Tech Tips

Akber Roy

Are your components in balance?

Warping of flat or planar printed circuit boards is a significant yet common problem when manufacturing and assembling PCBs.

Warpage can prevent pick-and-place machines from accurately placing components. Warpage can cause the lead-free wave solder machine to pick up solder and flood the board with solder. Even worse, a warped printed circuit may not fit in the case or cause problems with automated handling equipment (buffers, etc.).

A few items cause warpage, all known and preventable. The primary reason why a PCB will warp is uneven or imbalanced copper percentages in different layers. When a design is presented to a PCB manufacturer, the fabricator will run a check of the percentage of copper on each layer. This is to ensure the design is balanced; i.e., the copper plane percentages are even about the center. Consider, for instance, a typical 8-layer PCB. A copper power plane would be on layers 4 and 5 and signal layers on the remaining layers. The innerlayer 4-5 has an almost full copper percentage on both sides. The remaining layers are low-copper-percentage signal layers. The stresses locked in by lamination will even out or equilibrate.

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Akber Roy

An hour-by-hour look at the quickturn fabrication process.

We were presented with a challenge: Is it possible to build 10 prototype 12-layer boards in 72 hours? It wasn’t a rhetorical question; a customer really wanted just such an order. So, with time at a premium, our engineers put their heads together and created a “plan of attack” that optimized all resources. One key to success is performing a number of the steps in sequence as needed, so panels are ready when they are required. We’ll describe the procedure hour-by-hour as follows:

Hour 1: The CAM operator runs a DRC (design rule check) process and accepts or rejects the data files. If a problem exists, they contact the buyer to work out a solution; e.g., if two traces are too close, and one needs to be moved. Once the data file is accepted, the next action is to set up the innerlayers.

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Akber Roy

More lasers and improved and integrated software have factories humming.

The methods and equipment used to fabricate PCBs are becoming increasingly advanced and centralized. For example, computers, lasers, and AI are ever more common in all areas of PCB processing. In recent years, a considerable number of PCB manufacturers have invested heavily in the integration of the complete shop, with all equipment controlled by one central computer. The interconnection enables quicker file processing, higher accuracy, and improved yields.

One of the most expensive pieces of production equipment is the laser-direct imaging system (LDI), which has made significant improvements in accuracy, speed, quality, and in reducing overall manufacturing rejects. The newer models feature multiple cameras to locate lamination holes, compare them to the original Gerber file, then digitally scale the image to fit the panel. Newer laser imagers are capable of imaging down to 15µm line widths and spaces.

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David BernardIs the reflow profile the problem? X-ray can help.

Looking through some recent x-ray images of what I would call “good bad” boards (at least, that is what they are for me, as they showcase “good” examples of how certain “bad” types of failure look under x-ray inspection), I came across a number of different issues that are different from “traditional” BGA/QFN problems mentioned in this space before. To wit, I noted some images showed where solder paste had not reflowed under the devices, and there was the presence of foreign object(s), such as discrete components, trapped under the package.

FIGURES 1 and 2 show how unreflowed solder paste typically looks under QFN joints in an x-ray image. In the magnified view (Figure 2), individual grains of the solder paste are seen clearly, instead of appearing as a typical single smooth continuous joint. The cause of this is probably not an insufficient reflow profile. Rather, it is more likely the board has not been reflowed at all. As it may be desired, or necessary, to x-ray inspect (representative) boards after placement but before reflow as part of a quality control process, it is worth noting this characteristic shape of the solder under the components is different from what would be expected post-reflow.

Read more: Unreflowed Solder Under QFNs
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