Contract Electronics Manufacturing and PCB Assembly Blog

Major Consumer Trends In Assembly Electronic Devices

Posted by Matthew Turpin on Thu, Aug 20, 2015 @ 07:00 AM

EMS-Electronics-DesignThe market for consumer electronics is constantly changing, as well as constantly looking for the next-best-thing on the horizon.  In certain ways, this makes it easier for companies looking to enter these markets to find an entry point.  All the prognostication usually lays out very good ideas for introducing new products, and what features will be expected.

So if you're looking for markets to focus on for an upcoming product, these would all be good bets to target.

Growing Markets Perfect For Upcoming Assembly Electronics Projects

1 - Smart Homes \ Appliances

Just in time for Back to the Future's predictions about future tech in 2015, Smart Home technologies are here and rapidly gaining in the marketplace.  Growth is expected, according to current trends, to be at roughly a 67% compounded rate for the foreseeable future.  This is a huge growth sector, and one which can be fueled by both new home buyers as well as those simply replacing old appliances as they wear out. 

One critical issue here is one of ecosystems.  So far, most smart appliances are self-contained or using manufacturer-specific standards.  The first companies to collaborate and agree on a single set of unified specs are likely to clean up.

2 - Wearables

Even though the jury is still out on whether the Apple Watch was a good idea - or even sufficiently successful - there's no doubt that wearable technology is still big business that's poised to grow sharply in the years ahead.  This is being led by the fitness market, which is happily embracing any low-weight device that can improve their workout without adding bulk.  

Likewise, the potential in medical fields for wearables is enormous and, arguably, not coming fast enough.  Bio-monitors are becoming available that allow for surprising levels of detailed tracking, plus the possibility for blood\toxin monitoring, such as wrist-mounted blood-glucose meters.

3 - Virtual and Augmented RealityAssembly-Manufacturing-2

We've been promised goggle-based computing for at least twenty years now, and we're finally close to it becoming a reality.  Several high-profile projects, including Facebook's Oculus Rift and the recently re-released Google Glass suggest that this is finally an area of electronics worthy of serious consideration.

In our view, look ahead to AR rather than VR.  VR will be great for video games and -maybe- movies, but that's about it.  The way VR blocks outside visuals and audio severely limits its applications.  AR has the potential to be true go-anywhere computing, in a form that won't interfere with the user's daily life.  This gives it far more widespread appeal and potential applications.

Great Consumer Products Require Great Assembly Electronics Firms

The bottom line is that products are getting smaller, faster, and smarter.  Electronics manufacturing partners have to be able to keep up with demand, and produce final builds that can meet consumers' expectations for their gear.

As one of America's most reliable and high-tech assembly electronics partners, ZenTech can bring your designs to market, whether they're for consumers or specialty fields such as military or medical.  Contact us today for more information.

In the meantime, what products do YOU think will be hottest in the next couple years?

Reliability issues with RF Circuits

Topics: assembly pcb, assembly electronic

Surface Mount Technology Creates Better Electronics Faster!

Posted by Matthew Turpin on Tue, Dec 23, 2014 @ 08:00 AM

sm technologyIf your electronics assembly shop isn't using Surface Mount Technologies (SMT) in their processes, you're potentially losing out in numerous ways.  While SMT production isn't a magic bullet, in most cases it creates smaller and more affordable products.

Older manufacturing technologies, usually called "through-hole" circuits, required large circuit boards with holes physically drilled through them.  SMT production, on the other hand, uses a two-in-one glue and solder to eliminate the holes and create direct electronic connections.

This means lower prices for you across the board, and more options for your customers!

Five Ways Surface Mount Electronics Are Superior To Through-Hole

1 - Smaller components

With SMT manufacturing, the lower limit on component size is only restricted by current miniaturization technology.  Current SMT circuits can host components which are only 0.4x.0.2 millimeters, and the next-gen standards are going to cut those numbers down by nearly half again.  

This means more features on-board, with smaller device sizes.  Given the trend towards making everything handheld, this is critical for creating devices that will resonate with the public.

2 - Dual-sided circuit production.

Another reason SMT products are smaller is that it allows for circuits printed on both sides.  Traditional through-hole manufacturing could only have components on one side, because the opposite side was reserved for the wiring connections.

Again, this means higher component density and smaller end-user devices.

3 - Faster setup.

For various complex reasons involving the programming of robots, it's much faster to set up an SMT assembly line, even for creating multiple variations on the same product.  Likewise, all the drilling required for through-hole circuits significantly increases the number of defective products even on a well-tuned assembly line.  

