PCB manufacturing jargon buster

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microcontroller board

CAD

Computer Aided Design. Software used by designers to map out a printed circuit board before it is sent to the manufacturer. CAD and CAM are essentially interchangeable terms.

Diode

Active component which will only conduct current in one direction.

Capacitor

Passive component which stores electrical charge.

Drilling

A process which comes after the PCB has been layered up. Operators drill out holes in which the components will sit and link the copper layers together. These holes will then be plated with copper to connect different layers.

Etching

Process of removing unwanted copper from PCB layers. This is normally done using an alkaline solution to dissolve (etch away) any exposed copper.

Fuse

Protection component which will break the circuit when current is too high. Usually these comprise a length of metal wire which will melt away when the current exceeds a safe level.

FR-4

Composite material comprising fibreglass and epoxy resin that is often used as the base (top) layer in printed circuit boards. ‘FR’ indicates that the material is flame retardant.

Gerber file

Raw data file containing a PCB’s design instructions. This is what is sent to PCB production houses where they are photoplotted and ultimately turned into a finished PCB.

ISO 9001: 2008

Accreditation comprising a set of quality management requirements.

LED

Light Emitting Diode. An active component which lights up when connected to a live circuit.

Multilayer PCB

Rather than being single-layer or double-layer, multilayer PCBs have multiple layers of copper. In multilayer PCBs conductors on different layers are connected via plated-through holes often called ‘vias’.

PCB

Printed Circuit Board. Made from non-conducting material like fibreglass and conductive material like copper these boards act as the ‘dumb’ base on which components can be mounted and connected via tracks.

PCB prototyping

Method of PCB pre-production that can be used to test concepts and ideas before committing to high-volume production.

Plating

A process in PCB manufacturing whereby copper is ‘plated’ onto the board. Plating require operators to top the boards with copper tracks as well as plating hole walls to connect any conductors between a multi-layered PCB.

Silkscreen

One of the very last processes in PCB manufacturing. A silkscreen is the layer of (usually white) instructions and drawings printed on top of the board.

Soldermask

Thin lacquer-like layer of polymer that is applied to the copper tracks in order to prevent oxidation and solder bridges which can lead to a circuit shorting.

UL 796 Recognition

Safety accreditation for printed-wiring boards.

Volume PCB production

Once a PCB has been tested via a prototyping service it can then go into batch or volume production. This service is usually completed offshore, but choosing a trustworthy supplier can be difficult. Talk to a member of our team about our set of preferred partners.