Fresh PCB Concepts

Column from: Team NCAB

In this column from NCAB, four authors team up to explore fresh PCB concepts.


Jeffrey Beauchamp started his career in the PCB industry in 2003 at PD Circuits. When NCAB Group acquired PD Circuits in 2012, he was instrumental in facilitating the transition working with the teams in China, Europe, and the U.S. With his PCB design, engineering, and production background, he is able to work with PCB customers providing optimal solutions. Jeffrey is a field application engineer and a key member of NCAB Group’s Global Technical Council, which is responsible for continuing to stay abreast of emerging technologies.

Mike Marshall is a field application engineer with NCAB North Central Regional Office. He has 40 years of experience in the PCB Industry. His career began with PCB manufacturing processes and development including but not limited to process engineering, equipment development, plating processes engineering, photoimaging techniques, and NC-drill/rout programing. Later in his career, he went on to develop experience in PCB assembly and electro-mechanical assembly operations in QA management before joining NCAB Group in 2019. Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Mike is a proud South Side Irishman and avid Chicago White Sox baseball fan. He is a past executive board member of International Lion’s Club, and an active supporter and member of Knights of Columbus.

Ryan Miller is a field applications engineer at NCAB Group with decade of experience in PCB manufacturing and DFM analysis. He graduated from DeVry University with a B.S. in Electronics Engineering Technology. In his free time, Ryan likes to spend time with his wife and daughter. In addition, he likes fly fishing and reading technical articles.

Ramon Roche is a field application engineer for NCAB Group in the South East regional office. As a mechanical engineer, his career started in the industrial automation industry where he gained a breath of knowledge in manufacturing process and equipment development. He brings experience supporting customers throughout the entire sales and production process. At NCAB, he specializes in sustainability and champions NCAB Groups aggressive approach to tackling these important issues. Outside of work, Ramon is an avid sports fan, both as a spectator and recreational athlete. He enjoys spending time outside, connecting with nature and building community with others.

July 18, 2024

Fresh PCB Concepts: Understanding Your Export-controlled PCBs

There’s a lot of confusion in the industry about how to handle and manage export-controlled PCBs. Navigating this landscape can be daunting, but understanding the key regulations and restrictions is crucial for compliance and efficient production. With U.S. factories reaching capacity in many areas, many people don’t realize they can export PCBs controlled by Export Administration Regulations (EAR), and in many cases, International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). They should be aware there is rigorous compliance in place and that the U.S. government sanctions these exports.
May 16, 2024

Fresh PCB Concepts: Navigating Supply Chain Security and Traceability Through Standards

With increasing threats from multiple sources, the electronics industry has identified the need for protection with several levels of security concerns. This is reflected when you begin a new role, and you find yourself dealing with a number of protection practices during the onboarding process to secure your new employers’ intellectual property, the business, and even employees’ privacy and personal data. In addition to onboarding, larger organizations often require employees to adhere to new and updated protocols, undergo training, and adopt new work methodologies. These measures are implemented to address the growing risks posed by hackers, competitors, and foreign espionage activities.
January 29, 2024

Fresh PCB Concepts: Fostering Loyal Relationships with PCB Design Engineers

Not to diminish the work of engineers from the past, but today’s PCB design engineers have much more technology to learn about than engineers of the past. To make matters worse, technological advancements are moving faster than ever, which puts more strain on design engineers to stay updated. Additionally, PCB designers have more options than ever. While this can be wonderful, it can also be overwhelming and daunting. In this landscape of new and complex challenges, nurturing a solid and enduring relationship with PCB design engineers becomes increasingly important and substantial.
October 27, 2023

Fresh PCB Concepts: Sustainable PCBs—Raw Materials and Compliance Methods

The shift toward sustainability in the printed circuit board industry has required PCB producers to rethink their manufacturing processes and who they do business with. A PCB producer's sustainability efforts are for naught if their raw materials providers are not in regulatory compliance. Dealing with overseas manufacturers can raise questions about sustainability practices unless manufacturers follow standard regulations.
June 28, 2023

Fresh PCB Concepts: The Pros and Cons of Gerber, ODB++, IPC-2581

Which file format should I use? This is something I am asked frequently, and it reminds me of when I was in college and working for a PCB fabricator. I’d work my way to the sales department so I could support them with design for manufacture (DFM) analysis—a daunting task while also trying to remember all the information I was learning in my engineering classes. However, an engineer with many years of experience was a wonderful mentor to me. He not only taught me a plethora of information about PCBs, but he also taught me about the many different file formats we use for PCBs. He even shared painful legends of screen projectors and making screens.
April 17, 2023

