RF and Microwave PCB Assembly: Challenges and Requirements Discussed
There are low-frequency PCBs for most regular devices such that their signal frequencies are below 50 MHz and suitable for most analog components. Radio frequency (RF) and microwave PCB signals work in their specified high-frequency range which is above 50Mz. These circuit boards are being widely used in mission-critical applications such as military radar, cellular phone operations, networking and communications, and much more. For such high frequencies, the board design is a complex mixture of mixed and digital signals. These two are different from each other based on their signal frequency and other factors, and there are certain challenges and requirements when manufacturing these boards. This post introduces specific challenges and requirements RF and microwave PCB assembly is designed to meet.
Common Challenges of RF and Microwave PCB Assembly and Manufacturing
Precision and high frequencies are two important requirements for RF and microwave PCBs. This can be achieved only if manufacturers follow a tightly controlled process with all the right considerations and appropriate techniques. Challenges in RF and microwave PCB assembly are many, ranging from bleeding prevention and impedance matching to minimizing weight and outgassing. Along with these, manufacturers also need to address the following challenges:
- Reliability: Minimum weight of the board when designing is one of the important RF and microwave PCB assembly concerns. This especially applies to the circuit board with multiple layers and increased circuit board density. Like the regular PCB, these satellite PCBs may feature plated through holes for layer interconnections. The reliability of these interconnections is a concern while operating in extreme temperatures.
- Noise: Compared to regular PCBs, the signals of these PCBs are highly sensitive to noise and susceptible to a varied range of noise types. Therefore, it is important to mitigate signal noise and reflection as much as possible. Hence, it is important to understand the noise sensitivity of RF signals.
- Temperature Range: Another important aspect for consideration is the noticeable change in the temperature range. Swings in temperatures within a satellite may change the PCB material’s characteristics. Therefore, RF and microwave PCBs should dissipate heat well, mainly in confined areas. Especially for space applications, it is important to consider the thermal conductivity of the circuit boards to understand how the material dissipates heat. With well-designed heat sinks in the design, and one can achieve this.
- Difficulties in Design: During the designing of RF and microwave circuit boards, it is important to keep RF or digital parts and low-level analog parts separate. This decreases several issues during assembly. These circuit boards require a multi-layer design with the top layer including a power stage and radio frequencies. The board also requires a ground layer of any component with RF and microwave signals.
Requirements for RF and Microwave PCB Assembly
Most of the PCB assemblers and manufacturers specialize in offering regular PCBs used in several electronic devices. However, not all of them may have the capability to make RF and microwave PCBs. The increasing demand and advancement in electronic devices have pushed further advancement in these PCBs. The following are a few important pointers that go into making these PCBs.
- RF and microwave PCBs are made using high-quality FR4 materials, ceramic-filled hydrocarbon, and so on. These materials are known for their thickness and flexibility. They have a good coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE). These materials contribute to a stable board structure, making it functional in extreme environments.
- RF and microwave PCBs are made using materials that ensure the optimum performance of the board in all types of harsh environments.
- CTE materials enable high numbers of layers, accommodating very complex designs and layouts.
- Laser equipment is also used in these boards for imaging and achieving tight tracing width.
From the aforementioned discussion, it is clear that RF and microwave PCB assembly is a crucial procedure, thus demanding specific resources. It is always recommended to get it done by experts. There are several manufacturers from the industry who offer RF and microwave PCB assembly. However, it is important to ask their approach towards these challenges and compliance with industry standards. Accelerated Assemblies stands tall among other competitors. With vast years of market presence and experienced employees, the company specializes in RF and microwave PCB assembly and manufacturing and has been serving clients throughout the pandemic. The experts at the company have been successfully addressed the challenges of the RF and microwave PCB design effectively.