PCB vs PCBA: why is the foundation of electronic manufacturing?

PCB vs PCBA: why is the foundation of electronic manufacturing
The dichotomy of PCB vs PCBA is an ongoing conversation in the electronic manufacturing industry. Although both are essential components in electronic devices, even seasoned veterans need help finding the exact difference between the two. This article will explore the definitions, processes, and technologies that separate both entities.
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    What is PCB vs PCBA?

    A printed circuit board (PCB) is an insulating material with conductive tracks etched on the surface. Our entire electronic system is based on PCBs. We use them to connect and support components in electronic devices.

    To put it simply, PCBA are made from the attachment of electronic components to a PCB. This involves soldering the components onto the board and may include additional testing and quality assurance processes.

    In the PCB vs PCBA bout, PCB is more of the blank canvas waiting to be utilized. On its own, it hardly serves any purpose. To complete the artwork analogy, PCBA is the final product after enshrining your patterns on the canvas.

    PCB vs PCBA: what are differences in manufacturing process of PCB and PCBA?

    PCB and PCBA have different manufacturing processes
    PCB and PCBA have different manufacturing processes

    When it comes to the manufacturing process, there are several key differences to highlight in the PCB vs PCBA debate:

    1.  Design:
    PCBs require the creation of a design using specific software. This design is then sent to a manufacturer to produce a prototype. The prototype is tested and refined before the final board is produced using techniques such as milling or etching. PCBA, on the other hand, involves designing where on the board you’ll put the electronic components.

    2. Assembly:
    This is the most defining part of turning a PCB into a PCBA. It involves soldering components onto the board using automated machinery or manual labour. This complex process requires specialized skills to ensure the components are properly connected.

    3. Testing and quality assurance:
    After assembly, the next step is to extensively test the boards for quality assurance. PCBs are typically tested for functionality and reliability, while PCBA undergoes additional testing to ensure the components have been properly attached and working correctly.

    PCB manufacturing process
    PCB manufacturing process
    PCBA process steps
    PCBA process steps

    PCB vs PCBA: what are the types of technologies used in PCB and PCBA?

    Some of the most common types of PCB include:

    ● Single-sided
    ● Double-sided
    ● Multi-layer
    ● Rigid
    Flex
    ● Rigid-flex

    Types of PCB
    Types of PCB

    In single-sided PCBs, all the components are on one side. While double-sided, you guessed it, components are on both sides of the board. The outliner is multi-layer PCBs. In a bid to build complex designs, they have more layers of conductive materials.

    For PCBA, the more common types are:
    ● Surface mount technology
    ● Through hole technology

    The two technologies are used to determine how the electronic components are placed on the printed boards. The first is mounting it on the surface, the so-called SMT. Alternatively, you can also drill holes in the board, the THT method.

    As you can see, another difference you can highlight in the PCB vs PCBA conversation is the difference in technology used by either.

    PCB vs PCBA: what tools do you need to manufacture PCB and PCBA?

    PCB and PCBA use different equipments and tools
    PCB and PCBA use different equipments and tools

    Since the technologies used for either of these entities differ, it lends to the conversation of PCB vs PCBA to highlight the particular tools used for creating either.

    To manufacture PCBs, you will need tools such as:
    ● design software
    ● milling machines
    ● etching machines
    ● soldering irons.

    To fix electronic components on these boards, you’ll need some of these machines:
    ● Pick-and-Place
    ● Reflow soldering machine.
    ● Solder paste printing
    ● Solder paste inspection
    ● Wave soldering (used in through-hole components)
    ● Automatic optical Inspection
    ● Glue dispensing

    You will need automated machineries such as pick-and-place machines and reflow ovens. Depending on the complexity of your project, you may also need hand tools such as soldering irons and magnifying glasses for manual assembly.

    PCB vs PCBA: what is the standard for PCB and PCBA inspection?

