soldering iron and PCB

Tips for the Best Soldering Results

soldering iron and PCBBasic Tips for Ensuring Good Solder Results

Before beginning a PCB project, it’s important to have the right tools and a basic understanding of the soldering process. The following tips are helpful for ensuring the best solder results:

1. Make Sure You Pick the Right Soldering Iron

The right soldering iron will play an essential role in ensuring you can get the job done properly. Consider the following when choosing an iron:

  • Be sure that the iron is capable of producing a high enough temperature to melt the solder.
  • Read plenty of reviews before purchasing to ensure the iron is safe and easy to use.
  • Make sure that the soldering iron is designed to be compatible with PCB systems.

2. Know Your Secret Weapon: Flux

The whole point of soldering is to create an electrically conductive connection. Flux simplifies this process by cleaning the metal surfaces before they’re joined together. Essentially, flux chemically cleans away oxides and other impurities on the metal, and it promotes the wetting of the solder while preventing corrosion. Without flux, you will not be able to get an effective connection.

The most effective type of flux for PCB projects is made from rosin that is extracted from pine tree sap. Here are the types of rosin flux to know:

  • R (rosin): As the weakest type of rosin flux, it should only be used on clean metal surfaces. Since it has a lower level of activators, this rosin flux won’t create any dangerous residue during soldering.
  • RMA (rosin mildly activated): This type has a higher level of activators that’s effective for cleaning PCB pads and holes in addition to component pins. While this flux can leave some residue, it shouldn’t be enough to cause concern.
  • RA (rosin activated): Having the highest levels of activators for cleaning, RA flux will also leave the most residue after soldering.

3. Research Proper Soldering Techniques Before You Start

To properly solder, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the basics techniques of the process. Here’s what you should know:

  • Ensure that all of the surfaces you’re soldering have been properly cleaned with a sponge before you add the flux. 
  • The soldering iron must be set to a high enough temperature.
  • Bring the two surfaces you’ll be joining up to temperature at the same time. Do this with the tip of the soldering iron.
  • Add enough solder to the heated joints so that it completely covers the joints you’re connecting.
  • Clean off the excess flux when you’re done soldering.

4. Don’t Hesitate to Contact an Expert

If you need help with PCB testing services or some other kind of soldering-related and PCB or PWB Assembly services, reach out to BESTProto.

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PCB Surface

Types of PCB Surface Finish

PCB Surface

Choosing the Right Printed Circuit Board Finish

An often-overlooked decision in designing printed circuit boards is which surface finish is the best choice for the project. At least nine different choices are commonly available. Thinking through some factors will help you make the best decision.

Lead-Free Solder

Depending on where the product will be used after PCB assembly, you may face government regulations on the type of solder used in the project. Choices include:

  • Lead-free hot air solder leveling
  • Organic solderability preservative

* Immersion silver

  • Immersion tin
  • Electroless nickel immersion gold (ENIG)
  • Electroless nickel
  • Electroless nickel electroless palladium immersion gold
  • Electrolyte wire bondable gold
  • Electrolyte hard gold

Denotes BESTProto preferred finishes

Tight Pitch

Pitch refers to the center-to-center spacing between conductors, such as pads and pins. If you have a project, such as ball grid arrays, where that space is extremely minimal, it is vital to choose the right finish. Making a poor decision often leads to weak connections.

If you need a tight pitch, consider:

  • Immersion silver
  • Electroless nickel immersion gold (ENIG)
  • Electroless nickel electroless palladium immersion gold

Shelf Life

Many different factors determine the shelf life of PCBs. Keeping the boards in a low-humidity environment that is dust-free helps extend their lives. Choosing quality materials for the PCB assembly can help. High frequencies and high loads on PCBs can make them fail more quickly. Boards should be stored in an environment that is colder than 30 degrees Celsius and has less than 85% relative humidity.

