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So you have managed to sketch the perfect printed circuit board (PCB) assembly design. You cautiously created a layout of your components and respective traces for optimal thermal and EMC/EMI considerations. You even ensured that your PCB fits perfectly and conveniently within the secure socket of your product. 

However, there is just one issue. You contact your regular fabrication house only to find out, the transfer conveyors they have on their production machinery cannot process single boards. They inform you that your conveyor width has to be 2 inches or more. 

Eager to get your order, chances are their sales liaison will recommend you to make your design bigger or try PCB panelization. 

However, the designed enclosure on your product does not have ample margin for expansion of the width of your PCB. Even if it could, the price to do so for a single board will be too steep. PCB panelization is an ideal solution for such situations. 

Let us find out what PCB panelization is and how it can be helpful for your manufacturing needs. 

What is PCB Panelization?

It is a technique used in the manufacturing process. This process enables smaller manufactured boards connected en-masse as a single array. The whole exercise makes it easier to transition through the assembly line. 

There is another term used for PCB panelization known as “Array.” In other words, it is a process of combining your single printed circuit board multiple times to create a larger array of boards connected together. It is also known as “stepping out.” 

The whole process of PCB panelization is reversible; hence you can easily remove or de-panelize boards individually from the array for installation or packing into a product. Alternatively, you can also use panelization to create an edge around an individual board to increase the width that fits the assembly line. 

Factors to Consider

If you wish to reap the benefits of panelization in a mass production environment, it is essential to embed the following design considerations in your PCB assembly. 

PCB-Array Strength

There is a tradeoff when it comes to the array’s integrity and ease of de-panelization during the product. Increasing your per array board count can also increase the strength while reducing the vibration. 

Component Layout

Placement of all the connectors and components, especially the ones hanging off the board’s edge, can limit panelization options. Be thoughtful of where you locate the sensitive SMT components on the edges.

PCB Shape

The board’s shape can cause complications in the panelization process. Rectangles are ideal; however, if your board’s shape is complex, using a CAD program can help you fit an unusually shaped PCB into the desired array. 

Tooling Holes

Breakaway process edges and arrays can provide you spaces for tooling holes. It will help you run automated testing on your PCB assembly line. 

How to Panelize Your PCBs for Assembly

There are two ways to panelize your PCB for assembly.

V-Groove

Using V-groove panelization, you use a triangular saw to cut approximately one-third into each side of your PCB panel. It leaves you with a thin sector for FR4 that holds PCBs together, so you can separate them using a simple tool.

You can only use this panelization process on designs with straight lines separating all the PCBs. But you cannot use the v-groove technique if PCB components are hanging over the edges of any of the boards. Using V-groove panelization would damage your board. 

However, V-groove is a faster route to panelize your boards, plus it adds little space to the overall size of your panel, reducing the costs. 

Tab-Route Panelization

For boards that are inseparable by straight, simple lines or if a PCB design involves multiple boards with various designs, tab-route panelization is the solution. It is a far more flexible strategy for board panelization. 

In this process, you use a router for cutting through FR4 between PCBs. It leaves small tabs to hold all the boards together when going through the assembly. You can break these tabs apart by hand or using de-panelization tools 

Tab-route allows your boards to have components overhanging from the edges. Typically, a tab-routed PCB has a series of holes, making the separation of the boards easier.

At Nova Engineering, we are ready to help you with any PCB orders or issues you may have. Contact us today!

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Nova is a full-service printed circuit board assembler located in Denver, Colorado.