    PCB vs PCBA: Different standards and norms
    PCB and PCBA have different standards in manufacturing

    Standardization is another important key point in the discussion of PCB vs PCBA. There are several industry standards for inspection to ensure the quality of PCBs and PCBA. IPC is the most commonly used. IPC is an international industry association, which is comprised by companies involving in the production, utilization, specification, and layout of printed circuit boards & assemblies, and the standards produced by IPC are widely adopted within the electronics industry for designing, manufacturing, and assembly of PCBs and electronic components.

    such as: 

    Aerospace and  military
    Electronic industry and advanced microelectronics
    Automotive
    Medical equipments and devices
    Industrial devices

     

    And there are many IPC specifications, for example:

    IPC-A-600: Acceptability of printed boards for the incoming inspection of bare boards from a PCB fabricator.
    IPC/WHMA-A-620C: Requirements and acceptance for cables and wire harness assembly.
    IPC-A-630: Acceptability standard for manufacture, inspection, and testing of electronic enclosures.
    IPC 7711/7721C: Rework, modification, and repair of electronic assembly.

    PCB vs PCBA: what factors affect the price of PCB and PCBA?

    Several factors can determine the prices. The complexity of the design, the number of layers, and the type of materials used can all impact the cost. Other factors to consider are the quantity ordered, the lead time required, and the testing and quality assurance level needed.

    How does this affect our PCB vs PCBA discourse? If you are ordering these units from your chosen manufacturer, always consider how much it will cost you each step of the way. This will ensure adequate budgeting.

    What are commonalities of PCB and PCBA?

    There are some commonalities between PCB and PCBA
    There are some commonalities between PCB and PCBA

    Do not get carried away trying to find only the differences while pitching PCB vs PCBA. There are several similarities to explore.

    The similarities of PCB and PCBA: application and working principle

    Firstly, they are both critical components of electronic devices. They are the foundation of electronic circuits. The complex interactions of your fancy iOTs operate super complex types of these PCBs.

    Also, the design and manufacturing process for PCBs and PCBA requires careful attention to detail. Design software and specialized tools ensure the boards are fabricated correctly and meet specific size, shape, and function requirements.

    Finally, PCBs and PCBAs must be inspected and tested to meet industry standards. Various inspection standards, such as IPC-A-610, ensure the boards are high quality and meet the required specifications.

    Relationship between PCB and PCBA

    Another variable in the PCBs vs PCBA debate is the price. This differs at each stage of your manufacturing process. It can be affected by design complexity, material choice, and quantity ordered. However, since PCBA involves the assembly of components onto the PCB, the price of PCBA will include the cost of the PCB itself plus the cost of the components and assembly labour.

    PCBA = PCB + Assembly

    How to optimize for your EMS (Electronic manufacturing services)

    Some advices to optimize for your EMS
    Some advices to optimize for your EMS
    Use the following guidelines to optimize your electronic manufacturing services:
    1. Use simple design softwares. They are easy to learn and put to use. This will reduce errors and speed up your design process.
    2. Have a manufacturing partner on speed dial. He/She can provide industry standard advice on design and material choices.
    3. Where possible, select the automated assembly process. It is faster, cheaper, and less prone to errors.
    4. Use industry-standard inspection and testing processes to ensure the quality of your PCBs and PCBA.
    5. Communicate clearly with your manufacturing partner regarding design changes, deadlines, and other requirement

    To wrap up

    When you pitch PCBs vs PCBA, you have two different components used in electronic devices. They share some commonalities in their design, manufacturing, and inspection processes. Understanding these similarities and differences is important for anyone involved in electronic manufacturing. Also, optimizing your EMS through careful design, material choice, and process automation can improve your manufacturing efficiency and produce high-quality PCBs and PCBA.
    FAQ
    PCB is a blank board, while PCBA is a completed PCB assembly including all of the electronic components that are needed to meet the board function as required.
    The PCBs, identified as the green-colored board in most cases, are mainly used to provide electrical connection and mechanical support to the electrical components of a circuit. PCBA are made from the attachment of electronic components to a PCB, which involves soldering the components onto the board and may include additional testing and quality assurance processes.
    Many factors can determine the prices. The complexity of the design, the number of layers, and the type of materials used can all impact the cost. Other factors to consider are the quantity ordered, the lead time required, and the testing and quality assurance level needed.
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