Manual Vs. Automated PCB Assembly – What’s the Real Difference?
Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are one of the integral parts of electronic and electromechanical devices used today. The primary purpose of these circuit boards is to provide a stable foundation for all electronic components that make up the device and help it function normally. To meet the growing demand for PCBs and be ahead of the competition, OEMs started utilizing both manual and automated assembly lines. Each PCB assembly method has pros and limitations which should be considered before making any decision. There are several factors to keep in mind while selecting the PCB assembly technique. For instance, manual PCB assembly is ideal for low-volume production, while the automated assembly is best for high-volume production. Also, manual PCB assembly works best for simple boards, while automated assembly works best for complex boards. Is that all? Would you like to know more about these PCB assembly techniques?
Manual PCB Assembly
As the name implies, manual PCB involves using skilled technicians to place and solder electronic components on the PCB. This process is used for low-volume production or prototyping
. This assembly technique is slow and expensive, and requires expertise and hands-on experience. There are countless reasons why manual PCB might be an excellent option for your business.
- Flexibility: Manual assembly allows for flexibility in design changes and modifications. Technicians can easily change the PCB layout or components without significant downtime or investment.
- Lower Costs: Manual assembly can be cost effective for small-volume production runs. The equipment required is inexpensive, and the labor costs are lower than automated assembly. Manual assembly requires fewer upfront costs, making it more accessible to small businesses and startups.
- Quality Control: Manual assembly allows for greater quality control. Technicians can visually inspect each component and ensure it is properly placed and soldered. Quality control measures here need to be even stricter as there is room for manual errors or inconsistencies. This is especially important in industries where quality is crucial, such as medical devices, aerospace, and defense.
However, this type of PCB assembly has certain limitations:
- Human Error: Manual assembly is prone to human error. A technician may accidentally place a component in the wrong location or solder it improperly. These errors can lead to rework, further increasing the cost and time required to complete the assembly process.
- Inconsistency: Manual assembly can lead to component placement and soldering quality inconsistencies. The quality of each PCB can vary based on the technician's skill. Also, if the volume of PCBs is large, there may be more inconsistencies in terms of dimensions, and other relevant factors. This can cause issues in industries that require consistent product quality, such as automotive and telecommunications.
- Time-consuming: Manual assembly can take hours to manually place and solder components on a single PCB, making it less efficient for high-volume production.
Automated PCB Assembly
Automated PCB assembly involves machines to place and solder electronic components on the PCB. This process is typically used for high-volume production runs. Automated assembly has several advantages:
- Speed: Automated assembly is much faster than manual assembly. A machine can place and solder components on a PCB in seconds, making it more efficient for high-volume production.
- Accuracy: Automated assembly is known for precision. Machines can precisely place components in the correct location and ensure proper soldering. This results in higher quality products with fewer defects.
- Consistency: Automated assembly provides consistent quality. Each PCB is identical in terms of dimensions, component placement and soldering quality, regardless of the technician's skill. This makes it ideal for industries that require consistent product quality, such as consumer electronics and home appliances.
This PCB assembly technique also has limitations:
- Cost: Automated assembly requires expensive equipment and specialized technicians to maintain and operate the machines. This results in higher upfront costs, which can be challenging for small businesses and startups.
- Lack of Flexibility: Once the machine is set up for a particular PCB design, it is difficult to make changes or modifications. This can result in downtime and lost productivity if changes are necessary.
- Quality Control: Automated assembly may require additional quality control measures to ensure that each PCB meets the desired specifications.
Each of the two methods offers its own set of advantages and has certain limitations. It’s challenging to find a one-size-fits-all solution. You can use automated PCB assembly
for its consistency, precision, speed, and lower costs, while there are enough reasons to use manual assembly if required. If you are still in doubt, it is advisable to consult an industry expert like Accelerated Assemblies. The company is an Illinois-based PCB assembly service provider that has been at the forefront of PCB assembly and manufacturing for several years. The experts at the company believe that automated PCB assembly helped them build a reputation in the market.