We live in a civilization that relies on electronic devices to survive. Nearly everything we do, all day long, is full of electronics, controlled by electronics, and powered by more electronics. The interiors of each device have small boards called printed circuit boards that hold the chips, condensers, resistors, and diodes that bring everything together and make a product, like a phone. As time goes on, more and more of the manufacturing process of all of these electronic goods has become automated. There are robotic arms, conveyor belts and laser-guided cutters doing most of the work and people watching everything using cameras and monitors, but rarely touching the products until they’re done.
From Design To Finished Product, Nearly Everything Is Automated
First, an electronic engineer will design the actual circuit that makes the device function and then a computer program will design a printed circuit board that carefully places all of the individual components in order to reduce material use, save space, and connect the parts correctly without short circuits.
After that, the specifications can be fed into another device that will take blank circuit boards of the correct size and cut them exactly right to fit all of the individual parts that will eventually be placed there. This cutter will use a computer-controlled laser that can work all day, every day, without a rest, never make a mistake, and won’t take vacations either.
At That Point, The Printed Circuit Board Can Be Sold Or Finished
In the modern manufacturing environment, many of the sellers of the components will also put together the printed circuit boards, and the components, load the software into the memory of the chip, and then finally ship it to the customer. While some companies like to do the work themselves, the vast majority are now getting their circuit boards finished first due to the lower costs, convenience, and the fact that they don’t have to purchase expensive machinery for their own assembly line.
Solder paste stencils are what are used to precisely direct the deposit of the solder paste. The solder paste is what holds all of the components in place on the printed circuit board and connects them electronically together so that they function. The beauty of having a stencil is that the process can be repeated over and over again, exactly, precisely the same with no mistakes. Once the components are put into place, they are held tightly by the solder paste, so they are secure in the final product as well.
Stencil technology has been around for years and continues to get refined as new products and materials are introduced. The same idea prevails, though, placing the encapsulant that holds the components in place, the solder that connects them electronically and the flux that facilitates the solder all in exactly the right place every time.
As the components get smaller, the precision of the laser cutters has to keep improving as well. However, the day is also coming where the entire printed circuit board will be printed by a 3D printer in exactly the way it’s needed from the start. There will be no cutting involved and the various layers of materials placed on the substrate will all be laid in place by the printers. The sizes that the printers can navigate are an order of magnitude smaller than any laser cutter, plus there won’t be the waste of materials that are cut from the blank boards.
The future of making electronic products may not lie in the use of solder paste stencils at all since the 3D printer may be able to manufacture everything building from scratch. This will completely change the industry and may make manufacturing electronic goods far, far less expensive. In fact, there may come a day when the average person can design, print, and manufacture their own electronic product in their own garage with only a computer and a 3D printer.