When shelf life is one of the deciding factors, choose:

  • Hot-air solder leveling (HASL)
  • Lead-free hot-air solder leveling (Lead-free HASL)
  • Immersion silver
  • Immersion tin
  • Electroless nickel immersion gold (ENIG)
  • Electroless nickel electroless palladium immersion gold
  • Electrolyte wire bondable gold
  • Electrolyte hard gold

Extra Costs

Some raw materials can be more costly to obtain. The manufacturer must pass these costs on to the company using the PCB. The market can change rapidly, but some types of PCBs that typically come at a higher cost include:

  • Electroless nickel electroless palladium immersion gold
  • Electrolyte wire bondable gold
  • Electrolyte hard gold

Considering these different factors can help you make a more informed choice based on your specific needs. Contact BESTProto, and we will be happy to discuss the specifics of your PCB needs with you.

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PCB Assembly Enclosure

Considerations When Choosing a PCB Assembly Enclosure

PCB Assembly Enclosure

When designing and manufacturing a printed circuit board assembly (PCBA), the creator must make countless considerations. Designers must specify size, weight, shape, materials, and a number of other features. Another aspect of PCB design and layout  includes the PCB enclosure. Similar to the board itself, a PCB enclosure consists of numerous variables from materials to size. Below is a guide to expound on considerations when choosing a PCB enclosure.

Evaluate the Source

Research potential suppliers to determine whether an organization is reputable. Newly-established or poorly-reviewed companies may not consistently provide products of adequate quality or reliability. Be aware of a supplier’s customer support and service, since these factors can play a pivotal role in long-term satisfaction with the enclosure. Compare a supplier’s pricing patterns with reputed quality and customer support to help determine the best company for your project.

Consider Flexibility

Determine how much effort should be spent on assembling each enclosure. Ease of assembly is an important factor in selecting the cost-effectiveness of a product. Ease of modification informs how much delicacy will be required for drilling, fitting, and printing. Easily-modified enclosures may reduce overall PCB assembly costs. Select a product that offers flexibility of design, including height, depth, and width.

Environmental Considerations

Enclosures will serve somewhat different functions depending on the usage environment. A PCB in a hot, humid indoor area will require different protection compared with a board in a dry, dusty environment. Depending on the anticipated placement of the PCB, an enclosure ought to protect against certain environmental factors. A board may need protection from elements such as temperature, airborne particles, and ultraviolet light. 

Choose Ideal Materials

Each material type offers specific advantages as a PCB enclosure. Metal cases are highly durable, which translates to lowered long-term costs. Metal, however, can have relatively high initial costs, and metal construction can be somewhat labor intensive. Conversely, plastic is highly malleable, so it is a popular choice based on its workability. Plastic also survives humid environments without corrosion common to metal. A plastic enclosure is prone to breakage, but the initial cost is lower for this material.

PCB enclosures are an important element of printable circuit boards. While the “best” enclosure is the product of several variables, a few considerations can help the buyer determine where to begin in the selection process. Refer to this guide when evaluating what type of enclosure is a viable option for your upcoming project.

BESTProto is a leader in PCB prototyping, PCB assembly, and PCB production. Contact us today for a quote on your project: 224-387-3283

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PCB Assembly

An Overview of Documentation for PCB Assembly

PCB Assembly

PCB assembly is a very precise and highly-technical process. In order to ensure the finished product meets every specification exactly, manufacturers rely on a number of documents provided by the client.  Although manufacturers work with documentation frequently, clients (especially new clients) may require some guidance in order to understand what information to provide and when. In this overview of documentation for PCB Assembly, we list the documentation required by most manufacturers and outline the benefits of a complete documentation package.

The Importance of Documentation

A PCB Assembly project requires countless specifications. Manufacturers make quality PCBs, of course, but even the best board is useful only if it meets client requirements.The documentation packet protects both parties and causes the assembly to run as smoothly as possible. By providing written instructions, the client establishes what is expected of the finished product. The manufacturer follows the specifications precisely, ensuring the client receives exactly what they asked for. Documentation eliminates any guesswork or miscommunication that may have occurred during verbal agreements. 

Key Documents

While requirements may vary slightly between manufacturers, most documents are quite standard to the industry. These include:

  • Gerber Files
  • BOM in MS Excel File
  • Test specifications
  • CAD Files in ODB++
  • Assembly drawings
  • Approved vendor list

Obtain a quote using complete documentation. Doing so will guarantee the price and timeline are accurate. More importantly, the manufacturer will have to input the specifications only once, which dramatically decreases the risk of human error. 