This faster setup time pays off in lower costs throughout both production and pre-production.  SMT prototypes will be cheaper than through-hole prototypes, which makes it more affordable to create multiple protos before committing to a final design.

4 - Less electronic interference 

Because SMT production minimizes the number of open wires, this means the resulting products will be more resistant to electronic interference and RF signal effects.  In some cases, this may even make it easier to pass any FCC regulations on RF emissions from the devices you create.

Interference is one of the most infuriating problems that can come up with a device, since there's very little an end-user can do about it.  Electronics that aren't affected by the local WiFi or wiring environment will be perceived as higher-quality by users.

5 - Better damage resistancesurface mount eletronics

Since SMT boards use a combined glue and solder, they're more generally resilient and able to withstand day-to-day use, especially shaking and minor impacts.  This makes them perfect for pocket-sized devices that will be put through stress in a given day.

However, there is a caveat:  SMT is a poor choice for connecting parts that will see significant direct human interaction, such as a physical connector the user will be manipulating.  Additional adhesives or reinforcement are needed here for best durability.

Downsides To SMT Manufacturing

There really are few problems with the process, although a handful are worth mentioning:

  • SMT is harder to service afterwards.  Due to the manufacturing process, individual components cannot always be swapped out.  One defect may mean replacing an entire board.  

  • SMT does not work with high-heat or high-power electronics.  A piece like an AC Adapter would need to be manufactured with other methods.

  • SMT prototypes require a full SMT setup and cannot be reliably tested using breadboards or other plug-and-play quick-prototyping techniques.

  • SMT products tend to respond poorly to wide variations in temperature, as thermal cycles weaken the glue.  In geographic regions with temperature extremes, this may be an issue to consider.  

Consult An Expert For The Best Manufacturing Techniques

In most cases, SMT production is superior to older technologies... but not always.  For a full consultation on your product and the best production techniques for it, contact Zentech today with any questions!  

 

Electronic Interconnect Cabling Whitepaper from Zentech

Topics: smt production, surface mount technology, assembly pcb

Using Stencils in SMT Production

Posted by Matthew Turpin on Thu, Oct 09, 2014 @ 07:00 AM

SMT Production

We all know what a stencil is, in the traditional sense. Children often make use of plastic stencil sheets in order to practice drawing shapes, while sign makers and other professionals are able to utilize them to create perfect letters. Here in the world of designing and manufacturing PCBs, though, we rely on laser cut SMT stencils. Although not too far off from the regularly recognized units, these laser cut SMT stencils are much more complex and simplify the process of PCB assembly by making it easier to apply solder paste to the board. This post will cover everything that you need to know about laser cut SMT stencils.

Uses

Throughout the electronics manufacturing process, a stencil may need to be used for a couple of purposes. First and foremost, stencils are a true life-saver when producing a board that relies on surface mount technology (SMT). Another instance when stencils are useful involves the use of automated component placement equipment (with the exception of hand-loaded prototypes. Why? Because it acts as an alternative to the requirement of hand soldering every single component. 

Types

There are a few different types of stencils that may be chosen throughout the electronics assembly process. Here's a closer look at each:

  • Desktop Stencil - When hand assembly is needed for prototypes by hand, a desktop stencil is frequently chosen. It's extremely basic and the stencil makes it significantly easier to apply solder paste to a board by hand.

  • Framed Stencil - Framed stencils can either fall under the fixed frame or universal frame category. First we'll discuss the fixed frame units. These particular stencils range in size from 15"x15" to 23"x23". They either use  a solid or hollow aluminum frame in order to hold the stencil. As the name implies, the stencil is permanently "fixed" to the frame. In the case of universal frames, the stencil is held within a frame that makes it possible to make changes to the unit, as they are needed. The advantage of a universal frame stencil is that costs can be reduced. This is because only a new frameless stencil needs to be ordered each time instead of a stencil that's affixed to a frame.

  • Rework Stencils - In some cases, a PCB might already be partially or entirely loaded with components and a problem component needs to be addressed. A rework stencil is frameless and is extremely small so that this component can be reloaded by hand. 

Specssmt technology

In most cases, you'll find that stainless steel is used for stencils as it's extremely durable, but you may also come upon stencils comprised of Mylar. Each stencil is typically about .005" to .007" in thickness, and the most common size for stencils (framed) is 20"x20". You'll find that the pad size on the stencil as compared to the pad size of the PCB itself is usually scaled down approximately 10% of each side of the opening. 

