembly documentation early: IPC-A-610 is accepted worldwide as a standard for high-quality, high-reliability PCBA assemblies. Some assemblies may require different workmanship standards as laid down by IPC-A-610.
  • Maximize automation: The more hand assembly you rely on, the greater your costs will be. It’s that simple. There are plenty of automated contract manufacturing companies in the U.S. and abroad that can help you keep costs low.
  • Minimize damage with careful placement: Components should be placed 6.35 mm from the PCB edge. With regard to potential damage during depanelization, parallel to the edge is better.
  • Plan for delicate components: Delicate components, such as ceramic capacitors, are at risk of cracking when they are placed too close to the edge. Manufacturing equipment clamping mechanisms require un-obstructed room to grab the PCB effectively.
  • Component spacing is critical: This is particularly true around ball grid assemblies (BGAs)—.150″ spacing is recommended. This spacing allows enough room for hot air rework tools if upgrades or replacement is required.

Bonus Tip: Good Assembly Documentation is Vital

In addition to all of the above steps. High-quality assembly at an efficient price can never come if expectations and specifications aren’t clear. This is where assembly documentation comes in.

  • Specify the Solder Type: In order to prevent unwanted delays or expenses, assembly documentation should always specify the solder type. Whether it’s  tin-lead material or RoHS and Flux, this is the type of essential information that should be readily available.
  • Include labeling and traceability requirements:  Identifying product labeling and traceability requirements on assembly documentation is an extra step that can severely reduce headaches further down the line. The label location should be identified with a box in the silkscreen layer.

Better contract assembly is something Distron takes seriously. Contact us today to learn how. For insight into how we approach efficient and effective contract manufacturing for a wide variety of specifications, visit our case studies page.


How to Raise the Bottom Line on the Bill of Materials

Lately, we’ve used our blog to discuss an important topic for manufacturers everywhere: cutting costs without going offshore. Previously, we covered how to manufacture a lower cost circuit board assembly through smart design and smart communication. 

Today, we’re talking about how to achieve a low-cost BOM.

It Starts with Supply Chain Expertise
(But there’s more…)

Supply chain expertise is required for a low-cost BOM—but it’s not the only element that requires care and attention. In order to smooth the actual process of assembly, PCBA designers must work closely with contract manufacturers as well as component suppliers.

For a lower-cost bill of materials, try to follow these guidelines.

  • The contract manufacturer and the client company need to be on the exact same page regarding the BOM. Therefore, each component needs to have comprehensive documentation: manufacturer and manufacturers’ part number, a quantity per assembly, a reference designator, and a part description. This last must include general information like commodity type, package size, and a component footprint.
  • Designers should select components for availability first, then unit cost, and then package size (again, with an eye toward minimizing the size of the PCB).
  • Provide multiple sources, or allow for equivalent parts, particularly for passive components such as resistors, capacitors, and diodes.
  • Standard component packages from standard manufacturers will tend to have the highest availability—use these whenever possible. Components that are in production and available through a source such as Digi-key will fit these criteria, with a reasonable lead time.
  • SMT components tend to be smaller and less expensive, and can be mounted to both sides of a board, increasing flexibility in design. For all the most rugged applications, SMT components should be considered before through-hole components. For more guidance as to which components to select for various use-cases, work with a Field Application Engineer from a major distributor.

Have a question about contract manufacturing or assembly? Trust the expertise of New England’s first electronic contract manufacturing company. 

The Balls that Keep Your Electronics Rolling: BGA Assembly and Repair

You constantly rely on BGA assemblies. Chances are you may realize that. We deal with the technical side of BGA repair and assembly every day. So sometimes its nice to talk about how the technologies are used and why they matter. No matter how familiar you are with the oh-so-important ball grid array, read on to learn more. Or contact us today if you’re looking for a quote for BGA repair or BGA assembly.

The  golden specks are actually the "ball" part of a ball grid array.
The golden specks are actually the “ball” part of a ball grid array.

There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of technological advancements and innovations that make the things we take for granted every day possible. From the microchip to flexible circuits, there are tiny things inside the things inside your pocket, your briefcase, and your backpack that you don’t even realize are there, and they have all undeniably changed your life. Ball grid arrays are one of those things.

