Any printed circuit board manufacturer you use should have the proper certifications to ensure that their products meet industry standards. Failure to verify that your chosen manufacturer has the appropriate certifications can lead to faulty PCBs and expensive repairs.
But with so many printed circuit board manufacturers and suppliers, how can you be sure you’re getting the best quality PCBs for your money?
The answer is easy — verify their certifications.
Understanding the different PCB certifications ensures you get the highest quality product for your needs. Here is a breakdown of the different types of certification your chosen PCB manufacturer should have, depending on your product, industry, or application.
What Is QMS?
QMS stands for Quality Management System. But printed circuit board manufacturers must follow far more than just a set of rules or guidelines.
QMS is a comprehensive system covering every aspect of the manufacturing process – from raw materials to final testing and delivery. It includes procedures, documentation requirements, and controls designed to ensure that products meet or exceed customer expectations.
The purpose of the QMS is to set internationally recognized standards that manufacturers must meet in order to produce consistent, high-quality products. This way, consumers can benefit from improved product reliability and safety. Without the QMS, PCBs would not be guaranteed to meet minimum quality standards, leaving businesses at risk of using sub-par components in their products.
There are several different QMS certification schemes, but the ISO 9001 family of standards is the most commonly used.
What Are ISO Certifications?
ISO is the International Organization for Standardization and is responsible for setting standards for everything from quality management systems to environmental management. In the industry of PCBs, ISO certifications are used to ensure that manufacturers are using best practices and producing consistent, high-quality products.
There are several different types of ISO certification, but the three most relevant to PCB manufacturing include ISO 9001, ISO 13485, and AS9100.
This standard covers quality management systems and is the world’s most widely used QMS certification scheme. Achieving ISO 9001 certification is a symbol of quality and excellence printed circuit board buyers can look for when choosing a manufacturer.
But, to achieve ISO 9001 certification, a PCB manufacturer must demonstrate that they have a QMS in place that meets all of the requirements laid out in the standard, which typically include:
- Documented procedures for all aspects of the manufacturing process
- Employee training on quality control procedures
- Regular audits of the QMS to ensure compliance
- Corrective action in the event of any non-conformities
This list is far from exhaustive but represents some of the key components of a QMS that must be in place to achieve ISO 9001 certification.
This standard is specifically for medical device manufacturers and covers quality management systems designed to produce safe and effective products. Any PCB manufacturer supplying components for use in medical devices must have this certification.
To achieve ISO 13485 certification, a manufacturer must have a QMS in place that meets all of the requirements laid out in ISO9001 certification, with additional requirements related to medical devices, such as:
- Risk management procedures specifically for medical devices
- Design and development controls
- Purchasing controls for suppliers of medical device components
Additionally, manufacturers can only receive ISO13485 certification when they meet the conditions above, and they verify regulatory FDA 21 and CFR 820 requirements to the auditors.
This standard is specifically for the aerospace industry and covers quality management systems that must be in place to produce safe and effective products for this highly regulated sector. Any PCB manufacturer supplying components for aerospace applications must have this certification.
To achieve AS9100 certification, a manufacturer must have a QMS in place that meets all of the requirements laid out in ISO 9001 certification, with additional requirements related to aerospace products, including:
- Perform a gap analysis to identify any non-conformities with AS9100
- Establish and document procedures for the effective implementation of the QMS
- Ensure that all employees are trained on the requirements of AS9100
Manufacturers must also meet regulatory FAA 14 CFR part 21 and 45 requirements that have been verified by auditors in addition to meeting the conditions above to receive AS9100 certification.
UL certification stands for Underwriters Laboratories and is a global safety certification company. In the PCB industry, UL certification ensures that printed circuit boards are safe and comply with all relevant standards.
Electrical engineer William Henry Merril Jr. established the organization in 1894, and it is now widely recognized as a leading authority on product safety. UL provides certification for PCBs that meet their rigid standards, which are updated regularly to reflect the latest technological advances in PCB design.
To earn UL certification, printed circuit boards must go through a rigorous testing process that includes:
- Visual inspection
- Electrical testing
- Thermal testing
- Mechanical testing
Additionally, different PCB products require different UL certifications. For example, the UL 796 standard applies to flexible printed circuits, while the UL 969 standard applies to labels and decals.
The Institute for Printed Circuit Boards, also known as the Association Connecting Electronics Industries, is a global trade association that develops standards for the electronics industry.
In the PCB industry, IPC certification ensures that printed circuit boards meet the highest quality and reliability standards for the best cost, delivery, and performance. There are three main classes of IPC certification:
- Class 1. The lowest level of certification is typically used for consumer electronics, where the cost is more important than the quality.
- Class 2. The middle level of certification is typically used for industrial and medical applications where quality is more important than cost.
- Class 3. The highest level of certification is typically used for aerospace and military applications where quality and reliability are critical.
To achieve IPC certification, manufacturers must meet one or more IPC standards, usually IPC-A-600, IPC-J-STD-001, and IPC-TM-650. These standards cover everything from designing and manufacturing printed circuit boards to assembling and testing finished products.
Military and Defense PCB Certifications
PCBs used in any military or defense application must meet the highest quality and reliability standards. These certifications are solely granted by the DLA, or Defense Logistics Agency, which is a division of the US Department of Defense. While there are many different DLA standards depending on the purpose, the two most common are ITAR and MIL.
ITAR, or the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, is a set of US government regulations that control the export of defense-related products and services related to the space and military industries.
To earn ITAR certification, manufacturers must demonstrate that their products meet the highest quality and reliability standards. They must also have a detailed understanding of the US export control laws and regulations and be able to comply with all relevant requirements. Failure to work with an ITAR-certified company could result in hefty fines or even jail time.
MIL, or Military Specification, is a set of standards used by the US military to ensure that products meet their stringent requirements. PCB manufacturers must demonstrate that their products meet all the relevant MIL standards to earn MIL certification. These standards cover everything from the design and manufacture of printed circuit boards to the assembly and testing of finished products, with the most common being:
- MIL-PRF-31032. The standard for performance specification for rigid printed boards. Created to ensure that all rigid printed boards used in military applications meet the highest quality and reliability standards. This certification is necessary for any rigid printed board used in a life-critical or mission-critical system.
- MIL-PRF-55110. The standard for qualification of electronic and electrical laminate materials. This standard covers the physical, electrical, and thermal requirements that all electronic and electrical laminates must meet to be used in military applications. This certification is necessary as military electronics use flexible and rigid-flexible laminates extensively to ensure reliability and performance in harsh environments.
Unlike optional certifications like IPC, these military and defense certifications are mandatory for any company that wants to sell their products to, for use by, or for incorporation into products by the US military.
Partner With a Certified PCB Manufacturer
When choosing a PCB manufacturer, it’s important to consider their certifications and compliance with relevant standards. Doing so ensures a reliable product that best represents your brand, meets your customers’ expectations, and minimizes the risk of regulatory and penal issues further down the line.
Whether it’s ISO, UL, IPC, or DLA certification you’re after, be sure to do your research and partner with a manufacturer that meets all the standards relevant to your industry. Taking this action will give you the peace of mind that your products are of the highest quality and that they’ll be able to withstand even the most demanding applications.