When looking at the PCB industry, an outsider may have the illusion that the typically green-colored substrates populated with components use only a small amount of technology. The term “printed circuit,” which in principle is accurate, does not even begin to do justice to the sheer magnitude of chemical, mechanical, and metallurgical—not to mention CAD and CAM engineering—that goes into today’s highly reliable and complex interconnection substrate. The term “printed,” along with the notion that you can simply lay out a board and press “print,” as you would a piece of paper, couldn’t be further from the realities of a high-tech PCB fabrication process and, importantly, the complex supply chain of chemistry and laminates that feed the factory with raw materials.
The Benefits of Industry Organizations
Design and fabrication have become so specialized that engineers of any discipline can easily become absorbed in their own niche. When working in those environments, it is easy to slip into thinking that your own specialist discipline takes priority over all others. In some cases, that may be true, but in practice all disciplines are important in delivering the best specified product at the best price to the end-user.
Membership in one or two industry bodies provides a broader worldview and a chance to network with people outside your usual circle. IPC, EIPC, ICT, FED, and ZveI are but a few bodies that help improve communication, understanding, and awareness within PCB manufacturing. They often balance a range of conflicting requirements to get compromise on and achieve optimum design. Stretched supply chains have perhaps worsened the “silo mentality” among designers, so it’s important to keep other disciplines involved through, for example, their increasing number of webinars. Recently, with supply-chain length and security coming into more focus, there is more thought being given to the importance and contribution of all parts of the supply chain.
Beyond the Organizations
Technical support specialists for PCB industry material suppliers are omnipresent at these groups’ industry events. These specialists are a superb resource for designers who either need to build boards for unfamiliar applications or find a more cost-effective or reliable way to produce existing products on newer generations of materials. The capabilities of PCB base materials continue to increase, even in a changing regulatory environment. You should always keep in mind that when you’re looking to update a product or are moving into a higher speed or more environmentally demanding environment, that materials have changed significantly in recent years.
Play a Role
As a designer, fabricator, or supplier, you may feel that you have something important to contribute to ensure that designs are optimally produced. These organizations provide a friendly environment in which to share knowledge, advice, and technical papers that benefit the whole industry, raise your own profile and that of your company. These groups are always looking for new faces and fresh perspectives on the design and fabrication of electronic interconnects. Who knows, you could be one of the industry’s next go-to specialists in your discipline.
A PCB may be standard or high reliability. It may be functioning in a stable temperature environment or subject to the huge temperature swings of a space application. It may be in the hot, cold, or humid environment of a vehicle engine bay, or immersed in oil in a gearbox application. A designer needs to consider reliability, the desired lifetime, and the operating speed (i.e., high-speed digital, radio frequency, radar frequency, etc). A base material supplier can provide invaluable assistance in choosing material. Industry organizations provide a forum for meeting a mix of specialists from diverse suppliers. However, if you are a designer for low volumes, it may be beneficial to work with a specialized PCB broker. Many of them have extensive material experience and can help match you with fabricators and material suppliers that best suit your application.
As PCB applications become more diverse and PCB designs become increasingly specialized, it is well worth PCB designers’ time to meet fabricators and material suppliers through these industry organizations. They provide a good place to network and source the most appropriate materials. Always remember, you need more than just a materials datasheet to specify a PCB construction; you need extensive knowledge and the benefit of suppliers’ application specialist support.
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