Benefits

Laser cut SMT stencils offer a number of benefits to users. First, they feature smooth internal pad walls which allows for superior paste release characteristics. It's faster and easier to work accurately - even for extreme fine pitch accuracy in printing. Because of this, the time and labor required to manufacture the board is drastically reduced, allowing for significant cost savings. Stencils also work to reduce the potential for defects and errors. As a result, the risk of being required to go back and rework the board or replace components is minimized. Finally, ultra fine pitch patterns can be realized without the typical setbacks and restraints, making it possible to print the challenging fine pitch devices that are in demand today.

Understanding how your contract manufacturing service works on your boards is the key to a solid partnership and enjoying the peace of mind that your electronics are being assembled with care and precision. Never hesitate to ask your CM for more information about their processes. 

 

Electronic Interconnect Cabling Whitepaper from Zentech

Topics: smt production, surface mount technology, assembly pcb

To Repair or Replace: That Is the Question

Posted by Matthew Turpin on Tue, Jun 24, 2014 @ 07:00 AM

pcb assembly

When something goes wrong with one of your electronic devices, how do you handle the problem? For many businesses, protocol is to simply replace the entire unit, when it's under warranty. Although this certainly is a quick fix and provides customers with a functioning devices, this may not always be the smartest course of action. Do you know when to repair and when to replace? This post will explore the answer to this question, the benefits of PCB repair, and the ways in which a contract manufacturer can help you out in the process.

When to Repair vs When to Replace

In many instances, when something goes wrong with one of your devices, it is the direct result of a single failing component, or a small underlying issue. When this happens, it's a lot more economical to consider troubleshooting the device and simply replacing the necessary parts or making the required adjustments in order to return the unit to working order. It's really only in cases where the entire circuitry of the board has blown out or the cost of labor is more expensive than the parts that a total replacement should be considered.

Benefits of Repairing vs Replacing

When you make the decision to make repairs to your PC boards, you can expect benefits such as:

  • Cut Down on Replacement Costs - Have you ever actually stopped and considered how much money you're actually spending on warrant replacements? Despite how infrequently your customers may experience problems with their devices, the cost to replace an entire unit will always be significantly higher than if you were able to simply replace one or two parts. By taking the time to work on repairs, you can help your company to save a great deal of money.

  • Lower Customer Costs - When your business is able to enjoy savings, your customers can actually reap the benefits. If you're spending less money, you're overall operational costs go down. This means that you can afford to lower custompc designer costs on products and in purchasing warranty guarantees. Everyone wins.

  • Improve Customer Faith In Your Products - The problem with replacing an entire unit is that it basically says that the device is no good. This tells the customer that if one component in the unit goes, the whole thing goes, which gives the impression that your products are of a lower quality. When you're able to make a device like new with just a few simple tweaks, it proves that you know what you're doing and that your devices are excellent.

  • Be Environmentally Responsible - Replacing a unit that could be repaired is very wasteful. It requires the use of more resources, and contributes to our overly-full landfills. Replacing only the necessary components through a good repair job cuts down on waste and helps to protect our environment. 

Need Help? Work With a Contract Manufacturer for Troubleshooting & Repair

Even if you know and understand that repairs are nearly always the superior option, you may simply not have the means to do anything other than continue to work with warranty replacements - even when the problem is very small. SMBs in the electronics industry often are unable to spend the man hours on troubleshooting or repairing a device due to resource or budget constraints. The good news is that if you're hoping to push for further repairs in the figure but have had problems in doing so in the past, you don't have to go it alone anymore. When you contract with a third party manufacturing company, you can take advantage of their fulfillment services. Faulty or malfunctioning units can be shipped directly to your contract manufacturer where they will be tested for the core problem. From here, the unit can be repaired and shipped back to the customer quickly.

Are you ready to start maximizing your savings and improving your business by partnering with a contract manufacturer for troubleshooting and repairs? 

 

Selecting an Electronics  Manufacturing Services Provider? Ask the RIGHT Questions>>

Topics: assembly manufacturing services, assembly pcb, pc board assembly

What's Behind Superior PCB Assembly?

Posted by Matthew Turpin on Wed, May 21, 2014 @ 07:00 AM

pcb assembly

In any industry, it's extremely important that you're able to keep up with (if not surpass) the competition by offering the very best products and services. This is especially true in the electronic sector. With every passing moment, further advancements are being made in our technological capabilities and processes, which results in a consumer demand for increasingly complex yet affordable and user-friendly products. Of course, behind every great electronic device is an advanced, well put-together PC board. 

