Fresh PCB Concepts: Auditing a Factory—When Everyone Wins in the PCB Supply Chain


One of the most important activities when it comes to maintaining the best quality of PCBs is to be constantly evaluating partner factories. An important tool for this process is auditing those factories on a consistent basis. This includes its processes, procedures, working instructions, and checking upon how well the factory has understood and implemented demands to produce quality, reliable PCBs. If a deviation is found, allow the factory to take the proper steps to improve. When the factory responds, develops better processes and pushes the bar a little higher each time, that’s when we’re in a situation where we all benefit.

Based on my personal professional experience, I truly feel this can only be achieved by being onsite. Particularly when working with overseas factories, being local, speaking the language and sharing the culture will be important factors. If this cannot be achieved in-house, I recommend working with a partner who has local infrastructure in place and is able to perform regular audits on all factories. This is something that should be taken very seriously: Audit hard, but fair; ask the tough questions.

When we complete audits, we focus on these four specific types:

  • Full factory audit: This includes an initial qualification audit and then an annual audit
  • Process audit: As the name says, it focuses on a specific process, the laser drilling process for example
  • Follow-up audit: This is for the purpose of getting onsite regarding any corrective and preventative actions implemented by the factory
  • Sustainability audit: We all need to be concerned about sustainable development as well as social responsibility and it is, therefore, important that partner factories have the same focus. Do they have the same business ethics and desire to improve on the environmental and human aspects as you do?

During the audit we look for several key aspects like whether the factories’ quality and measurement systems are running well, measurement maintenance, statistical control, and if the factory itself has a tight control over the process. We also check how the factory translates the specified needs and demands of the customer into the instructions that govern processing on the shop floor. Equally importantly, we audit how these demands measured and confirmed.

Before a follow up, the factory needs to review and understand the complaint data and take the improvement actions needed. To do this the factory needs to use appropriate quality process improvement tools and methods. For example, the Ishikawa fault finding method and the 5 Whys root cause method (these are essentially tools identifying cause and effect, and ultimately the root cause of an issue). From there a responsible person should be assigned with a reasonable improvement schedule. A production quality engineer should follow up the actions taken to evaluate the relevant methods of operation, along with other relevant document changes and assess the effectiveness of actions.

How can you ensure that you remain 100% objective? You must have very clear rules and requirements. For example, at NCAB we have rules that don’t only focus on how to measure, manage, and control the factory’s quality performance but also how to coordinate and guide staff performance and participation. Each audit involves a team of three people for three days minimum. Our production quality engineer, who oversees the specific factory, is not allowed to act as auditor. We report on details and facts (not perceptions) in with the intent that the process gives a truly reliable result.

This process works best when it is methodical, in-depth, and comprehensive, but it can consume a lot of time and resources. So, what does that provide in the end? Aside from a cooperative and fair approach to help our partner factories develop and grow, with this type of auditing approach helps achieve almost 100% quality. In fact, last year in 2020 NCAB, as an example, achieved 99.3% after completing 175 audits. A win-win-win for all involved. 

For many companies, an in-house audit process such as this is not attainable, particularly at the local level. However, there are still ways to achieve this level of quality. I recommend working with a trusted supplier that can present a clearly defined audit process and can provide results from that process.

Michael “Mike” Marshall is a field application engineer at NCAB Group.




Fresh PCB Concepts: Auditing a Factory—When Everyone Wins in the PCB Supply Chain


One of the most important activities when it comes to maintaining the best quality of PCBs is to constantly be evaluating partner factories. An important tool for securing this is auditing those factories on a consistent basis. When the factory develops and the bar gets pushed a little higher each time, we’re in a situation where we all benefit.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: HDI Microvia Features in Illustrations


Ruben Contreras explains microvias and discusses aspect ratios with microvias. This is important to know when designing an HDI PCB because the different types vary in complexity. And the more complex, the more this affects the cost.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: Does the Assembly Process Damage a PCB? (Part 1—Soldering)


Every time a printed circuit board is exposed to soldering temperatures it is damaged. This is the case not only for lead-free soldering applications but also for eutectic soldering consisting of tin-lead.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: Mitigating the Increasing Prices of PCBs


By now, you might have noticed that the cost of PCBs is increasing. What’s worse is that there are also supply chain issues causing additional delays on PCBs. You can’t redesign every board in order to reduce cost. Instead, try these tips to help you reduce manufacturing costs.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: UL Certification for the Safety of PCBs


Security is essential in the electronics industry. It is vital that users can rely on the finished products when considering factors such as fire and electrical safety, which means that both the PCB and the materials they contain must measure up to the highest standards. To ensure that the boards do conform, it has become common practice to UL certify the constituent materials or the PCB itself. In this column I am going to discuss UL certification, what’s involved and why you need it.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: RF PCB Designs–Challenges, Solutions and Tips


Today, RF circuitry is crammed into a large variety of commercial products. Most of these are handheld wireless devices for medical, industrial, and communications applications. There are also applications in a variety of fields that are migrating from desktop models to become portable communications units.