Regardless of project size, every PCB Assembly ought to meet several requirements which are specific to each client and each project. Because accuracy is paramount, detailed, precise instructions are a common requirement in the PCB Assembly process. Consider the document types listed above when preparing for PCB Assembly RFQ and build.

BESTProto is a leader in PCB prototyping, PCB assembly, and PCB production. Contact us today for a quote on your project: 224-387-3283

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PCB Prototype Assembly

5 Tips for Choosing the Right Materials for Your PCB Prototype Assembly Project

PCB Prototype Assembly

A high-quality, reliable Prototype PCB Assembly will be composed of appropriate materials. Based on the desired cost and performance of the finished board, certain materials will work better for a given specification. Below, we list a few tips for choosing the right materials for your Prototype PCB assembly project.   

General Considerations

Each PCB Prototype Assembly project presents a unique set of material needs. Consider what threshold your project will require for heat and power. Maximize cost efficiency by selecting the least expensive material which will still meet performance specifications. As a rule, when performance increases, so does the cost. Review the following materials to determine which will be the best balance of  cost and performance for the project.

Standard FR-4

FR4 (fiberglass) is the most common PCB material. It is durable, easily manufactured, and a popular choice for general use. This flame-retardant fiberglass also performs well in a wide range of humidity levels. FR4 is among the most inexpensive materials to use. As such, it may not be adequate for LED light, microwave, or high-heat projects.  

Rogers Materials

Rogers materials serve as a sort of “upgraded” version of FR4. In fact, Rogers material is essentially FR4 with copper coating. The coating, of course, renders this material more costly than the uncoated fiberglass. However, Rogers materials are appropriate for more demanding jobs, such as RF, microwave, or high-speed designs.

Metal Core

Moving away from fiberglass altogether, metal core is built around a plate made of aluminum, copper, or an alloy. The major advantage of a metal core is its performance in high-heat or heat-sensitive projects. The metal plate is designed specifically for heat distribution and is most commonly made from aluminum. 

HDI Material

For smaller, lighter products, consider High Density Interconnector (HDI) material. HDI material is rapidly growing in popularity due to its performance in increasingly small gadgets. Heat transfer is kept to a minimum, and vias can blind or buried. This material supports microvias, which are .006 in diameter (or smaller.) 

The quality and longevity of a PCB Assembly can have a lasting impact on the designer’s reputation (and future clientele.) Selecting the best materials for a given project can enhance PCB reliability and quality. Use the points above to determine which material will be right for your PCB project.

BESTProto is a leader in PCB prototyping, PCB assembly, and PCB production. Contact us today for a quote on your project: 224-387-3283

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High Quality PCB

How to Maintain High Quality PCB / PWB Assembly Without Breaking the Bank

High Quality PCB

Most producers endeavor to save as much money as possible while maintaining high-quality products. PCB / PWB assembly is one area where costs can be reduced while maintaining a company’s reputation for quality devices. Below are a few ideas for achieving high-quality PCB assembly without breaking the bank.

Produce a Simple Design

Most PCBs are square or rectangular in shape. Some manufacturers produce various shapes to achieve practical or stylistic designs. Uniquely shaped PCBs typically require a unique fit into other hardware. Special tools or modifications (and the associated costs) may be necessary in such cases. Designing a standard shape and using a minimal number of unique components can significantly reduce material and assembly costs.

Find the Best Size

Smaller components are less expensive to manufacture than their larger counterparts. That being said, assembly may become more expensive when working with smaller pieces. Hole drilling, for example, requires a great deal more precision for smaller holes than larger ones. Assembly using larger holes requires less time and less expertise, usually resulting in a smaller bill. It is, of course, important to keep boards and components reasonably small. Efficient spending can be accomplished by balancing the assembly costs of small workmanship with the material costs of larger components.

Utilize Quality Parts

Ensure all components are made from parts which meet industry standards and come from a reputable seller. High-quality parts are less likely to warp or fail, and the alloy ratios are likely to comply with design specifications. The use of quality parts maximizes the lifespan of individual components and the board itself. In addition, assembly will be more efficient if each component adheres and functions properly with the first piece and on the first attempt. Efficient assembly is paramount in reducing costs.