It's true! Although most users will never even take a glimpse at a PCB (let alone begin to understand how it works), these units are the backbone of our technology. As such, it's absolutely crucial that a lot of care goes into the manufacture and assembly process. But what is it that sets a superior PC board apart from a mediocre or low-quality board? Unless you know, you could end up partnering with a less-than-qualified contract manufacturing company. To eliminate any future stresses or headaches on your end, let's take a look at what actually goes into the assembly of the best PCBs.

Training

Before your prospective contract manufacturer can even be considered, you should take the time to find out what type of educational background and hands-on experience is required of its employees. Those working on your valuable PC boards should understand the latest mounting technologies, when SMT is preferable to through-hole methods and vise-versa, should understand industry standards and requirements, and should have the necessary experience in the business in order to back-up their "book smarts".

Passion

Does your contract manufacturer care about their work? Those who are passionate about technology, and providing an excellent board to the end user will put the most effort into the design and assembly process, allowing you to feel confident in the boards that you're using in your products or selling to your customers.

Careful Planning & Design

Even a seemingly insignificant oversight or hiccup in the design process can result in a PCB that is less efficient or effective. When this happens, your product may not operate as well as you had planned or expected, or it may not function at all. Whether designing and engineering your boards for you from scratch or reviewing the plans of your in-house design team, your contract manufacturer should be dedicated to ensuring that your schematics are as cost-efficient and accurate as possible.


American-Made Parts

The system components and parts that are used to assemble your PC boards absolutely must meet industry standards and regulations in order to function safely and correctly. Although many overseas manufacturing companies offer very cheap prices for PCB assembly, they tend to use counterfeit parts that could go against our standards. It's always best to stick with American manufacturers and parts.

pc boards
Advanced Assembly & Production Technologies

In order to remain competitive with those "big fish" electronics companies, you need to ensure that your PC boards are being manufactured with the latest and greatest assembly and production technologies. Partnering with a contract manufacturer that utilizes modern machinery, computation devices, and robotics is one of the smartest and most cost-effective means of "keeping up with the Joneses".


Guaranteed Satisfaction

After all has been said and done, the truest hallmark of a superior PC board is the contract manufacturer's ability to back up the design and assembly process. While some companies may sever ties with you after fulfilling an order (leaving you without a warranty or design schematics), the best will believe so strongly in the quality of their PCBs that they will continue to work with you, offering fulfillment services like troubleshooting, and a customer repair and return depot. 

You wouldn't ever settle for anything less than the best for yourself, so why would you offer anything less than the very best assembled PCBs to your clients? By understanding what goes into the manufacture of truly superior products, you'll never sell yourself or your customers short again. 

 

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Topics: assembly process, assembly pcb, pcb design

Beneath the Surface: Understanding the Assembly of PC Boards

Posted by Matthew Turpin on Tue, Mar 25, 2014 @ 07:00 AM

Have you noticed that technology actually seems to be shrinking? That's not to say that the PC Board Assemblymarket demand is depleting, but rather, that electronic devices are becoming smaller, more lightweight, and increasingly compact. At the same time, the complexity of technology is expanding. As a result, electronics companies are being forced to find ways to take the explosive size of technological advancements and shrink it down to size. 

Sounds impossible, right?   Anyone who is in any way connected to the electronics industry knows that this feat is far from impossible. This is all thanks to revolutionary ideas and the evolution of the PCB assembly process. PC boards are both the brain and heartbeat of any electronic device, and our ability to utilize smaller system components and create more compact boards opens up a world of possibilities. How does it all work? Let's peal off the surface layer of today's technological gadgets and take a look at how the PCB assembly process works, and how recent changes have improved our ability to meet consumer demands.

In the Beginning: Through-Hole Mounting      

It really wasn't all that long ago when through-hole technology reigned as king in the production of PC boards. In order to manufacture boards by following this method, electrical components with leads were utilized. These leads were inserted into holes that had perviously been drilled through the PC board. Once the leads had penetrated these holes, they were soldered to pads on the opposite side of the board. Before other methods were discovered, through-hole was thought to be the pinnacle of electrical technology and assembly. 

What was believed to be so great about through-hole mounting? For one thing, it's an extremely reliable method. This is because of the strong mechanical bonds that are created. Even today, through-hole is generally the preferred assembly method for boards that require especially large or bulky components, or that will be subject to regular mechanical stress. Still, through-hole technology has its flaws. The biggest problem with this method is that the holes drilled into the board put limitations on the available routing area for signal traces on multi-layer boards, and can also increase production costs. 

