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Inspecting PCBs throughout the design, manufacturing and assembly processes is crucial to assuring that your product meets quality standards and operates as expected. Today, PCBs are complex.You can choose from various methods of PCB inspection. The right technique to use depends on the PCB type, the current step in the production process and the faults for which you want to test. Creating an adequate inspection and testing plan is crucial for ensuring a high-quality product.

Why do PCB need inspections?

Inspection is a critical step in any PCB production process. It can help you to catch defects so that you can correct them and improve your overall operation.

Inspecting your PCBs can uncover any defects that may have occurred during manufacturing or assembly. It can also help to reveal any design flaws that may exist. Checking PCBs after each phase of the process enables you to catch flaws before moving on to the next stage, which can save you from wasting further time and money on a defective product. It can also help you catch one-off defects that affect one or several PCBs. This process helps to ensure consistent quality among your boards and final products.

Without a proper PCB inspection procedure in place, flawed boards may make it into the hands of customers. If a customer receives a faulty product, your company may lose money through warranty payments or returns. The customer will also lose some of the trust they had in your company, and your reputation will suffer. This situation can result in missed opportunities if that customer takes their business elsewhere.

What is Manual Visual Inspection?

The simplest form of PCB inspection is manual visual inspection (MVI). To perform this type of test, a worker looks over the board either with the naked eye or through magnification. They’ll compare the board to the design documents to ensure that all specifications were met. They’ll also look for common defaults. The type of defects they look for vary depending on the kind of board they’re checking and the components on it.

Ensure that the board’s thickness is correct, and check for surface roughness and warpage. Check the dimensions of the assembly match the specification. Inspect the integrity and clearness of conductive patterns, and check for solder bridging, open circuits, burrs and voids. Check the surface quality, then look for the existence of pits, dents, scratches, pinholes and other defects on printing traces and pads. Verify that all vias are in the correct positions. Inspect the firmness, roughness and brightness of pad plating, and check for any bulge defects. Assess coating quality.

What is Automated Optical Inspection?

You can also use a PCB inspection machine to conduct a visual inspection. This method is called automated optical inspection (AOI).

An AOI system conducts an inspection using several light sources and one or more still or video cameras. The light sources light up the board from various angles. The cameras then take still images or video of the board, compiling them to create a complete picture of the unit. The system then compares the images it captures with information about what the board should look like taken from design specifications or an approved completed unit.

AOI is a well-established, accurate technology and can detect many well-known faults in PCBs. It’s useful at many stages of the PCB production process. It’s also faster than MVI and eliminates the possibility of human error. Like MVI, it can’t be used to inspect components that are out of the line of sight, such as connections that are hidden underneath ball grid arrays and other types of packaging. It might also not be effective for PCBs that have a high concentration of components because some of them may be hidden or shadowed.

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