Smart assembly practices will reduce overall PCB costs. By utilizing quality parts and using the best size and a simple design, you can effectively produce PCBs on a budget. Not only can efficient assembly increase overall profits, but it can also allow savings to be passed on to consumers.

BESTProto is a leader in PCB prototyping, PCB assembly, and PCB production. Contact us today for a quote on your project: 224-387-3283


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PCB Parts

How to Ensure Authentic, Non-Counterfeit PCB Parts: Part Two

PCB Parts

Boards are in a row. Factory for the production of chips

In our previous article (part 1), we discussed how choosing reliable sources and inspecting product packaging can help your organization avoid purchasing lower quality, counterfeit PCB Assembly parts. 

As promised, below we have provided three additional ways you can ensure high quality parts that will help maintain your organization’s reputation.

Compare Parts

Side by side, a counterfeit component may have visible features which vary from an authentic part. Ensure size and color are consistent between previous purchases from authorized distributors and the new shipment. Notches should be uniform in size and color. Counterfeiters often produce pieces which are shinier than the OCM’s parts in order to achieve a more high-end appearance. If the original serial number is sanded off, this can render the piece to be of uneven or lesser thickness. Ensure serial numbers are consistent between the new shipment and those from the OCM (Original Component Manufacturer). The typeface or font should also match both with the OCM part and between individual components within the new order.

Inspect Parts Thoroughly

If a part must be evaluated without an OCM piece for comparison, several techniques may reveal a counterfeit. Original serial numbers may be sanded off or made invisible through a process called “blacktopping.” Blacktopping is effectively applying a matching “paint” on top of a piece (often a board) in order to cover the original serial number. An acetone-covered swab can reveal blacktopping. When the swab is rubbed against the part, it will retain some of the “blacktop” if any is present. Components may also be X-rayed in order to affirm compliance with expected chemical specs. Lead content is often overlooked by counterfeiters. 

Hire a Professional

Businesses are more profitable when costs are reduced. Parts are often ordered from independent distributors or brokers because they are purchased at a lower price. Counterfeits, however, drive up the total cost on account of premature failure and indirect damages. In the U.S. alone, counterfeit parts result in the loss of billions of dollars annually. For larger companies, establishing a quality inspection team may actually lower overall expenses by minimizing the risk of premature product failure or other defects. Smaller businesses may benefit from a small team or an individual performing randomized tests. Contracting with an independent inspector may also reduce overall costs; many such contractors offer some degree of guarantee or insurance.

Obtaining inexpensive parts for your PCB Assembly lowers production costs. Purchasing a lower-priced product often comes with the risk of receiving a counterfeit. Such parts often increase costs. In order to maintain a high reputation and low overall costs, manufacturers should ensure PCB parts are authentic. Parts are most likely to be authentic when they come from a reliable, reputable source. Authenticity can be gauged through inspecting product packaging, the appearance of the part, and its chemical composition. A specialized individual or team of inspectors may increase the likelihood that each part is authentic. Providing PCB boards which are high-quality and highly reliable is crucial for PCB manufacturers and their clients.

BESTProto is a leader in PCB prototyping, PCB assembly, and PCB production. Contact us today for a quote on your project: 224-387-3283

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PCB Assembly Components

How to Ensure Authentic, Non-Counterfeit PCB Assembly Components: Part One

PCB Assembly Components

Although government agencies endeavor to eliminate counterfeiting, such parts continue to change hands, often at a high cost to the buyer. Counterfeit components are inexpensive to produce relative to their authentic counterparts. Because they are low-cost, such parts are typically made of low-quality or worn components. Authentic parts are far more reliable, lengthening the lifespan of the component, the parts it comes into contact with (e.g. a fire will impact more than one part of a device), and the overall functionality of whichever device is using it. Spotting and avoiding counterfeit parts is an important aspect of maintaining best practices. Below are some techniques to ensure authentic, non-counterfeit PCB Assembly parts.


