In 1957, a researcher named Joseph P. Mammola developed a new technique for PCB assembly that helped usher in second-generation computing: through-hole technology. That technology was the gold standard until the 1980s, when it was largely supplanted by surface-mount technology (SMT), which allows for increased automation of the assembly process. Today, the SMT process is the dominant choice for PCB assembly, offering improved efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and better performance. But to reap these benefits, you need the expertise of certified SMTA engineers.
How can qualified engineers streamline and optimize manufacturing to provide reliable electronic products that customers demand? Here are five essential areas where EMS engineers, qualified in the SMT process, can add a critical edge to the manufacture of your product.
Design for Manufacturability and the SMT Process
Engineers play a vital role in optimizing your product’s circuit board. Even before tooling starts, qualified SMT process engineers can examine and assess design files, including schematic diagrams and assembly drawings, to identify potential issues. Approaching design problems early in the process results in improved manufacturing efficiency and reduced waste.
Getting the most from these reviews means working with SMT engineers who are knowledgeable in design for manufacturability (DFM) and have an extensive background in board design. Design-savvy engineers can evaluate board files and suggest reconfigurations that simplify assembly and replace scarce custom parts with readily available standard ones. These design reviews can also lead to modifications that enhance yield rates and minimize rework at a later stage.
For some electronic devices, a balance has to be struck between DFM best practices and product performance levels. If this is the case, you should be able to count on your EMS engineers and their teams to explain the situation and review options.
Component Selection and Cost Reduction
Selecting appropriate components is crucial for cost-effective electronic manufacturing. SMT process engineers, who have a deep understanding of electronic components, can provide valuable insights into parts selection.
Before production starts, engineers should review a product’s bill of materials (BOM) and Pick-and-Place (PnP) files to gather important information about component type and placement.
Armed with this information, engineers can select components that will set the foundation for a product’s commercial success. For most devices, it’s best to avoid nonstandard components that require hand-soldering and instead choose readily available parts that can be installed using machine-based processes, ensuring greater consistency and streamlining the assembly process.
Experienced engineers can identify off-the-shelf components that offer custom-part performance at a lower cost. Moreover, working together with your EMS provider’s procurement team, they can evaluate the availability and reliability of components, ensuring long-term sustainability and reducing the risk of supply chain disruptions.
By leveraging the knowledge of SMT process engineers, component selection can be optimized to significantly reduce manufacturing costs without compromising performance or durability.
In addition to selecting the most effective components, SMT process engineers can use the information from PnP files to optimize the placement of these parts on the board, so that the orientation and spacing of microchips and other components meets all manufacturability and testing requirements, delivering the best performance possible.
Design for Testability and Regulatory Compliance
Manufacturing a reliable electronic product cannot be done without thorough and efficient testing. Whether custom or standard, testing the components and configuration of a PCBA is an essential part of the manufacturing process.
For the most efficient testing, SMT process engineers use design for testability (DFT) guidelines that optimize testing during the manufacturing process, ensuring that any potential defects or issues are identified early on. Engineers can strategically place test points, incorporate built-in self-test features, and design for automated testing, all of which contribute to faster and more accurate testing procedures. By catching problems early, significant time and costs associated with diagnosing and rectifying issues during later stages of manufacturing or even post-production can be saved.
In addition to DFT know-how, qualified SMT process engineers can also provide essential guidance during any certification processes, ensuring that products meet safety, electromagnetic compatibility, and other regulatory requirements. This expertise mitigates costly recalls, legal repercussions, and potential damage to a brand’s reputation.
Engineering expertise and a proactive approach to testing and quality assurance minimizes the risk of defects and ensures that only high-quality products reach the market.
Prototyping and Iterative Development
Before mass production, most products benefit greatly from testing and development with the use of small-run prototypes. SMT process engineers who also have expertise in prototyping technologies and methodologies can enhance and accelerate this product development cycle.
By quickly producing functional prototypes, engineers can provide valuable feedback, validate designs, and ensure that necessary improvements are adopted early on. This iterative approach minimizes the risk of expensive errors and redesigns, ultimately reducing time-to-market and ensuring a high-quality end product.
Working with experienced engineers throughout the prototyping and design phase of your product’s development will ensure you get the most out of each design iteration.
End-of-Life Benefits and Sustainability
With sustainability on the mind of many consumers, the lifecycle of electronic products is increasingly under scrutiny.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to work with SMT process engineers who are well-versed in sustainability considerations for electronic products—experts who can consider materials sourcing and end-of-life recycling options during the design phase and find ways to mitigate the negative environmental impact of a product.
Experienced contract manufacturing engineers enable companies to produce products that have boards with a lower VOC conformal coating and are configured to use less electricity. They can incorporate components which are easily harvested for resale or recycle at the end of the product’s lifecycle. And they can even design products that can be opened up and modified by the end user.
Finding the Right SMT Process Engineers
SMT process engineers don’t just play a key role in a product’s design and development, they can also provide valuable post-production support, such as troubleshooting, failure analysis, and product improvement. And by analyzing field data and customer feedback, they can identify areas for enhancement and implement design updates or manufacturing process refinements. And with supply chains for electronics components still in flux, SMT process engineers are proving invaluable at redesigning existing products whose components are no longer available or in short supply.
So how do you make sure you’re working with experienced engineers?
One way is to make sure the engineers you’re working with are properly certified. The Surface Mount Technology Association (SMTA) offers a certification that can help identify high-caliber talent. Known as the SMTA certification, or the SMT Process Engineer certification, it offers global recognition for engineering expertise.
Working with SMTA-certified engineers means your product manufacturing is being overseen by a distinguished group of only 538 certified engineers worldwide. These highly trained, experienced SMT process engineers have the expertise to ensure that your electronics device is optimized for functionality, quality, and reliability. And they can help you reach these performance goals while minimizing manufacturing costs.