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PCB vs PCBA: From Circuits to Connections

PCB vs PCBA

Table of Contents

In the world of electronic gadgets, we often come across terms like PCB (Printed Circuit Board) and PCBA (Printed Circuit Board Assembly). It’s like the backbone of our devices! Now, it’s important to know the difference between these two because they play essential roles in creating electronic wonders.

Think of PCB as the base or foundation. It’s like the flat board that electronic components hang out on. But, to make things work like magic, these components need to be put together. That’s where PCBA comes in – it’s like the assembly process where all the parts are brought together to make your electronic devices come to life!

In this article, we will see the type of PCB, the difference between PCB and PCBA, and the PCBA manufacturing process.

What is PCB?

PCB stands for “Printed Circuit Board.” It is a fundamental component of electronic devices. A PCB is a flat board made of insulating material, typically fiberglass, with thin copper layers etched or printed onto its surface in a specific pattern. This pattern creates a network of electrical pathways, known as traces or circuits, allowing electronic components such as resistors, capacitors, and integrated circuits to be mounted and connected.

In simpler terms, a PCB serves as a platform for the arrangement and connection of electronic components in a structured and efficient manner. It acts as the backbone of most electronic devices, facilitating the flow of electricity and enabling the device to function as intended.

Types of PCB

There are various types of PCBs available Today. Some of them include:

pcb

Single Sided PCB

This is the simple and basic type of PCB. There will be electronic components on one side of the single-layer PCB, while on the other side of the board, there will be electronic signal conducting patterns. A silkscreen is used to mark the components on this board. It is cost-effective and is used in simple applications like driver circuits of LEDs, toy cars, etc.

Double Sided PCB

It has copper layers on both sides of the PCB board. Thus, the manufacturer can use both sides of the board as a conducting layer. The primary benefit of this layer compared to single-sided PCB is that it has a doubled area for signal transmission. This results in a reduction of the size of the PCB with better functionality. Double-layer PCB is commonly used in HVAC systems, UPS, industrial automationPCBs for Industrial Equipments​ systems, etc.

Multilayer PCB

It has more than two conducting copper layers. The double-sided PCBs are glued with the help of heat-protective insulation glue and make multi-layered PCBs. Thus, it has higher component density, providing design complexity. Multi-layer PCB is used in complex electronics like motherboards, medical devices, GPS technologies, security system,

Manufacturing of PCB

  • Designing the Blueprint: Engineers plan where each electronic component goes on the board.
  • Collecting the Team: Components like resistors and chips are gathered from different suppliers.
  • Stencil Painting: A stencil spreads a layer of solder paste on the board, like glue.
  • Placing the Players: Machines or skilled hands position electronic components on solder paste-covered spots.
  • Heat Fusion: The board goes through a reflow oven, melting solder paste for solid connections.
  • Quality Check: Automated inspections ensure components are correctly placed.
  • Functional Tryouts: The assembled PCB undergoes tests to ensure it works as intended.
  • Adding Finishing Touches: Extra components like switches may be added.
  • Getting Ready for the World: The final PCB may receive protective coatings before packaging for its last use.

Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA)

PCBA

PCBA refers to the complete PCB assembly board with complete electronics components. The components are integrated on bare PCB boards with the help of advanced assembly methods like THT and SMT. PCBA is like the brain or the nervous system of the electronic system. Manufacturers assemble the circuit board and the electronic parts to make the product work.

How is PCBA Manufactured?

PCBA is manufactured using two methods:

Surface Mount Technology (SMT)

Surface Mount Technology (SMT) is an advanced method for assembling electronic components onto circuit boards. This method involves applying solder paste to the circuit boards, allowing direct attachment of essential electronic components to the board’s surface. Notably, SMT facilitates mounting components on both sides of the PCB. The manufacturing process unfolds through the following steps:

  1. Solder Paste Application: Appropriate circuit boards are prepared by applying solder paste where needed.
  2. Component Placement: Using a pick-and-place method, assemblers mount components onto the pre-applied solder paste on the boards.
  3. Reflow Soldering: Boards are heated in a reflow oven. It causes the solder paste to melt and form solder joints.
  4. Quality Inspection: Rigorous inspection ensures the product’s quality and adherence to standards.

