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PCB vs. PCBA: What're the differences between them? Why it's so important to understand the procedure to avoid common mistakes before mass production and manufacturing. To ensure that the process goes smoothly, we need to know the design, testing, and methods used during the fabrication process of such custom-designed boards.
While PCB stands for printed circuit board (the board itself), PCBA is the fabrication process of taking the single panel and turning it into a final assembled product. It's important not to confuse PCB and PCBA as both are separate procedures and things.
What is a PCBA? PCB stands for printed circuit board, and the "A" in PCB(A) stands for assembly, which means taking a bare PCB board and assembling it to a final working board or product. It's important to note the key differences between a blank PCB board that lacks any electronic components. In contrast, the printed circuit board assembly process (PCBA) refers to a final board assembly process. Once the PCBA stage is complete, we can consider the electronic device "finish" and ready for testing and use.
what is a PCB? PCB is a board produced by a method known as electronic printing. PCB is a crucial product of the hardware industry whenever an enterprise or individual wants to make custom hardware or electronic product. They should start by designing a custom PCB that fits their needs. Once we finished the design, we can send the production files (often called "Gerber" files) to the factory for small batch production. The next stage will be to test the small-batch, confirm all the functionalities and features. Once verified, it's time to go mass production which often varies in 1,000 and even millions of pieces at once!
The circuit board design process includes multiple steps. Those steps are usually taken before you apply your custom pcb design for fabrication in the factory. Once the design is complete, we can go to the manufacturing procedure, where we give the files to the PCBA directly for fabrication.
PCB designers (often called PCB engineers) can help by providing online pcb design and solutions that will fit the customer's needs. When the designer creates a new pcb layout design services project, he will often decide on pcb layout design depending on the project's complexity. The layers can vary between 2 up to 16 layers, and the most common type is often 2-4 layers. The more layers the PCB has, the higher the production expense will be. This is something that we should consider when starting the project and one way to save pcb design cost by creating a 2-4 layers design is by expanding the pcb board design. The bigger the board, the fewer layers you will need. Often for many customers, that's not an option as they are limited by a small size design requirement which will increase the cost of production for them.
Once the circuit board design phase is complete, it's time for fabrication. The engineer will sometimes provide the source code of his pcb board design, but sometimes he might not. It depends on the project agreement. But most certainly, the engineer will provide "Gerber" files for mass production. These files contain some production information, such as vias, objects, and copper traces. They play a significant role in how the factory designs PCB traces and where each element should be placed.
PCBA stands for the assembly process of the components on top of the printed circuit board. Unlike the PCB design process, PCBA does not require any unique design or engineer. In other words, the PCB engineer (PCB designer) in the project will create the documents necessary for mass production, such as BOM (bill of materials), Gerber, and coordinate files. We understand that the placement machine components need to be placed on the top of the PCB board.
While a single board can be assembled by hand, that's entirely unrealistic for mass production. The process requires soldering and testing hundreds and sometimes thousands of boards. Such a process requires expensive equipment and tools, which is often unreasonable for an individual or enterprise to purchase just one product. For such reason, PCBA factories such as PCBasic exist with advanced technology and services that could get your PCB assembled in no time.
During the PCBA process, multiple tests should be conducted to ensure the end product's quality. Before heading to mass production, the proper practice is often to create various samples to ensure the design and the components behave as expected without "extra surprises." The PCBA process includes but is not limited to Purchasing and production of PCB boards, purchasing electronics components (SMD, SMT, Through-hole, etc ...), and finally assembling it all.
The first and most common test for electronic components and boards would be an aging test. Aging, as the name states it's a basic test to determine the aging of the parts. When we head over to our supermarket to buy a carton of milk, we often see an expiration date over the product so we could choose whenever we should consume it or not. Components, in such a case, are no different.
Although electronic components don't have an expiration date written on them, there are some tests to know if they are reliable, operating, and stable. Thus, we should use or if they aged for too long and should be recycled dismissed. The test behaves as a kind of simulation where the components are being tested at their critical application needs under certain conditions.
And a second time at the final product once it passed the PCBA routine production procedures. The double standard test that is often used is called the "functional test." As the name states, it's a test designed to check the function of the assembled product. This test is usually performed at the end of the pcba manufacturing process. Because we use it to ensure that the assembly proceeds as planned without damaging the circuit board or its components.
Usually, such tests include AOI (a visual test to find defects on the PCB board) and X-Ray visual inspection. It helps visualize the soldering points through the components to ensure that elements such as SMD and SMT have been soldered correctly. Other tests include short-circuiting tests and parts tests to ensure that all the parts are correct and placed at the right location on top of the PCB board.
The entire process goes as follows:
This development stage is usually done by an experienced. The process includes two steps: Schematic design and layout. During the schematic design, the engineer will choose the components and design the circuit. During the layout process, he will select the board size and place the layout on top of the PCB board. The design complexity can differ between different projects and often requires multi-layers design. It depends on the components and the size of the product.
PCB manufacturing or PCB fabrication is not to be confused with PCBA (PCB assembly). Once the engineer finished to custom pcb design, he will produce "Gerber" files that can be sent to a factory to make copper-based electronic circuit boards. Later on, we will use it in the PCB assembly process and the purchased components.
Once the board is produced, it's time for testing! Some boards will have defects such as cracks and visual issues. The boards usually will arrive in vacuum-sealed packaging. If you haven't used all the PCB boards within the first few weeks, we should test them for oxidation. (once the boards are exposed to oxygen for a long time, they would be considered faulty and can't be used for PCB assembly, where we need to place solder paste and components on them)
Lastly, the PCBA includes:
When choosing a PCBA or PCB factory for your next project, it's crucial to make the right choice. Selecting the right factory can save you cost, time, and, most importantly, unnecessary disappointment. At PCBasic, we are:
We provide R&D solutions, PCB, PCBA, OEM order production, and other services. The company independently develops CRM, MES, ERP, IoT management systems to realize industrial intelligent digital factories. Primary service areas: industrial control, smart home, instrumentation, vehicles, etc. And we have passed ISO9001 / IATF16949 / ISO13485 quality certification in the Internet of things, communication power supply, medical equipment, automotive electronics, aviation, and more.
Whenever companies or individuals want to produce customized electronic products, they need to design personalized PCBs to meet their needs. After the design is complete, we can send the production files (usually called "Gerber" files) to the factory for small batch production. The next stage will be a small batch test to confirm.
Once the design phase is complete, it can be manufactured. Sometimes the engineer will provide the source code he designed, but sometimes he may not, depending on the project agreement. But what is certain is that the engineers will provide "Gerber" files for mass production. These files contain production information such as copper tracks, objects, and traces. This is the factory knowledge of PCB trace design methods and where each component is located. What is necessary for the location should be placed on the copper plate.
PCBasic won several national high-tech enterprise awards. No matter what you are next project is, we believe we can meet your needs, contact PCBasic immediately for a quote or schedule your order directly through our website, and get started and prepare your project right away!
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