Delivering quality you can’t always see

PCBs from the NCAB Group deliver a quality level that more than pays for itself over time, despite being invisible to the naked eye

With a product specification that sets exceptional standards and stringent quality control, plus a high level of purchasing power, NCAB ensures that the PCB manufacturers it works with really achieve NCAB Group requirements.

At first sight, PCBs differ little in appearance, irrespective of their inherent quality. Under the surface however, there are differences critical to the PCB’s durability and functionality during its entire life cycle. Even though you can’t always see the difference, NCAB puts a great deal of effort into ensuring the most stringent quality standards.

Technical manager at NCAB Group Germany, Franz Kantner, explained: “It is vital that PCBs function reliably, both during the customer’s manufacturing assembly process and out in the field. Remedying faults that occur during assembly can be costly. There is also a risk that such faults are built into the final product. It may take years before they are discovered, with possible field failures leading to substantial compensation claims. Relative to this, it would be reasonable to suggest that in many instances, the cost of a premium quality PCB is negligible.”

It may not matter so much in white goods and basic consumer electronic items, but in just about all other market sectors, particularly in critical applications, the consequences of any failure will be devastating.

NCAB Group managing director, Florian Lauterbach, underlines the importance of considering the total life cycle cost when comparing PCB prices. He said: “Reliability and a guaranteed or long life cycle might involve an initially higher outlay, but will pay for itself in the long run.”

Boosting buyer competence

Many PCB users lack the experience needed to draw up appropriate specifications for their PCB. With companies increasingly outsourcing their manufacturing, they often lose the in-house skills required to make professional assessments when ordering.

Florian continued: “It is also a matter of ensuring that manufacturers really listen to your demands. You need purchasing power to persuade a factory to comply with a detailed list of specifications. If a buyer lacks the volumes, it can be difficult to get anyone to take on the job. At worst, they might just ignore the requirements set.”

The NCAB Group has both the competence to make appropriate demands and the purchasing power to make sure they are met. This is backed up by an extensive organisation in China which closely monitors all elements of factory performance and conformance.

Controlling quality

An extensive product quality specification, compiled in-house, sets the standard for all PCBs supplied by NCAB. It is based on IPC standards, but goes further by placing more stringent requirements in a number of areas.

Franz Kantner explained: “This 31-page document builds on our long-term experience of PCB construction.”

For instance, NCAB demands thicker through hole copper plating, which ensures that PCBs better withstand the effects of soldering. It potentially avoids the risk of material fatigue that can ultimately lead to intermittent faults at a later date. NCAB also demands higher cleanliness standards, since contamination on the PCB can cause short-circuits during and even after assembly, leading to expensive rework or replacement.

Franz Kantner concluded: “We impose strict requirements on solderability and on the type of surface treatments applied. In this respect, today’s buyers often have limited knowledge of what really works. We carry out extensive tests including simulating the ageing process on some finishes to see if they will stand the test of time.”