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Publications - September 2015

Auditing your PCB partner

If we ask 100 electronic engineers and purchasing officers which qualities they look for in an ideal PCB manufacturer while auditing them, the list will be something like this:

A PCB manufacturer must

  • Follow and maintain all necessary quality standards and accreditations
  • Maintain good quality consistently
  • Be economical -not necessarily the cheapest but must fetch value for money
  • Possess strong technical skill
  • Be prompt in communication
  • Be accurate and consistent in planning and delivery
  • Easily be accessible without any language barrier – just a phone call away

Does your PCB partner possess all these skills? Let us explain how you can audit your PCB partner against every criterion.

1. Quality Standards and Accreditations

(a) UL Approval

UL approved PCB manufacturing facility is a “must” criteria for your PCB partner.The letters UL stand for Underwriters Laboratories Inc., about 120 years old independent facility set up in USA to test the safety of new products and technologies.

The key UL standard used for rigid and flexible PCBs (printed wiring boards) is UL796. For Flexible Materials Interconnect Constructions (FMIC’s), the correct UL standards is UL796F.

UL796 requires the use of UL94, the standard for flammability of all plastic material. The most common flammability ratings for PCBs are UL94 V-0 and UL94 V-1. UL94 V-0 indicates a sample stops burning within 10 seconds (30 seconds for UL94 V-1) after the source of ignition was removed. While burning, dripping of particles is allowed as long as they are not inflamed.

To prove your end customer that PCBs have manufactured in UL approved facilities, you may ask your PCB supplier either to provide certificate or print UL logo/UL number on PCBs. UL is extremely strict these days so it is very unlikely that a non-UL approved PCB manufacturer will accept such request.

(b) IPC Standards

Founded in 1957, IPC- Association Connecting Electronics Industries is a trade association whose aim is to standardize the electronics manufacturing industry. IPC was originally established as the Institute for Printed Circuits (IPC), which later changed to the Institute for Interconnecting and Packaging Electronic Circuits to cover manufacturing standards from bare board to electronic assemblies.

There are following IPC standards that relate to rigid and flexible PCBs:

IPC-A-600 – Acceptability of Printed Circuit Boards
IPC-6010 – Family of Board Performance Documents i.e. series of standards
IPC-6011 – Generic performance specification for PCBs
IPC-6012C - Qualification and Performance Specification for Rigid PCBs
IPC-6013C - Qualification and Performance Specification for Flexible PCBs
IPC-6015 to IPC-6018 – Qualification and Performance Specification for specialized PCBs (i.e. HDI, High Frequency etc.)

If you want to manufacture rigid and flexible PCBs, please ensure that your manufacturer follow IPC-6012 and IPC-6013 standards respectively. IPC-A-600 is NOT enough. It offers only visual interpretation of various inspection criteria.

PCBs (both rigid and flexible) are manufactured in 3 different classes according to the usage under IPC-6012.

Class 1 PCB – General Electronic Products
Class 2 PCB – Dedicated Service Electronic Products
Class 3 PCB – High Reliability Electronic Products (Class 3/A for space and military Avionics)

Major difference in these classes is in the degree of inspection and what level of acceptance that one inspects to – from class 1 being strict to class 3 the strictest level of acceptance.

(c) ISO certification

It is advisable to ensure PCBs are manufactured in an ISO 9001 plant and preferably with ISO 14001 certification. ISO certification ensures that the holder follows quality management system and standard documentation, which helps to track and control process variations and maintain consistent quality.

2. Technical Skill

Australia and New Zealand are one of those countries in the world that focus more on R&D than high volume production. It is because the labour is expensive in these two countries while quality of engineers is extremely good.

Since R&D activities are high, local electronic engineers always work on new technologies and designs, which end up in high number of new designs in small to medium volume production category. Therefore, PCB manufacturers need to upgrade their knowledge to catch up the pace with new technologies and processes. If your PCB manufacturer is not technically strong, there is always a chance that your design requirements will be misinterpreted or you will be loaded with many stupid questions. Ultimately, you end up wasting more time for either in re-making or correcting or explaining – in every situation you LOSE time and money.

The best PCB manufacturer is one who understands your requirement correctly first time, every time. It is the one who filters your design mistakes and makes you feel safe and relaxed.

3. Communication

This is the most important quality you should expect from a good PCB manufacturer. If you get “yes” in answers against following questions, you chose the right PCB manufacturer.

Does your manufacturer –
(a) always reply your emails and return phone calls fairly quickly?
(b) study your data and technical specifications in detail?
(c) clarify technical issues before the design gets released in production?
(d) prepare their own technical document and list your design requirements either in writing or using pictures to avoid misinterpretation, if any?
(e) share bad news as quickly as they share good news?

4. Economical

If your PCB manufacture has everything to offer but competitive pricing, it is worthless. However, it is unlikely that your manufacture offer best quality, technical expertise, flawless communication and yet be the cheapest. As long as their costing is reasonably competitive and always fetch value for money by saving you a lot of time and effort, you still hold a good deal.

5. Reliable

The real test of reliability is not just on time delivery every time but the approach and attitude one takes when something go wrong. It is very unlikely that everything will run smooth every time in real world. Apart from timely delivery, if you find the willingness and dedication in your manufacturer to correct things at any cost without wasting time, consider yourself lucky.

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What our client says?

QualiEco Circuits Limited has the potential to be an excellent supplier to us! We appreciate the quality of service and support that we receive from QualiEco Circuits. Always deliver what is promised.

Susan Chuard
Quality Assurance Supervisor