Assembly by hand vs. machine

PCBs are at the nerve system of modern electronics. It would be impossible to construct computers, smartphones, tablets, or any gadget without them. It is therefore vital to have a dependable, strong, and proven method of PCB fabrication and assembly. There are essentially three methods of assembly; by hand, by machine, or a combination. Bittele electronics uses a combination of both manual and automated assembly process. This allows them to take advantage of strengths the two methods offer while offsetting any shortcoming either method has.

Originally, all PCB’s were assembled by hand. As the need for accuracy, speed and efficiency increased automated assembly was developed. Another aspect to consider is, the size of components, electronic parts have gotten smaller and smaller with every advancement, making it very challenging for human assemblers to solder and work with. Humans are better at problem-solving, troubleshooting, understanding exceptions need to be made sometimes. Therefore, Bittele Electronics has chosen to operate with human and machine combination to better serve their customers.

To understand the difference between hand and machine assembly, it is vital to compare what the advantage and disadvantage of each method are. While both methods have their strong points, it is important to consider how you as a customer can be affected by the method of choice a PCB assembler chooses to operate.

In the early days of PCB manufacturing and assembly, size was never a consideration as most parts and components were large themselves. Over the years, as advancements in technology are made, components size is one of the main parts that benefited. Electronic components are capable of handling more than ever and their sizes have gotten significantly smaller than what they were. Pick and place machines make it possible to handle the new smaller, faster chips. Machines will produce accurate and clean soldered joints. It is simply impossible to compare the soldering work of any engineer to the machines as a human would not be able to produce the same quality or rate of production.

Another aspect that gives human operation an advantage is small orders or prototype orders. While machine operation is fast and accurate, it is not as cost effective for simple low quantity orders, as the setup and operating cost is much higher per-unit. With manual labour however, it is much more feasible to do small or single projects.

Another importance of humans in PCB design and assembly, is to reduce the risk of project delays by fixing design errors such as incorrect footprints, missing polarity marks, etc., prior to beginning the assembly process or during the process. Humans are able to look at Gerbers (OBD) and solve simple problems, they are able to understand minor human errors and make the necessary changes. While a machine will simply stop assembly process or not identify the error, which can result in time loss and possibly additional expenses.

Hand-assembling a PCB can be very challenging because both electronic components and boards are getting smaller and smaller. Customers also expect a product that is accurate, clean and presentable which essentially requires the soldering to be near perfect. With shorter development cycles, engineers usually do not have time to rework or make significant adjustments. Whether it is to pitch an idea for funding, take a project to a tradeshow, or impress the boss, engineers need professional-looking and consistent electronics, without any solder globs and uneven traces. Automated SMT assembly via machines create excellent quality prototypes that are immediately presentable and functional. As we touched on earlier, a major advantage for machine or automated system is speed. An efficient and skilled human operator might be able to solder 1000 parts in an hour in the ideal environment where parts are already placed and held in place firmly. While very impressive, this employee would not even come close to what today's automated machines are capable of. The machines are capable of placing, aligning components accurately, and solder up to 50,000 parts per hour.

Automated machine assembly keeps the board consistent throughout production life. This makes it easier to repeat orders in a later date and produce boards that can be combined with older stock without any concerns or issues. Automated machines make PCB assembly services affordable for everyone, so rather than just big companies, even the small business and university students can get boards done without emptying their bank account. Whether you are a university student, hobbyist, engineer, designer, or a business, you can get a professional looking PCB board on both your large volume or small volume.

Therefore, it is easy to conclude automated assembly process while having some shortcoming, is overall the better option moving forward. Bittele electronics utilizes 100% machine placement wherever possible, while also utilizing both hand and machine operations to reduce error, not be hindered by minimum requirements, required speed to customer, accuracy and consistency. By employing this method, Bittele has been able to assist customers with all ranges of orders quantities and complications.


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