Connecting the past to the future

Understanding PCB Traceability Requirements and Standards

Noted Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, is attributed with the quote “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forwards.” Absent time machines and crystal balls, this assertion rings undeniably true. Knowledge; however, is near meaningless unless it is translated into beneficial action. Applying this axiom to Dr. Kierkegaard’s saying could result in an interpretation akin to the ability to trace one’s steps backward which may be used to prepare one for better strides forward. Or, more succinctly: If used properly, traceability can be the key to progress.

This is certainly true for building PCBAs, where board development quality is continually improved through a succession of design→build→test (DBT) iterations. This is only possible by being able to make improvements at key stages that have been identified during a previous progression through the process. Traceability can also be utilized as an integral part of PCBA risk management, where the objective is to optimize the board build process for the specific board design at hand. To best understand the PCBA traceability requirements for this utilization necessitates examining traceability standards for different applications.

What are PCBA Traceability Standards?

Before delving into specific traceability standards, it is informative to clearly define what these standards are.

PCBA Traceability Standards Defined

PCBA traceability standards are guidelines or rules that are set forth as part of an industry regulation or standard that includes a minimum set of actions to be taken, or a framework where activities intended to provide useful data to improve the process of building boards should be developed. This information or data should be accessible from its source and at all instances of its usage throughout the board building process.

These standards may exist in a standalone format or within other broader regulations. Probably, the most important PCBA traceability standard is IPC-1782 Standard for Manufacturing and Supply Chain Traceability of Electronic Products. This standard applies to all PCBA creation, irrespective of application industry, or board classification level. It is based on the stipulation of four material and process traceability levels, (M1-M4) and (P1-P4), respectively, as shown in the table below.

Table 1: Overview of IPC-1782 defined traceability levels

As shown in the table above, the traceability requirements for both board materials used and the manufacturing process itself increase for each successive level, culminating in the strictest standards to satisfy levels M4 and P4. The underlying intent of this standard is to encourage the use of automation and comprehensive data collection at key stages throughout the manufacturing process. To aid in establishing a traceability regimen that is AABUS (or as agreed upon by user and supplier), the process and material levels may be used to form a matrix based on the IPC manufacturing classification level (Class 1, 2 or 3), as shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Traceability matrix based on the manufacturing classification level

Before the introduction of IPC-1782 in 2016, PCBA traceability standards only existed as part of regulatory requirements for critical industry applications; such as AS9100D for aerospace or ISO 13485 and ISO 14971 for medical devices. Now, let’s see how to determine the best PCBA traceability requirements for your development.

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What are the PCBA Traceability Requirements for Your Development?

The traceability standards discussed above, provide a minimum level of compliance that must be satisfied. Depending upon your design and/or client, these may be acceptable. However, advanced software-based PCBA development that seeks to optimize the board building process has higher traceability requirements. This method of board development is based on the ability to trace and access design, component supply chain, and operations data from their entry into the data supply chain and throughout the manufacturing process. This level of data traceability capability is an inherent attribute of digital thread manufacturing.

To help determine the PCBA traceability requirements for your development, the IPC-1782 standard levels from above apply to typical contemporary manufacturing and digital thread manufacturing are compared for attributes that impact risk management in the table below.
As shown above, contemporary PCBA manufacturing can be expected to satisfy the M2 and P2 traceability level standards of IPC-1782. That is, materials are traced by batch or lot numbers and only certain key processes; such as testing results, are collected and retained. The digital thread manufacturing process; however, meets the highest PCBA traceability requirements set out by the IPC-1782 standard, which includes all material data collected, information acquired about all manufacturing processes, and maximized automation, and is the preferred process for PCBA development optimization.

Tempo’s Software-Driven Smart Factory Delivers the Industry’s Leading Custom Turnkey PCBA Manufacturing Services
  • Virtual PCBA Contract manufacturing.
  • Rapid, accurate quotes.
  • DFM support from Day 1 of design.
  • Digital Thread Processing with real-time monitoring.
  • Fastest turnaround times in the industry to maximize ROI.
  • QC certified Agile Manufacturing process to support risk management.
  • Standard and Advanced QC testing.
  • Worry-free supply chain continuity.
  • Specialization in rapid prototyping and low-volume production.
  • PCBA development optimization for complex critical system industries like Aerospace, Medical Devices, Automotive, and Industrial.

Tempo Automation, the industry leader for fast board prototyping and low-volume manufacturing, implements a custom digital thread process. In addition to meeting the IPC-7182 standards, our process is AS9100D and ISO 13485 certified. We will work with you throughout development to aid you in meeting your traceability requirements and to ensure that your boards are built to the highest quality.

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 defining the PCBA traceability requirements for your design, contact us.

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