Fresh PCB Concepts: PCBs for Harsh and Extreme Environments, Part 2

Designing a PCB for a non-demanding environment can be a daunting task. There are many issues to consider, especially as you make certain decisions. But when I think about some of the challenges unique to extreme environments, I am amazed at the robust technology that is available. There are also negative effects of altitude, vibration, shock, and heat that plague the electronics systems that we rely on every day.
March 16, 2023

Fresh PCB Concepts: PCBs for Harsh and Extreme Environments, Part 1

At the end of 2022, NCAB's Ryan Miller completed IPC’s six-week IPC training certification, PCB Design for Military, Aerospace and Other Extreme Environments. This in-depth course provided me with the knowledge and tools to provide support to customers who are designing within these harsh and/or extreme environments. Whether it is for applications such as aerospace, military, or industrial, harsh environments can expose the PCB to extreme temperature, humidity, vibration, shock, and other conditions that can affect its performance and reliability.
January 19, 2023

Fresh PCB Concepts: Designing Controlled Impedance PCBs

Imagine that you are getting ready to work on a new PCB when the electronics engineer you work with suddenly gives you a controlled impedance requirement for the board. This will be your first experience designing a PCB with controlled impedance traces. Where do you begin? I encourage you to seek out IPC-2141, Design Guide for High-Speed Controlled Impedance Circuit Boards, to help answer that question; in addition, this introduction may also help. Controlled impedance traces are necessary on some PCBs for high-speed signal transmission. The goal with controlled impedance traces is to design the proper propagation delay into the trace.
November 17, 2022

Fresh PCB Concepts: Copper Coin for Dissipating Heat

Are you trying to fit more high-power parts on your board, but can’t find the proper heat management technique? With more high-power components there is a need for increased thermal management. When you’ve tried everything else and are still having trouble keeping your parts within proper operating temperature, copper coin is one of the best ways to dissipate heat throughout your board. Nicholas Marks writes this month's installment.
October 04, 2022

Fresh PCB Concepts: How Large Does That Pad Really Need to Be?

Annular ring is the amount of copper left and surrounding the hole after processing. This measurement is taken from the edge of the hole to the edge of the land at the thinnest part. To ensure a robust design, we must design efficient annular ring for PCB interconnections. From Ryan Miller's experience, annular ring design is a misunderstood aspect of printed circuit board (PCB) design. Not because it is complex; it is a dry subject with a few moving parts.
July 21, 2022

Fresh PCB Concepts: Part 5—How to Handle Possible Moisture During Shipping, Handling, and Storage

This is the fifth part in a series titled “What Damage Does the Assembly Process do to a PCB?” In part four of this series, I discussed the effect moisture has on the printed circuit board at soldering temperatures. I explained the material properties of FR-4 laminate and how they are hygroscopic. We also covered an acceptable practice known as dry baking used to force moisture from the product just prior to being exposed to soldering temperatures. I thought it appropriate expand further on part four in this column.
May 12, 2022

Fresh PCB Concepts: Sustainability in PCB Design

In order to meet the increasing demand for smaller, more powerful, and complex electronics, PCB designers are under pressure to create boards that are not only reliable but also sustainable. This can be a challenge, as many of the design choices that maximize performance can be less environmentally friendly. However, with a little extra effort, it is possible to create circuits that are both high-performing and sustainable. In this column, I will explore some of the key factors to consider when designing sustainable PCBs.
March 25, 2022

Fresh PCB Concepts: The Right Board for the Flex Job

We like to say we like the board that is best fit for the job, but what does the right board for your job specifically look like? In this article we will go over the benefits and design types of flexible PCBs. So, what is a flex PCB? A flex board is defined as a bendable board with one or more conductive layers. There are different types of flex boards to fit any situation you may have. IPC defines them in five types, all are different constructions. To put it shortly these constructions are as follows, One layer of flex, double sided, multilayer flex, multilayer rigid-flex, and double or multilayer flex without electrically connected layers.
February 08, 2022

Fresh PCB Concepts: What Damage Does the Assembly Process Have on a PCB? Part 4

In Part 3 of this series, I discussed how phenolic cured laminates can be mechanically weaker than their dicey cured laminate counterparts. I pointed out some of the material properties listed on material data sheets that explain and support this point. Whereas the phenolic systems are better at thermal management, the dicey systems are better under mechanical stress. There is no right or wrong here. The systems just perform differently under different circumstances. Understanding the differences and how they relate to the applied assembly process are important to ensure success. For this post I would like to discuss the effect moisture has on the printed circuit board.
December 16, 2021

Fresh PCB Concepts: Does the Assembly Process Damage a PCB? (Part 3—Phenolic Epoxy Systems)

