If you’re looking to create a PCB (printed circuit board) prototype, as you may work at one of many prototype PCB service locations, you probably have a solid foundation of where to begin. However, many newcomers in these services might not have any idea of how prototype assembly works, and so might be lost at the start.

So with those individuals in mind, here are some steps on how to start your first prototype PCB assembly:

1. Start With a Plan

Before you can start working on the PCB and laying down silicon, you need to have an idea of what you’re doing. You need a plan. That’s where an assembly diagram, a pictographic guide to remind you of component locations, comes into play. This can make a prototype PCB service job easier by a large margin.

Thankfully, many companies have some form of tool that makes it easy to create or follow these diagrams.

2. Soldering Paste Is Your Friend

Soldering paste is integral to getting the build done right and doing things properly. Without it, the design can fall apart fast, and not move forward at all. You really can’t build a PCB without soldering paste. It can also be a good idea to get a stencil for this stage, as you will need to get into small spaces. Ordering one prior to the first step above is recommended.

3. Place Components Based On Plan

Place your components based on the diagram that you created in step one. You want to follow the plan as closely as you possibly can, and only make adjustments if you made a mistake in the pre-planning stage. You want good lighting, and to make sure you have patience and only place one part at a time.

Also, start in the morning. These can take a tremendous amount of mental power and time to create, and starting when you’re not at your peak will likely mean more mistakes.

4. Reflowing: Get a Reflowing Oven

Don’t make the mistake of many and using appliances or items not designed for this purpose to do your reflowing. A reflowing oven is designed specifically to do what the name suggests, reflow a PCB. You do this to make sure everything soldered well.

Check For Mistakes

The final step, to check your boards for mistakes. This can be done in many ways at a prototype PCB service facility, but often comes in visual and electronic ways. Look over your PCB for any mistakes or notable flaws, like raised or moved components, to see if there is anything you can fix immediately.

Otherwise, plug it into whatever you were aiming to use it for and see what occurs. Does it run well? Are there issues in the signal or strength of the PCB? If so, its time to go back to the drawing board or attempt to diagnose the issue.

These are the main steps to assembling a PCB. Most are not done by hand, but a prototype can be an exception. They’re complicated and delicate pieces of art and can be fun to create. Great references here.

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