My favorite pair of headphones may not be the most expensive, but they are the most reliable. I bought them when traveling internationally five years ago and they still work today. Even after getting rained on, stepped on, and being washed and dried at least three times. When it comes to electronics people remember reliability, and you will too after you learn about the benefits of PCB reliability analysis. You may think that developing a reliability strategy is just for designers working in the medical or aerospace industries, but every PCB can benefit from reliability analysis. Designing for reliability with your CM or testing certain failure modes can help your board work better, last longer, and can even save you money.
What is PCB Reliability Analysis?
Do you remember watching the amazing singers on American Idol? I seem to remember the terrible ones more clearly. If only their family and friends would have listened to them and suggested some voice lessons beforehand. PCB reliability analysis is like getting a second opinion before the big show. It can help you identify problem areas in your design before you get too far. There are a number of specific PCB reliability analysis has a number of benefits but I’ll talk about three; reliable function, lower costs, and happier customers.
- Reliable Function: If you’ve ever had a cheap PCB conk out on you then you understand the value of reliable function. In aerospace grade electronics or implantable medical devices like pacemakers, reliable function is absolutely required. Your board may not have to last 20 years but you do want it to make it to its designed lifetime. Thermal cycles, vibration, physical shock, and hot spots on your board can all cause it to fail earlier than expected. These are all things you can test for during your PCB reliability analysis. When you catch these problems early they’re easier to fix and you end up with a product that just might last as long as my earbuds.
- Lower Costs: Building a quality PCB may be expensive, but it’s less costly than fixing design flaws at the manufacturing stage or even going back to the drawing board. Maybe you’re comfortable with guessing that you did everything right the first time without checking. Personally, I like to go through the whole process with reliability in mind and know that my board will last.
- Happier Customers: Every businessman knows that satisfied clients are good clients. If you create dependable PCBs than your customers are more likely to come back. On the other hand, it only takes one board on the fritz to leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth.
Setting Up a Reliability Strategy
Reliability isn’t just one step of the PCB design and manufacturing process, it’s a strategy that has to be implemented at each step. It starts as basic as design and component selection and ends with your CM’s manufacturing ability and DFM tools.
- Standards: One of the first steps in building your reliability strategy is to check standards that are relevant for your PCB. Things like IPC standards can affect everything from how you design your board to how it is manufactured.
- Design: It’s easy to think that reliability has everything to with fabrication and assembly but the design is just as important. You may want to limit the number of through-hole components that you use in favor of SMD, or you might need to change your clearance on some components to match your CM’s recommendations.
- Material Choice: The materials you use can literally make or break your board. Your board may go through significant thermal cycles, be subject to physical shock, or even have to resist radiation. If your PCB is operating in a harsh environment pay careful attention to your material selection.
- Supply Chain: Supply chain management can greatly affect your PCB’s quality if you accidentally buy counterfeit devices. Your components of choice can also run out of stock and if you haven’t already selected a backup you could be forced to use a lower quality part.
- Fabrication and Assembly: Choosing a knowledgeable CM with a good track record is absolutely critical. They will be able to tell you their capabilities and help you with design for manufacturing (DFM) and design for assembly (DFA) so that your PCB is optimal.
- Testing: Last but not least is testing. Sometimes the only way to be sure that your board can go the distance is to test it. This can include thermal cycling, vibration testing, power distribution network analysis, physical shock trials, solder joint inspection, and more. If you’ve followed your reliability strategy in every other area then testing should confirm that your PCB can do its job well.
PCB reliability analysis is something people often associate with NASA’s electronics or medical implants. It may be legally required for those but it’s also helpful to put a strategy in place for reliability in your board. PCB reliability analysis will make sure that your board goes the distance. It will also decrease the likelihood of costly last-minute design changes or manufacturing fixes, and ensure that your customer feels satisfied with your product. There are lots of steps in the design and manufacturing process where reliability comes into play. From design and supply chain all the way to testing reliability is the name of the game. Though you don’t have to do a wash and dry test like I did to my headphones. Choosing a good CM as a partner through the process is critical as they will help you with DFM and DFA checks and advise you on their manufacturing capabilities. Here at Tempo Automation, we have years of manufacturing experience that we put into practice every day with our clients.
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And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium Designer or Cadence Allegro user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software. For Mentor Pads or other design packages, we furnish DRC information in other CAD formats and Excel.
If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on CAD files or how to incorporate your design into a CAD format, contact us.