Balancing the pros and cons of automation in manufacturing.

Pros & Cons of Automation in Manufacturing for PCBA

Although every new circuit board design your company creates is unique, reproducibility is one of the most important attributes your CM’s PCBA manufacturing process can possess. Unfortunately, achieving this goal is most challenging when opportunities for human error exist. It is important to know the pros and cons of automation in manufacturing and how well your CM implements automation in order to minimize the chance for human error for your board build.

Comparing the Pros & Cons of Automation in Manufacturing of PCBAs

The importance of manual expertise in the process of building circuit boards is evident when examining the history of PCBA manufacturing. For example, wrapping electrical wires was still a common practice for assembling electronics devices post-World War II. Skills for wire wrapping were critical for producing reliable products; however, the variance of manual expertise invariably led to inconsistent results in quality. Therefore, it was common for devices to fail or require repair—affecting profitability in the long run.

Fortunately, subsequent innovations substantially increased the amount and potential of automation in manufacturing. This is especially true for PCB assembly, resulting in the significant and measurable attributes shown below.

Attributes Automation Manual
Speed An assembly line approach to board transportation enables a much faster turnaround than the manual alternative.  Manually placing components is significantly slower than automatic placing via pick and place machines. Transporting boards from stage to stage manually slows the PCBA process time as well.
Accuracy Pick and place machines, which are used for both SMD and through-hole technology, are significantly more accurate. Manual is woefully inadequate for today’s smaller, denser SMT boards.
Material waste Produces less waste More errors produce more waste.
Cost Automation saves you money in several areas and is faster, which lowers your development costs. Manual assembly may be less costly for small, single-digit quantities; however, for medium to large board volumes, unit costs are lower with automated PCBA.
Cleanliness Reduces opportunity for contamination, which is critical for some industries Handling, soldering iron debris, and other manual activities create significant opportunities for contaminants on your boards.
Quality The use of robotics and software-driven equipment is highly reliable once a final design is attained. The dependence of quality on experience and expertise makes manual processing tenuous and subject to unexpected fall-offs.
Reliability High reproducibility means better yield rates and more reliable performance. Manual assembly will result in lower yield rates.

The table above clearly illustrates some of the most important pros and cons of automation in manufacturing PCBAs. Unfortunately, the degree to which CMs leverage these advantages varies, which is why diligence is required when selecting the best PCBA service for your project.

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How to Maximize Automation for Your PCBA Build Process

PCBA manufacturers vary in their opinions on where the balance between manual processes and automation should be. You can find CMs that rely heavily on seasoned professionals that are experts in their area of board manufacturing; however, as discussed above, there may be a significant price to pay if an unexpected problem occurs. The question is whether you want to expose yourself to the risk or take full advantage of the speed, quality, and cost advantages that automation can provide. For the latter, you need a CM that leverages software and robotics for board manufacturing.

Tempo's Custom PCB Manufacturing Service
  • ISO-9001, IPC-600, and IPC-610 commitment to quality certifications.
  • Execute your full development cycle from proto to validation, NPI, and low volume production.
  • Accurate quote in less than a day.
  • Performs entire turnkey process in as fast as 4 days.
  • DFX support, including DFM, DFA, and DFT from Day 1 of design.
  • Sources components from the most reputable suppliers in the industry. to reduce procurement time.
  • Software-driven smart factory with monitoring and control throughout the manufacturing process.
  • Performs multiple automated inspections during PCB assembly to ensure PCB quality for prototyping.
  • Smooth transition from prototyping to production.

At Tempo Automation, we employ a software-accelerated PCBA process. Our digital thread white box manufacturing approach utilizes smart technology and software-driven equipment and robotics to achieve the fastest throughput rate while fully maintaining monitoring and control capabilities. These integrations enable us to implement high-quality control, minimize the risk of error or failure, and build boards faster than anyone else in the industry.

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.

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