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The role of the process engineer is arguably one of the most important jobs in the printed circuit industry. The process engineer is on the front line of manufacturing and responsible for making sure product yields and profitability meet expectations. The job typically entails and intertwines many different and even disparate disciplines, including: electrochemistry, mechanical engineering, NC machining, robotics and automation, metallurgy, laser technology, polymer processing and photolithography. It even reaches back into the printed circuit design process. Because of this variety, it is also arguably at once, one of the most challenging and interesting jobs in the PCB industry.
In practice in most major manufacturing facilities, process engineers often specialize in just one of the areas identified here. In smaller facilities, the process engineer often must move between and attend to matters in more than one discipline, most commonly process steps which immediately precede or follow the area where the engineer has special training and expertise. However, in many cases, factors which may influence product quality and yield may be several steps earlier or later in the process. This is extremely important when one is looking into, or in the midst of implementing a new process on the manufacturing floor. Change comes slowly in PCB manufacturing and old habits are hard to break, so keeping a finger on the pulse of the process is critical.
It is a simple fact of life that in PCB manufacturing, process characterization, monitoring and maintenance are critical to success, and so also is collecting and evaluating data on process health. The tools and specific methods and measurements required will vary significantly from process to process, but without control, the quality of the results of the process will be left to a roll of the dice.
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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of The PCB Magazine
Nolan Johnson, PCB007
The first steps in process improvement are to determine what the gap is and why it happens. Having a process is not sufficient; the process needs to be effective as well. For those responsible for creating and maintaining processes, the ultimate goal is to create a procedure that becomes self-perpetuating, that seeps into the fabric of the company’s culture. For better or worse, plenty of procedures do indeed become ingrained in company culture. How does one go about ensuring that company culture is loaded with effective processes that deliver a positive outcome? That is the question, to be sure.
I-Connect007 Editorial Team
To better understand what’s needed for upskilling your labor force in today’s job climate, we reached out to Sunstone Circuits, a PCB fabricator in the Pacific Northwest. We posed our set of questions to individuals in three departments to hear their perspectives depending on what area they work in. The following are the questions and answers from Michael Connella, operations manager; Matt Stevenson, vice president of sales and marketing; and Debra Coburn, human resources manager.
Jordan Kologe and Leslie Kim, MacDermid Alpha Electronics Solutions
As the electronics supply chain contends with the struggles of moving out of the pandemic and into a new normal, it is increasingly obvious that a new normal will be one with sustainability and resource conservation as the top priority. Over the past year, we have seen printed circuit board manufacturers encounter challenges associated with environmental regulations, water and power outages, and pressures from the supply chain to reduce environmental footprints. From the perspective of a board fabricator, especially one that specializes in HDI, a highly resource-intensive step in the process of making a printed circuit board is the primary metallization step. All circuit boards that have multiple layers go through such a primary metallization, which is either electroless copper or direct metallization (DM).