Surface Mount Technology Changes the Game        pc boards

Anyone who works with technology or electronics is well aware that in this industry, we're never satisfied with the status quo. Instead, we're always looking for ways to solve problems and improve on what we already have. Hence, surface mount technology (SMT) was born. Although the process was developed in the 1960s, it wasn't until the mid to late 80s that it really began to take off and replace through-hole as the "go to" method for PCB assembly. 

With SMT processes, there's no need for drilling holes. Instead, electrical components can be directly mounted to the surface of a PC board. Since the components don't need to pass through holes, most have smaller leads than their through-hole counterparts, or simply don't have leads at all. As a result, the components are smaller. In addition to this, higher circuit densities are made possible with PCBs assembled through surface mounting methods. Both of these factors make it much easier to create compact yet very complex electronic boards and devices. You'll also find that the pin count is higher in SMT than in through-hole methods. Last, but certainly not least, you'll enjoy the fact that SMT boards are generally less expensive than those used for through-hole methods. This saves you money, and can help lower consumer costs as well. 

In just a few short decades, the electronics industry was completely transformed by the emergence and embracing of a new way of doing things: SMT. With the technological sector continuing to boom, we can only expect that new and even better methods are just around the corner. It's an exciting prospect, and we can't wait to see what the future holds for electronics companies and contract manufacturers like ourselves! 

Electronic Interconnect Cabling Whitepaper from Zentech

Topics: assembly manufacturing services, assembly pcb, pc board assembly

5 Reasons To Use A PCB Assembly Partner

Posted by Matthew Turpin on Sat, Dec 21, 2013 @ 07:00 AM

Although you may be giving some thought to contracting with a third party to assist you with thepcb assembly repair manufacture of your PCBs, you may also be feeling about unsure about it. Entrusting an outsource vendor to construct your products to the your specifications and the quality you desire can be difficult. But when you find the right partner, using an assembly PCB professional can really do wonders for your business. Still not convinced? These five perks of using an outsource company to handle your company's assembly PCB needs should encourage you to contract with a reliable partner.

1. Faster Production  

One major problem that smaller electronics companies have in terms of production is time. Your goal is to grow your business and gain a steady and growing client base, but the more orders that come in, the more difficult it may be for you to process them in a timely manner. A lack of manpower and resources can cause orders to get backed up, which can result in you losing clients and receiving bad reviews. This is where a contract manufacturer can help. By handling some or all of your assembly PCB manufacturing needs, your partner company - who should have more equipment and skilled laborers than you - will be able to help you turn orders around quickly so that you can grow into the business that you would like to become.  

2. Improved Consistency  

In order to keep your customers feeling satisfied and happy with your work, it is very important that all of your PC boards are manufactured in such a way that they are highly functional, and are consistent in terms of quality. In the case of small businesses, you may not have the time or resources available to adequately inspect or check your machinery and devices to ensure that they operate as they should. A larger contract manufacturer, on the other hand, will have a testing strategy that will ensure that major problems and malfunctions can be avoided, saving you time and money. Careful and consistent testing will also help to preserve your electronics company's growing reputation.  

3. Advanced Machinery  

Does your small electronics business currently have access to the latest and greatest technologies available for your assembly PCB manufacturing needs? It's not always easy to have the free capital to purchase the equipment that you need to construct your PC boards and develop quality products. Even finding the space to house machinery can be a bit of a challenge. By working with a contract manufacturer, your products will be assembled with technologically advanced machinery and equipment that is paid for and maintained by a third party.  

4. High Quality Parts  PCB Assembly Partner

The only way to be sure that your PC boards will be of the highest quality is if they are constructed with high quality parts. If your company is relatively small or new, though, you may not have the connections that you need in order to obtain the best components and parts at the fairest and most reasonable prices. In cases like this, it's in your best interest to partner with a third party company that is well established in the industry and can help you to access system components from reputable suppliers while keeping your costs as low as possible.  

5. Quick Repairs  

When something goes wrong with one of your boards, it is very important that the defect or problem is remedied quickly. A contract manufacturer will have the resources available to promptly troubleshoot the device, pinpoint the underlying issue, and make any necessary repairs - fast - so that you can return the board to the customer without being required to replace it altogether.     

After reviewing these 5 points, it should be clear that contracting with a third party company is a smart business decision for those in the electronics industry. How could using an assembly PCB professional work to the benefit of your company?

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Topics: assembly pcb, PCB Assembling, PCB Assembly Partner