A ball grid array, or BGA is a direct descendent of the pin grid array (PGA) and used to conduct electrical signals from the integrated circuit to the printed circuit board of an electronic component. Virtually all electronics contain printed circuit boards. While a PGA is comprised of pins, the BGA is made up of ball of solder – stuck to what is known to the “package”.

While pin grid arrays were effective, they did present a few disadvantages. For example, if you were to empty the contents of your pockets, chances are you would be left with your keys, some change, maybe some lint, and your cell phone. Years ago, cellular phones were the large artifacts you’ll now only see in a re-run of Miami Vice. Today, they’re small, compact, and ultra-portable. Ball grid arrays help make this possible by being the ideal solution for producing a miniature package more efficiently and effectively. With a PGA, as more and more pins were being soldered to a package, the unacceptable risk of bridging them was growing. BGA’s factory soldered to the package solved this problem, allowing for high density and reduced heat conduction.

However, there are disadvantages. One key disadvantage of BGA’s is the fact that solder balls on a ball grid array can not flex.  This can lead to fracturing, but can also be alleviated by more effective design and compatibility between the substrate of the circuit board and the BGA. Many times, BGA’s require inspection and repair. This is done with special X-ray machines, microscopes, and industrial CT scanning machines.

After inspection, if a BGA is badly soldered or in need of repairs it can be removed at a rework station with an infrared lamp, a thermocouple, and a vacuum for lifting the package. This allows technicians to replace, refurbish, reball, and reinstall the BGA to return it to working order. Many times, because X-ray and CT Scan testing is cost prohibitive, the go-to solution for inspection and repair begins with electrical testing and boundary scanning – a method for testing the interconnects on a printed circuit board or integrated circuit.

Regardless, ball grid arrays are responsible for many of the compact electronics you use today. Chances are, if you were to violently throw your laptop into oncoming traffic, one of the pieces you would recover would be a ball grid array. While it’s not a recommended course of action, it simply goes to show how widespread BGA assembly and repair is.

Surface Mount Assembly: The Valuable Surface Beneath the Surface

Beneath the surface of just about everything you rely on, from the computer in your car or the one on your desk at home, to the tiny one slowly wearing a hole in the pocket of your favorite pair of jeans. Printed circuit boards are everywhere, and they would be nothing without surface mount assembly, and that is why surface mount assemblies are the critical surface beneath the surface of virtually all the electronic equipment you use. So, what exactly is surface mount assembly?
Surface mount technology is a method used for constructing electronic circuits where the components that actually bring functionality to the assembly are mounted directly to the surface of the printed circuit board. In the past, instead of the components being mounted to the printed circuit board, they all had individual connections – which lead to very inefficient management of space and a level of performance that would eventually be overshadowed by surface mounting. Think of it this way, the old way was a mess of tangles and knots – the difference between a groomed show dog and a gnarly mess that’s been playing in the gutter for too long. With surface mount technology, devices can afford to be smaller, more compact, and better all-around products. surface-mount-assy

The main advantages of surface mount technology include the ability to incorporate smaller components in much greater number, fewer holes needing to be drilled through the PCB, much simpler (a nd much faster) automated assembly, and the ability to place components on both sides of the circuit boards.

Surface mounting technology was first pioneered in the 1960’s and came into prominence in the 1980’s when more and more consumer electronics and computers were being used. For the most part, the majority of research, development, and early testing was undertaken by IBM. With these new developments, components began getting smaller and smaller, allowing for greater circuit densities – bring greater capabilities to electronics without having to increase size, but instead decreasing space requirements. In the 1980’s the rapidly increasing popularity of surface mounting technology allowed for a greatly enhanced degree of automation, which reduced costs of production, increased production rates, and made many types of electronic devices readily available to a wider group of consumers.

So as you see, without surface mount technology, many of the commonplace products we have today ranging from simple toys and advanced consumer electronics to computer components and high tech missile systems would not be possible. When you reach for your mobile phone resting in your pocket or your ultra-portable laptop safely stowed away in your bag, think about what makes it all possible. Chances are in many cases, you have the early pioneers of technologies like surface mounting to thank.