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What is PCB Milling in PCB Fabrication?

PCB Milling

Table of Contents

Printed circuit board milling is the procedure of physically removing copper from the surface of printed circuit board fabric to reassemble pads, signal lines, and buildings based on layouts from the circuit board, a file known as a layout file.

How PCB Milling Works?

1. Design Creation: Use electronic design tools such as KiCad or Eagle to develop the PCB layout. This involves creating the circuit schematic, putting together the components, and routing the copper lines.

2. Prepare the substrate. Cut a copper-clad fiberboard (FR-4) to the specified size. Clean the surface to make sure it is clear of dirt and pollutants.

3. Set up the milling machine. Attach the assembled board to the milling machine frame. Install and configure any cutting tools required for the operation.

4. Milling: The milling machine uses the design file to remove excess copper from the board. This is performed through the use of rotating tools such as end factories, drill bits, and engraving bits.

5. Cleaning and inspection: Remove all dirt from the machined PCB. Check the board for flaws or inaccuracies. Perform any needed touch-ups.

6. Component placement and soldering: arrange the electronic components on the PCB. Solder them in position by hand or using pick-and-place equipment and a reworking oven.

PCB Milling

Advantages of PCB Milling

Quick Prototyping – PCB milling enables the swift creation of prototype forums, allowing designers to test and modify their designs. This rapidity allows for faster refinement and improvement of the design.

Customizable Designs – Milling machines may produce custom PCB shapes and sizes, including features such as slots or slits. This flexibility allows for personalized and unique board designs.

In-house Manufacturing – Using a PCB milling machine, developers and engineers can manufacture boards in-house. This decreases the lead time and expenses linked to sending production to foreign manufacturers, giving you greater control over the entire production process.

Suitable for small-scale Production – PCB milling is ideal for small manufacturing runs. It avoids the high-priced setup costs of conventional PCB manufacturing techniques, making it a cost-effective option for restrained portions.

Environmental friendly – Unlike traditional etching procedures, PCB milling does not use toxic chemicals. This makes it a more sustainable option, as it reduces the negative environmental impact involved with PCB manufacture.

Disadvantages of PCB Milling

Limited Trace Precision – The instruments for cutting used in PCB milling cannot produce very precise trace widths and spacing, limiting the level of complexity and accuracy of the designs.

Not Suitable for Mass Production – PCB milling is slower and less expensive for large-scale production than traditional manufacturing techniques, making it unsuitable for high-volume manufacturing.

Tool Degradation – Cutting tools wear out with time, reducing both the accuracy and quality of the milling trace. Regular upkeep and replacement are required to ensure reliable operation.

Steps for PCB Milling

Laser Milling Process

Laser milling makes use of a powerful laser to cut and engrave the PCB layout onto the substrate. This approach is good for developing tricky styles and nice information due to the laser’s precision. It allows for targeted and complex PCB layouts that might be difficult with conventional milling techniques.

The laser removes the copper layer from the board, following the layout specifications from the CAD report. Since it’s a non-touch process, there may be the least chance of body damage to the board. Unlike mechanical milling, laser milling reviews the least device put on, making sure constantly exceptional over many uses.

laser milling

CNC Router

A CNC (Computer Numerical Control) router is a multifunctional device that removes unnecessary copper from a PCB and shapes the board according to the design. CNC routers enable excellent accuracy and manipulation, making them suited for both prototype and small-scale manufacturing.

They can deal with a variety of substances and produce constant outcomes. The substrate is secured to the CNC router mattress. The router, guided by the design report, uses the cutting tool to get rid of extra copper and describe the board’s form. The CNC device can also drill holes for item placement. CNC routers can accommodate exceptional tool sorts and sizes, allowing for many operations, including reducing, drilling, and engraving.

PCB Milling - CNC Router

Carbide End Mills

Carbide quit generators are reducing equipment made from carbide, acknowledged for its hardness and sturdiness. They are vital for unique slicing and drilling operations in PCB milling. Carbide give-up mills are long-lasting and capable of reducing tough materials without dropping their sharpness. They offer smooth cuts and specific holes, which are critical for tremendous PCB manufacturing.

During the milling procedure, carbide stop turbines are used to reduce lines, drill holes, and get rid of material from the board. Their sharp edges ensure easy and correct cuts, which is important for retaining the integrity of the PCB design. Regular inspection and replacement of carbide quill mills are necessary to ensure the continued precision and excellence of the milling procedure. Using well-maintained gear helps save you from defects and continues high production requirements.


Important Software for PCB Milling

KiCad: KiCad is a free EDA software kit that lets you capture schematics, design PCBs, and generate PCB milling files. It is popular among both amateurs and experts due to its comprehensive features and community-driven updates.

Autodesk Eagle: It is well-known for its strong schematic collection and PCB design capabilities. It generates milling files and comes in both free and paid editions, making it suitable for a wide spectrum of users.

Altium Designer: It is a top-tier EDA program used by experienced circuit board designers. It has advanced tools for schematic capture, PCB design, and milling file output, making it ideal for complicated and specialized applications.

PCB Milling vs PCB Etching

PCB milling and etching are specific techniques for growing revealed circuit boards, every with its own blessings and limitations.

PCB Milling

PCB milling entails bodily casting off areas of copper from a board using a milling system. It doesn’t require the advent of film paintings, which simplifies the setup system. However, milling tends to be greater expensive because of the high cost of tools and the complexity of the programming worried. This method is in particular well-proper for prototyping as it allows for quick generation and customization of designs without the want for a manufacturing unit setup.

PCB Etching

On the other hand, etching makes use of chemicals to dispose of unwanted copper from the PCB. This method typically entails creating a film or mask to outline the regions to be etched. While etching is less highly priced in phrases of materials for large-scale production and would not have the equal tooling charges as milling, it calls for a manufacturing facility environment because of the coping with of dangerous chemical substances. Additionally, the setup for etching may be more complex and time-eating due to the need for precise movie art work.

Table: The Comparison Between PCB Milling and PCB Etching

AspectPCB MillingPCB Etching
ProcessPhysical cutting using a milling machineChemical removal of copper using an etchant
Material RemovalCutting away unwanted copper using milling bitsChemical dissolution of unprotected copper
PrecisionHigh precision, suitable for intricate designsGood precision, limitations in fine features
FlexibilityQuick modifications and adjustmentsLimited flexibility for design changes
Substrate CompatibilityCompatible with various substrates (rigid and flexible)Commonly used with rigid substrates (e.g., FR4)
Production TypePrototyping and small-scale productionBatch production of multiple PCBs
Design ComplexitySuitable for complex PCB designsAdequate for standard PCB designs

Applications of PCB Milling

PCB milling is used for fast prototyping and small-scale manufacturing of revealed circuit boards (PCBs), presenting engineers and designers with a short and customizable technique to create prototypes and specialized boards. It facilitates rapid new releases of designs and supports niche marketplace applications by permitting precise customization of PCB shapes and functions.

Moreover, PCB milling contributes to sustainability efforts by reducing chemical usage and waste as compared to traditional etching techniques, aligning with friendly production practices in the electronics enterprise.


PCB milling is a specific technique for making revealed circuit boards by getting rid of copper. It’s best for speedy prototyping and small-scale manufacturing, providing design flexibility. This procedure reduces chemical use but faces challenges like restricted precision and slower speeds for massive batches. Advances in CNC and laser milling, supported through software programs like KiCad and Autodesk Eagle, enhance performance and expand programs in electronics manufacturing, helping agile development and sustainability.

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Irene Shi
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