Circuit boards are the heart of just about any piece of electronic item that you use. China is responsible for a big chunk of the world’s circuit board production. In hindsight, printed circuit boards are a specific assembled product, even though they may look very complicated. The United States have largely relied on China for PCB production, but there seems to be a re-shoring trend underway.
The Re-Shoring Trend
Re-shoring is the act of having production units that were outsourced at foreign locations back to your hometown. US PCB companies have been setting up production units back to their hometowns and shutting down operations in other countries. The reason for this move is the increasing amount of labor costs in other countries, paired with the prevailing supply chain issues that are slowing down delivery times.
Not only that, due to the Geopolitical tensions, US citizens now demand that the products they consume are natively built. There is also a threat of intellectual theft when you hand over technical operations to other countries. Taking all of these existing factors into account, the re-shoring trend has become evident.
Below, you can get a glance of the technical process.
The Very First Step
Before a design file can be put into production, engineers will first glance at the file to ensure there are no inconsistencies within the design. Engineers need to check things such as trace gaps, files, drills, and other aspects of the digital PCB design they receive. This will ensure that the engineer did not design the PCB in a way that you cannot manufacture it.
Printing the Design onto Film
Once the design is reviewed and corrected, the design will then turn into films. You can make films and use light to project an image onto a board with a photoresist. This is similar to how you would expose a photograph. Once you have the design, you need to transfer it onto a copper board blank. Before you can shift the film onto the blank board, manufacturers will first prepare the board.
The PCB board is manufactured using a layer of fiberglass in between and then gluing copper on the outside. In a large-scale manufacturing unit, large sheets of blank PCB boards are cut down into smaller components. After the board is cut, it is sent to the drilling unit. There are two reasons manufacturers drill a printed circuit board.
The first is to connect the components, and the other is to accommodate the wire holes connecting the copper layers. To begin with the drilling process, an operator will take an MDF board as exit material.
They will then attach an aluminum sheet on top of the board, which acts as an entry for the machine drill. This machine is fully automated, allowing it to select the right size of the drill. After doing so, it loads it into the drill head.
Most PCB manufacturing units in China will use highly optimized drills that can rotate up to 15 thousand revolutions per minute. After that, the corners are trimmed to make them rounded, and the surface is cleaned. Then, the machine automatically smoothens the edges of the board.
The steps that follow allow the board to go through a series of processes where copper is plated, and a printer prints photosensitive film to the copper board. Once the film is attached, further mechanical processes and solder masking will lead to the completion of the printed circuit board.
The solder mask protects that copper surface. The attachment of the components and testing is done with the help of machines. After the testing is complete, workers will separate all individual PCBs from the large production panel.