From temperature control to cleanliness, secondary operations of printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturing and design, such as handling, storing, and shipping, require careful attention to avoid costly errors or damage.
PCB manufacturers take detailed steps during design and fabrication to ensure printed circuit boards perform their intended function flawlessly. After all, a printed circuit board is only as good as the quality of its design and the craftsmanship of its assembly.
But what about safety and handling measures after the PCB design process is complete?
With our comprehensive guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about handling, storing, and shipping printed circuit boards properly so your business doesn’t waste time or money with damaged or defective parts.
PCB Handling Tips
While they may seem tough, printed circuit boards are pretty fragile and must be handled with specific instructions to avoid causing irreparable or costly damage.
Limit Unnecessary Handling
One of the best ways to protect your printed circuit boards is to limit handling as much as possible. Not only does this reduce the risk of physical damage, but it also helps keep them clean and free from contaminants that could cause problems down the road.
Use Gloves or Finger Cots
If handling is unavoidable, be sure to wear gloves or finger cots made from a material that won’t leave behind any residue, such as latex, nitrile, or vinyl. Avoid using materials like cotton or wool, which can shed fibers that could end up trapped in the circuitry and cause problems later on.
Use Clean Room Procedures
Always follow clean room procedures when handling printed circuit boards. This means taking measures to control dust, particles, and other contaminants that could ruin the circuitry. It also means wearing proper clothing, such as a hair cover, face mask, and lint-free gown or smock.
Whenever possible, use two hands to pick up printed circuit boards. One hand should support the board from underneath while the other grips it from the edges. This precaution will help prevent warping or bending, which can cause severe damage.
Minimize Air Exposure
The copper traces on a printed circuit board are susceptible to oxidation, which can cause electrical problems. To prevent this, minimize the time the board is exposed to air. If possible, store them in an airtight container with desiccant packets to absorb moisture.
Use ESD-Safe Procedures
Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is one of the most common causes of damage to printed circuit boards. To prevent this, take special care to use ESD-safe handling procedures at all times. Following these procedures includes using an ESD-safe workstation, grounded wrist straps, and anti-static bags or other containers when transporting printed circuit boards.
The surface of a PCB may show no issues, but the circuitry beneath is quite delicate and hides all kinds of damage from the naked eye. Therefore, avoid dropping them on hard surfaces (even from an inch high) or squeezing them, as this causes physical damage, such as microfractures, cracks, or chips that can ruin the board.
PCB Storage Guidelines
Since not every PCB is needed as soon as it’s delivered, it’s essential to know how to properly store them until they’re ready for use.
PCB Climate Control Storage Guidelines
Keeping the PCB storage room or area at a temperature no lower than 53°F (12°C) and no higher than 86°F (30°C). This temperature range helps to prevent moisture condensation that can damage the PCB.
As for the humidity, PCB manufacturers and designers recommended an RH level of no more than 85%. At this level, the air is dry enough to prevent any moisture condensation but not so dry that it will damage the PCB
Failure to follow these climate control guidelines could result in warping, cracks, delamination, and other issues that affect the functionality of a PCB when it’s put into use.
If you are having trouble controlling the climate in your PCB storage area, consider using a vacuum-sealed moisture bag(s), dehumidifier, air conditioner, or more moisture-resistant PCB components.
PCB Quality Control Storage Guidelines
While storing PCBs, checking them every 3-12 months is necessary to ensure they have not been damaged and are functioning correctly. The inspection process includes a visual check of the PCB for any cracks, delamination, or other physical damage. If you find no damage, then you can check the functionality of the PCB using an electrical meter.
If you find any deterioration during the visual or functional inspection, you should repair or replace the PCB as soon as possible. Allowing damaged PCBs to remain in storage can lead to a loss of valuable products and increase the chance of further damage to other stored PCBs.
PCB Storage Guidelines for Longer Shelf Life
To extend the shelf life of your PCBs during storage, be sure to use the oldest ones first and the most recent ones last. This “first in, first out” method helps to prevent damage from sitting too long and keeps your inventory fresh.
Another way to extend the shelf life of a PCB is through the application of proper finishing during fabrication. Finishes with a higher dielectric constant can provide added protection against moisture, the elements, and other storage hazards.
PCB Shipping Tips
Vendors must follow these critical packing and shipping tips regardless of PCB size, destination, or shipping method to ensure the product arrives undamaged.
Best PCB Shipping Methods
Always choose a carrier or delivery service that provides a tracking number with every shipment. Taking this step will allow you to monitor the status of your PCB delivery and ensure it arrives on time. PCB vendors and businesses should also take special care to label and document all PCB shipments to minimize the chances of costly shipping mixups and delays.
Best PCB Packing Methods
Specialty packing materials are vital to protecting PCBs during shipping. For example, PCBs with or without a battery always need an anti-static bag to prevent battery damage or short circuits. It’s also a good idea to use bubble wrap, packing peanuts (biodegradable not foam), or other non-static cushioning materials to further protect the PCBs from impact damage.
When packaging multiple PCBs for shipment, keep them separated from each other using non-static dividers. Taking this extra measure will help prevent the PCBs from rubbing against each other and causing scratches or other harm.
Find Your PCB Manufacturing Partner
Ensuring PCBs are correctly handled, stored, and shipped is essential to maintaining a quality product. Whether through in-house storage or third-party logistics, following the proper steps to keep PCB inventory safe and secure is crucial.
By partnering with a reliable and experienced printed circuit board manufacturer, businesses can feel confident that products are well-protected from the common reasons behind PCB failure, saving valuable time and money in the long run.