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If you're going to manufacture PCBs, why is tooling essential? Why can't we get the cheapest quotes and take them? The problem with that reasoning is that most smaller shops don't have automated inspection equipment or the expertise to do high-volume manufacturing.
This post aims to address the issues tooling presents in PCB manufacturing and offer some advice on managing those risks.
Tooling is the set of machines and devices to extract parts from a mold. PCBs are made from molds; thus, any manufacturing process will require tooling to be successful.
Even though it is just one of the steps involved in manufacturing printed circuit boards, the role of tooling is so essential that manufacturers are known to invest vast amounts of money in this area. They need to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible for several reasons.
For PCB manufacturing, tooling is a crucial part of the process because it keeps track of information from one step to another. This includes information about components, boards, and conductive pathways. Each PCB assembly process has a specific tool for tracking and control.
The tool is an integral part of the assembly process. You will have to follow the requirements, conditions, and guidance of your selected supplier at every step of PCB prototype creation.
A PCB, or printed circuit board, is a mechanism that interconnects electronic components through conductive tracks and pads. The ways and places are etched from copper sheets laminated onto a non-conductive substrate.
Manufacturing these boards is not as simple as it may seem. The process involves creating several board prototypes, which can be expensive and time-consuming. This is where tooling comes in handy.
The tooling process is an initial setup stage for mass-producing circuit boards. In this stage, PCB manufacturers create PCB tools that will be used to produce copies of the original prototype during mass production.
This includes milling out the space for component insertion, drilling holes into the board and connecting them to appropriate layers using vias, and laminating any number of layers together to create multi-layer PCBs.
For every PCB project, tooling is essential to ensure production efficiency. It can be divided into three parts: preparation of stencil and support tooling, preparation of cutter and support tooling, and preparation of other special tools.
The role of the stencil is to keep and transfer the solder paste onto the PCB board when using SMT components. Therefore, before preparing the stencil, we need to use software to create a solder paste file based on the PCB design files. After that, a stencil will be produced according to the file with a laser cutting machine.
If there is a hole-filled copper plate in PCB design, we will also need a cutter for cutting through holes to separate copper plates from each other. The size of cutter and support tooling depends on many factors, including the number of copper plates, board thickness, size of PCB boards, and so on.
There are various special tools for different processes in the PCB production line. For example, it is necessary to use a drilling jig during the punching process if a standard punch machine cannot process some oblong holes.
Our in-house PCB design experts put together the following tools to help you get started on your next PCB design. This list is based on the tools we use and recommend here at Cadence.
This one goes without saying, but it's something that many people overlook when they start working on a new project. If you want to do any design work, you need to ensure that your computer is up to the task.
If your laptop starts struggling every time you try to open two programs at once, it's probably not going to be able to handle the design software that you need for your PCB project. It might be time to upgrade before you get started with this kind of work.
Altium Designer - A comprehensive, easy-to-use PCB design software solution for professional designers, makers, and engineers.
Mentor Graphics PADS is a PCB design platform that helps you create high-quality printed circuit boards quickly and efficiently.
Cadence Allegro - A complete PCB design environment with powerful applications for schematic capture, layout, manufacturing outputs, and more.
OrCAD - A complete suite of digital and RF design tools, including schematic capture, automated constraint management, interactive routing, analysis, and post-layout verification.
Pulsonix - An integrated schematic capture and PCB design tool with advanced features, including 3D modeling and integrated ECAD/MCAD collaboration tools.
Cadsoft EAGLE - An affordable CAD tool for smaller teams wanting to create professional PCBs with the right set of features at a lower price point.
KiCad - A free and open-source EDA software package that includes a project manager, schematic editor, PCB layout tool, Gerber.
Your desktop or cloud-based CAD system will affect your workflow and, ultimately, your success. There are benefits and drawbacks to each approach.
There's no doubt that a desktop CAD system offers more functionality than a cloud-based system. While you can work from anywhere with the latter, the former provides more in-depth features and greater control.
For example, you can use the Autorouter feature of Altium Designer to route critical nets first and then route the noncritical ones later.
You can also integrate your schematic and board layout for optimal results. The downside is that a desktop CAD system requires installation, updates, and maintenance time.
This tool is an absolute necessity when it comes to building your PCBs. A soldering iron allows you to connect components with solder to work correctly inside of their housing (i.e., an enclosure).
Another tool that is invaluable as a PCB designer is a multimeter. This can be used for testing circuits and many other things. If there's only one electrical testing tool you buy, it should be.
Another common task that comes up as a PCB designer is machine screw tightening/detightening/replacement. Having a set of screwdrivers on hand can help with these tasks when they arise.
The main advantage of tooling is that it allows you to reduce the cost of manufacturing PCB assemblies significantly. Many companies use tools like stencils, cutting boards, or test fixtures to minimize their costs and maximize their profits.
The higher the number of manufactured PCB assemblies, the more considerable value has tools in the whole process! If you have a large order of 1000 pcs or more, you should consider making your tools!
If you are going to mass-produce PCB assemblies, it's worth considering making customized tools like stencils or cutting boards that will precisely fit your board.
Circuit boards are typically expensive, and to minimize cost, the PCB manufacturer has to use as much of the board material as possible. The right set of tools will allow you to improve your layout so that all of the PCB material is used, which reduces costs and waste.
The proper tooling can optimize your design for low-power consumption, high-speed data transmission, and other critical performance metrics. It also helps you cross over different geometries while staying within budget and optimizing performance.
Having the right set of tools allows you to design more efficiently, improve connectivity, and reduce layer swaps, essential for reducing manufacturing costs. The proper tooling can also help you optimize impedance control in your design, ensuring better board connectivity.
The right set of tools can help you optimize space so that your boards have more room for components and other essential elements needed for functionality. This is especially helpful when designing smaller boards with limited space with traditional design methods and processes.
With innovative layout software like Altium Designer®, you can design smaller boards while including all necessary elements.
Tooling ensures reasonable quality control in terms of minimal waste, minimal rework, and high precision in all production areas.
Tooling ensures the correct positioning of components on the board, especially pieces with multiple leads such as connectors, transformers, relays, etc.
Tooling helps ensure no electrical shorts or breaks due to incorrect routing of traces or inaccurate positioning of vias.
The quality of the tools is an essential element for the good manufacturing of boards. It is impossible to manufacture any board without the appropriate manipulator tool, even if all components are in place.
The tooling must be rigorously checked not to have any wear or defects. Paying attention to the inspection and maintenance of the equipment you use will allow you to achieve good results during all productions.
So your tool is a critical part of the PCB manufacturing process since it needs to make sure that the boards you're designing are successfully manufactured.
The tooling design plays an essential role in improving production efficiency and reducing costs. I hope this information is helpful for you.