In part 2 of this series, I explained how the T260 and T288 material datasheet values could be used as an indicator of how durable a laminate system (FR-4) shall be when exposed to heat. The higher the temperature applied, the less time it takes to delaminate the FR-4. Traditional dicey cured epoxy systems do not stand up to lead-free assembly temperatures as well as one would think. The phenolic cured epoxy systems are much better suited and able to withstand the higher temperatures applied with lead-free assembly temperatures for longer periods of time.
November 23, 2021

Fresh PCB Concepts: Recommendations for Track Welding and Open Circuit Repair

Track welding is what some factories may opt for if they find an open circuit. The technique is to attach/stick/weld a thin piece of copper across the broken track. Sounds okay, right? But how reliable is the repair? And how does IPC cover this subject? Well, IPC doesn’t have too much to add on this subject other than mentioning that the customer and supplier should agree whether repairs are acceptable or not. Therefore, if the customer does not advise it is not acceptable, then it is acceptable by default. In my experience, the issue is rarely discussed between the supplier and customer.
October 25, 2021

Fresh PCB Concepts: High-tech PCBs from Design to Volume Production

Today I will talk about producing high-tech PCBs from design to volume production, since it is within this area that customers often do not reach their initial targets regarding time, cost and performance.
September 30, 2021

Fresh PCB Concepts: HDI PCBs for New Kids in the Industry

I have been working with NCAB Group for three years now. When I began I had no experience with PCBs and since have learned so much working with our customers’ PCB designs. I would like to share the basic fundamentals and design features of my favorite type of PCB, high-density interconnect, or HDI.
August 19, 2021

Fresh PCB Concepts: Holy Cow, What a Lead Time

It's summertime and we are adapting to our second COVID summer. However, things are most definitely a bit different these days. Recently I got an order, just like every day. The designer had spent the last three weeks completing the design and got it approved for order placement. The next step in the flow is when the purchaser spends a few days to get prices right, and then the order can be placed.
August 12, 2021

Fresh PCB Concepts: Does the Assembly Process Damage a PCB? (Part 2—Time to Delamination)

In part 1 of this series published back in April, I commented upon the effect the assembly process has upon a printed circuit board. There is another gauge that can be used to help a designer or contract manufacturer understand this point and that is the time to delamination test. These are referred to as either the T260 or T288 tests.
July 25, 2021

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.
June 17, 2021

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.
April 28, 2021

Fresh PCB Concepts: Don't Forget AABUS

The most important thing is to know a standard and how to use it. Here is all you need to know about AABUS, what it means, how to handle it, and basically a list of issues that needs AABUS.
April 14, 2021

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.
March 18, 2021

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.
February 18, 2021

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.
February 16, 2021

Fresh PCB Concepts: Attacking the Loophole That Does Not Exist

When producing PCBs, we follow IPC standards for Qualification Performance and Acceptance from design, through production, to customer incoming inspection and acceptance. However, there is always a way of writing a standard and a different way of interpreting it.
January 14, 2021

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.
December 17, 2020

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.
November 05, 2020

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.
October 08, 2020

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.
September 17, 2020

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.
January 19, 2020

Fresh PCB Concepts: Automotive Standard Elevates the Excellence of Electronics

IPC-6012DA (currently in WAM1) was the first automotive standard for printed boards; it also needs to expand to cover all types of rigid printed boards. To meet the PCB needs in the automotive industry of today and tomorrow, we have started to collect information and identify the types of printed boards not covered by the existing standard. One finding in the research is printed boards used for LED headlights and taillights, which have two requirements not covered; these are described as metal-core printed boards and high-power printed boards.
August 13, 2020

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.
July 23, 2020

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.
June 18, 2020

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.
May 07, 2020

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.
May 05, 2020

Fresh PCB Concepts: Can Better Guidelines on Cosmetic Failures ‘Save’ Functioning PCBs?

Every year, fully functional PCBs are scrapped due to cosmetic “failures” that are not approved. Is this right, or do we need to make an even more precise set of rules on how to handle this? Jan Pedersen shares his thoughts on the issue.
April 09, 2020

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.
March 19, 2020

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.
February 12, 2020

Fresh PCB Concepts: Controlled Impedance—Design to Testing

Ruben Contreras often gets questions from customers on one of his favorite subjects in PCB design: controlled impedance. Ruben explains how controlled impedance is a science, which is why he likes it; therefore, it must be designed and tested comprehensively.
January 09, 2020

Fresh PCB Concepts: Create PCB Fabrication Notes for Success

When NCAB Group receives Gerber files for an order, there are times Harry Kennedy cringes because there are missing pieces of information necessary to make sure the PCB is made with zero defects. As we come back to work for the New Year, Harry shares some key factors he wishes customers would consider before they send their files.
December 12, 2019

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.
November 11, 2019

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.
October 23, 2019

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?
October 02, 2019

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.
August 26, 2019

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.
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