View Story


Fresh PCB Concepts: How 5G is Influencing PCB Technology Trends


We have all heard about the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). In combination with the increased data transfer rates available through 5G, they can open up a whole new level of connectivity and communication between devices and things.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: Finding and Qualifying a Long-Term Partner


Finding the right factories is not an easy task. Anyone can take customers’ files and send them to whichever factory is available. But what guarantees does the customer have that the factory used is reliable in producing the design? Ruben Contreras details how to find and qualify a long-term partner.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: 4 Characteristics to Consider When Selecting PCB Base Materials


Selecting the correct material is critical if you want your circuit board to survive the assembly process or come out of the assembly process in good condition. Jeffrey Beauchamp explains the four main characteristics from the IPC-4101 material specification that are critical in finding the performance of your base material.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: Advantages of Application-Engineered PCBs


When working with your PCB supplier, do you have a dedicated engineering resource to help with the design of your PCB before fabrication? How about a resource that has experience and knowledge about the different applications for PCBs? Jeffrey Beauchamp explains how this is one of the most important and valuable factors when producing high-reliability PCBs, as well as what—or who—this resource could be.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: How Do You Calculate Finished Copper?


How do you calculate finished copper on a PCB? This may sound simple, but Ruben Contreras has seen copper thickness called out either on the drawing or the specification, which can lead to additional EQs and, in some cases, additional costs. In this column, he explains the unintentional results that can come from misunderstanding what was requested.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: Pros and Cons of the 6 Most Common Surface Finishes


There are only two different types of surface finishes for PCBs: organic and metal. Harry Kennedy describes the pros and cons of the six most common finishes on the market.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: 7 Options for Via Treatment


In some cases, it's acceptable to have via holes that are completely exposed in a PCB design. But there are many others where the hole should either be covered and/or tented, or in most cases, plugged. Jeffrey Beauchamp shares seven different via hole protection types based on IPC-4761.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: Why Design and Produce PCBs Beyond Industry Specification?


While questions may be an annoyance, especially when you finally have a board designed and are ready to have it built for a product, Ruben Contreras explains the importance of asking these questions and requiring specifications.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: What You Should Know About Your Board’s Solder Mask


It’s a weird time we’re all in, and for most designers, work has slowed down or even stopped. While work might have slowed, now is a good time to review some of your past PCB projects to see if you can improve functionality and reduce field failures. Harry Kennedy explains how one of the simplest ways to do that is to start from the top: solder mask.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: The Benefits of Being a PCB Producer Without Owning Any Factories


With NCAB's infrastructure and factory management team based in China, many customers ask why they don’t own any factories. Jeffrey Beauchamp explains how it's part of the company's long-term strategy and an advantage to our customers that they don’t own any factories. Instead, they “own” what is most important: the relationship with the factory.

View Story


Fresh PCB Concepts: Designing a PCB for Telecom Applications


Jeff Beauchamp and Harry Kennedy discuss PCBs for telecommunication applications, including key factors to consider, such as design and material considerations. They also recommend involving your PCB supplier at the time of design to help ensure manufacturability at the lowest possible cost.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: The Current Material Situation


We have all heard about the component crisis in the circuit board industry, and maybe you heard about the CCL shortage, but how many are aware of the bare board material shortage? Ruben Contreras explains the current material situation and tips to address this issue.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: Getting It Right From the Start


When faced with critical time-to-market situations, it is all too easy to say, “It doesn’t matter because this is just the prototype; we can fix this later.” However, if the design is perfected from the beginning, cost savings can be applied, and manufacturability can be ensured. Perhaps most importantly, the design can be adapted with reliability in mind, leaving a seamless transition from prototype to production. How do we get it right from the start?

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: Why Material Selection Matters


When you’re designing a PCB, it’s standard to call out FR-4 material, but you could be holding yourself back or even exposing your board to risk by not knowing more about PCB materials. Let’s take a small look into why. What Is FR-4, exactly? Harry Kennedy of NCAB explains.

View Story

Fresh PCB Concepts: Qualities of Medically Applied PCBs


In this inaugural column from NCAB Group, Alifiya Arastu discusses details of PCBs used in medical applications, highlighting some of the differences in terms of demands and how the design must be handled.

View Story
Copyright © 2021 I-Connect007. All rights reserved.