Advances in PCB Milling Technology
Recent advances in PCB assembly and milling system technology continues to be a primary factor contributing to the growth of this technology. Unlike earlier, basic milling equipment, the newest systems are easy to operate and have the precision to fabricate multilayer PCBs that use cutting-edge SMT components and have professionally-plated through-holes. The milling precision, reliability and operating convenience delivered by today's state-of-the-art PCB plotters offer engineers a rich set of prototyping tools. Capabilities such as automatic front-to-back alignment, automatic tool change and automatic milling depth adjustment enable these systems to operate unattended. Hybrid systems combine the milling, drilling and contour routing capabilities of a PCB plotter with the fine structuring ability of a laser system. Integrated CAM software drives these systems and provides the tools for defining the board production process. In addition, the system software allows engineers to work directly with their own PCB production CAD data, giving them insight ways to improve their designs.
For designs involving complex RF and microwave boards, the latest PCB plotters can mill these types of circuits on a variety of substrates, from standard FR4 to PTFE-based material. Non-contact milling techniques ensure that the substrate is precisely cut and delicately handled to preserve the design's performance characteristics.
Other in-house prototyping equipment used in conjunction with electronic assemblyplotters now give engineers the ability to fabricate prototypes with up to eight layers. Compact PCB laminating equipment securely bonds the inner and outer layers of multilayer boards, while in-house electroplating tools can plate very small through-holes with the quality and reliability of an outside circuit board fabrication facility. Protective solder masks can now be applied in-house, and SMT assembly equipment automates the precise placement of surface-mounted components on the finished PCB.
Their ability to produce prototypes, multilayers and test circuits that are equal to outsourced boards, combined with their time and cost advantages over outsourcing, makes in-house PCB milling technology and related equipment a viable alternative for every engineer looking for more from their prototyping efforts.