Are you still using electronics manufacturers based around "through-hole" circuit board assembly? If so, you may be hobbling your own products!
Topics: surface mounted technology
Over the past several decades, surface mounted technology (SMT) has grown in popularity and has widely replaced through-hole technology. But why is SMT so preferable to through-hole mounting, and can through-hole still be relevant in certain applications? By taking a few moment's to learn about both methods, you'll gain a thorough understanding of the unique characteristics of the two, the key differences between them, and what it is that makes SMT the preferred option.
Although still a relatively newer concept, surface mounted technology (SMT) is quickly becoming the "go-to" method for mounting components to a printed circuit board (PCB). Are you familiar with SMT processes? Many electronics companies are comfortable with the tried-and-true through-hole mounting process, but SMT can make things a lot simpler and more efficient. To prove this point, here's a look at what surface mounted technology actually is, and when it can be used to make processes smoother for your business.
What is Surface Mounted Technology (SMT)?
In SMT, components are placed directly onto the surface of a PCB in order to create what is known as a surface mount devise (SMD). Due to its efficiency and effectiveness, SMT has widely replaced through-hole technology methods for constructing PCBs, however, both methods can be utilized on the same PCB. This is because there are some components that are simply not suited to surface mounting. These components might include large transformers and heat-sinked power semiconductors. Generally speaking, SMT components are smaller in size than through-hole units as they have smaller leads or do not have any leads at all.
What are the Advantages of Surface Mounted Technology?
The primary advantage to SMT, of course, is size. Because today's electronics are expected to be more compact, there is an increase in demand for smaller units. SMT makes this possible. But despite the fact that these units are not as bulky as older devices, there is actually a much higher component density, as well as more connections per each component. This means that electronics can be more efficient and advanced than ever before, while still being as compact as possible. Fewer holes need to be drilled into the boards which leads to faster and more automated assembly processes, and the fact that components are able to be situated on either side of the circuit board simplifies things further. On top of this, there are many SMT parts and components that actually cost less than their through-hole counterparts. All of this results in a lower initial cost, less time required for setting up and production, reduced manufacture cost, and a more efficient use of time.
What are the Disadvantages of Surface Mounted Technology?
Unfortunately, there are no perfect or fool-proof manufacture processes, and SMT does have its drawbacks as well. As an example, SMT is not suited for any large, high-power/high-voltage parts. Because of this, SMT and through-hole construction may need to be combined for better results. Additionally, the small size of SMDs can create issues, in that the solder joint dimensions continue to grow smaller as advances are made toward ultra-fine pitch technology. Ultimately, this means that less solder is able to be used for each joint which can result in voiding, and integrity issues. The solder connections of SMDs are also capable of being damaged by plotting compounds as they go through thermal cycling. Lastly, SMT should not be used as the sole attachment method for any components that may be subject to ongoing mechanical stress, for instance, connectors that are utilized to interface with external devices which are often attached or detached.
When Should Surface Mounted Technology be Used?
Because of its many benefits, the majority of products manufactured at this time utilize surface mounted technology. Despite this, we have seen that SMT is not suitable in all cases. As a rule, SMT should be considered if:
- Your products must be very small/compact
- Your products must be able to accommodate large volumes of memory
- Your final product needs to be sleek and light despite component density
- Your product will need to be able to function at high speed/frequencies
- You need to produce large quantities with automated technology
- Your product should only transmit very little noise (if any at all)
- Your product must be able to accommodate a great deal of large, high lead-count complex ICs
If you only started working in the electronics industry within the past 30 years, you probably take the advantages of SMT production for granted. For those who have been in the game for awhile, though, it's obvious that the emergence of SMT production has changed the way in which electronic devices can be designed and manufactured. The good news is that SMT processes are only getting better and more fine tuned with every passing year. In this post we will explore what it is that SMT production has already done for the industry and at three of its latest advancements.
How SMT Production Changed the Game
In the beginning, there was point-to-point construction. Before the 1950s, manufacturers had to assemble all products by hand - a very costly and time consuming process. Fortunately, after the invention of the Printed Circuit Board (PCB), contract electronic manufacturers were able to pre-design circuit boards and mass-produce them in a way that was faster, cheaper, and more consistent. Originally, all PCB manufacturing was completed via "Through-Hole" technology which required holes to be drilled through each PCB board. Each component then used a small "peg and hole" arrangement as a means of staying in place prior to being secured on the opposite side. Unfortunately, despite being faster and more reliable than manual assembly, Through-Hole technology was still a difficult and tedious process. Additionally, the holes took away some of the board's integrity. Enter: Surface Mounted Technology SMT) production.
SMT built upon the basic concept of Through-Hole technology and made it better. Instead of drilling holes through PCBs, components could be applied via a solder paste. Not only does this lower production costs and reduce the time required to assemble a PCB, but it also enables more components to be placed onto smaller space - a must in the world of compact technology.
Continuous Evolution in SMT Production
SMT manufacturing has continued to evolve and improve since its introduction to the electronics industry in the 1980s, and it will only continue to get better. Here's a closer look at three of the latest advancements in SMT:
1. LED Technology - Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) have rapidly becoming more popular within the manufacturing and electronics industry. In fact, LEDs have almost entirely overtaken the bulbs conventionally used for PCBs. But why is this? The number one advantage of LEDs is their smaller size and lower power consumption. When paired with the faster, more time and cost efficient methodologies of SMT, LED lights can help lead to a significant increase in production rates while simultaneously decreasing labor costs. And on top of this, it's a "green" technology. It's a win all around.
2. Soldering Paste
We already know that soldering paste has done wonders for improving the speeds and lowering the costs associated with developing PCB boards for small, compact electronic devices. But even though it has totally altered the landscape of the electronics industry, soldering paste is still improving. Some of the most helpful advancements in this arena include the recent development of fine particle pastes, water soluble pastes, and no clean pastes. These improvements have all worked to help make the manufacturing process easier and more efficient.
3. Increased Speed
Today's consumer market has a need for speed. With Through-Hole technology, PCBs were required to be larger, and therefore slower and less efficient. SMT production methods have allowed for increasingly smaller components to be incorporated into PCBs. In fact, components that manufactures once believed would be impossible to add to a board are now being integrated into electronics with ease. As these components grow more compact and improved soldering pastes can be used to secure them, more components can be added to increasingly smaller PCBs. The benefit here is twofold: First, electronics companies are able to provide their customers with compact, lightweight electronic devices. Secondly, the smaller boards run faster, meeting consumer demands.
Are you taking advantage of SMT production?
One thing that often surprises newcomers to the contract electronics industry is that its backbone is a manufacturing process that was developed back in the 1980s. Surface mounted technology revolutionized electronics manufacturing, and it did such a good job that some thirty years later, we're still using it.
Topics: electronics manufacturing, PCB, electronic design and manufacture, electronic design, electronic manufacturing company, printed circuit board, Electronics Contract Manufacturer, electronics design, surface mounted technology, contract electronics industry, through hole technology