Through-Hole Technology (THT)

In the manufacturing process of PCBA Assembly using Through-hole technology (THT), components with extended leads are employed. THT PCBAs utilize circuit boards with drilled holes into which the leads of these components are inserted. The manufacturing steps are as follows:

  1. Drill appropriately sized holes into the circuit board.
  2. Insert the leads of components into the drilled holes.
  3. Perform soldering to affix the leads and components onto the PCB securely.
  4. PCBA serves as the central operational core of electronic devices.

Comparison Between PCB vs PCBA

The comparison between PCB vs PCBA is shown in table below:

AspectPCB (Printed Circuit Board)PCBA (Printed Circuit Board Assembly)
DefinitionAn electronic board with circuit tracesA complete board with electronic components mounted
ComponentsNone or minimal; may have connectorsIncludes various electronic components
ManufacturingInvolves board fabrication onlyInvolves both board fabrication and component assembly
FunctionalityServes as a platform for electronic connectionsEnables the actual functioning of electronic devices
Manufacturing CostGenerally lower as it excludes componentsHigher due to the inclusion of electronic components
Assembly CostNo assembly cost as it lacks componentsSignificant assembly cost due to component placement
Common ApplicationsPrototyping, basic electronic structuresFinal products like computers, smartphones, gadgets

PCBA Manufacturing

Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) manufacturing is a crucial process in producing electronic devices. It involves integrating electronic components onto a printed circuit board, transforming it from a passive platform into an active and functional device part. The process of PCBA manufacturing at ElePCB involves the following:

  1. Design and Layout: Engineers plan how the circuit board will look, deciding where each part goes and how they connect.
  2. Getting the Parts: Once the plan is set, we bring all the electronic pieces like resistors, capacitors, circuits, and connectors from trusted suppliers.
  3. Stencil Painting: We use a particular stencil to spread solder paste precisely on the board where needed. It’s like a temporary glue for the parts.
  4. Putting the Parts in Place: Next, machines or skilled workers carefully put the electronic parts onto the solder paste-covered spots per the design.
  5. Heating Things Up: The board goes through a reflow oven. It causes the solder paste to melt, creating solid joints that lock the components in place.
  6. Checking for Quality: We don’t skip this step! Automated tools inspect the board for issues to ensure everything is where it should be.
  7. Testing for Functionality: After the check-up, we test if the PCB does what it should. We check all the functions and features to ensure everything works smoothly.
  8. Adding Final Touches: Sometimes, we add extra components like connectors, switches, or interfaces to make the PCB even more versatile.
  9. Getting Ready for the World: Finally, we prepare the finished PCBA for shipping or for the next step in making the final product. This might include protective coatings or special enclosures to keep things safe.

Essential Files to Consider in PCBA Manufacturing

A PCBA manufacturing requires the following files:

  1. Gerber Files: These contain details about the PCB design, such as copper layers, solder masks, and silkscreen.
  2. Bill of Materials (BOM): This is a list of all components needed for the PCBA, including part numbers and quantities.
  3. Pick-and-Place (P&P) Files specify where each electronic component should be located on the PCB.
  4. Centroid or XY Data: This coordinates precise component placement on the PCB.
  5. Schematic Diagram illustrates the electrical connections between components for correct circuit assembly.
  6. Assembly Drawings: Detailed drawings provide information on component placement, orientation, and assembly instructions.
  7. Test Points and Procedures: Information on specific test points and procedures to ensure the PCBA’s functionality and quality.
  8. Manufacturing Instructions: Clear instructions for the assembly process, including soldering details, cleaning procedures, and any special considerations.

Conclusion

A PCB provides the base for placing the components, while the PCBA is the assembly process of all components. You can choose PCB over PCBA when you need your product’s foundation and want to assemble the components yourself. PCBs are less expensive and faster to produce than PCBAs. If you want the fully functionalized product or circuit with all required components mounted on it, then you can go with PCBA.

So, whether you are searching for a PCB foundation or a fully assembled PCBA product, ElePCB is here to help you. For all of your PCB and PCBA needs, you can trust ElePCB to bring your vision to life. 

Contact Us Today for a Free Consultation: Ready to kickstart your electronic project? Contact ElePCB Today for a free consultation. Let’s turn your ideas into reality! Your journey to electronic excellence starts here. Trust ElePCB for unmatched quality and service.

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About the Author
Rashila
I am an Electrical and Electronics Engineer, and I have 5 years of work experience with electronics and communication jobs. I'm the full time content creator of ELE company.
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