Choose a Trustworthy Source

Independent distributors often offer products at a lower cost than the manufacturer. This, unsurprisingly, may not always be the best bargain. Buying components from an authorized distributor is  the best idea since counterfeit components are a risk to device reliability and physical safety. Each year, counterfeit parts are responsible for an estimated $250 billion in damages globally. Parts manufacturers typically provide guarantees and/or warranties, an insurance seldom offered by independent parties. As an alternative to buying directly from the manufacturer, “authorized” distributors may be suitable. In finding a distributor, it is important to research the seller’s reputation, which may include customer reviews paired with how long the company has been in business.


Inspect Product Packaging

Inconsistencies may be evident on the shipping box itself. Look for discrepancies in fonts between the new shipment as opposed to what is standard for the official component manufacturer (OCM). Counterfeit products may list an unreasonable manufacture date (too far in the past, or, occasionally, in the future). Misspellings and incorrect information may indicate the product differs from what was expected. If the interior packaging does not contain the usual elements (dry packs, foam, etc.) this may be an indicator of counterfeit parts. Inspect the logo for variations such as blurring or discoloration.

Keep an eye on the BESTProto blog for part two of this article, featuring three more important techniques to avoid counterfeit PCB Assembly components.


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machinery for positioning smd components on pcb

The Difference Between SMT, SMD and IMT

When designing printed circuit board assemblies (PCBAs), many factors must be considered. Designers must understand and account for size, materials, layout, and connectivity. The quality of a PCB depends largely on the integrity of contact points. Due to the vast number of options regarding connectivity, various forms of soldering have developed and evolved. The newest step in this evolution is Surface Mount Technology (SMT,) which, consequently, created Surface Mount Devices (SMDs.) While the two terms are closely related, there are key differences as described below.

Surface Mount Technology (SMT)

Soldering connections on printed circuit boards has conventionally consisted of through-hole mounting or Insertion Mount Technology (IMT). This form of mounting simply means that connections are created and soldered through holes in the PCB. A new process developed called Surface Mount Technology. In this modality, connections are made not through holes in the PCB, but on devices attached to the board. SMT refers to the concept and process by which a PCB obtains mounting other than the through-hole variety. While SMT has become more common than conventional through-hole technology, it should be noted that not all connection components are suitable for surface mounting and are, therefore, mounted the conventional way.

Surface Mount Device (SMD)

SMT developed, in tandem, surface mount devices. Simply stated, a surface mount device is a component attached to a PCB that allows for a connector to be soldered to the board. If a hand were to be run along the top of the device, the SMDs could be felt to be physically raised from the board. SMDs are most commonly attached to the PCB using a method called SMD reflow soldering. The ideal scenario for achieving this method is by use of an oven, but a soldering iron can be effective for small-scale or at-home projects. The term Surface Mount Device refers to an item or component which can be touched and/or physically handled.

As long as PC boards require connectivity, they will also need a method of attaching the components. As conventional mounting technology became largely replaced by surface mount technology, the popular term SMT developed along with the term SMD. While the two work hand-in-hand, the most important takeaway is that surface mount technology is a concept or practice of mounting in a manner other than the through-hole predecessor; that is, on top of the device using an intermediary device. The device itself is called a surface mounting device and can be moved, seen, and touched.

BESTProto is a leader in PCB prototyping, PCB assembly, and PCB production. Contact us today for a quote on your project: 224-387-3283

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The Importance of Solder Mask

When constructing a printable circuit board (PCB), copper wires form connections within a board and between boards. The points of contact are often coated with a polymer called Solder Mask. Including solder mask in the design process will improve both quality and reliability of the PCB.

Improved Functionality

Connectors on and between PCBs are designed to function only at points of contact. Due to the size and proximity of components, a connection can take place at an unintended location, causing potential malfunction or damage. Applying a solder mask significantly reduces the conductivity of a given component, lowering the risk of faulty connections and short circuits.

Improved Longevity

Solder mask help maximize the longevity of PCBs. This is accomplished, in part, by protecting delicate electrical components from dust and other particles in the air. Dust may land on the solder mask without causing as much interference as exposed components would experience. Similarly, solder mask protect components from oxidation and corrosion.

The application of solder mask can increase both the immediate and long-term reliability of a printed circuit board. Whether it be preventing undesired shorting or protecting from corrosion or every-day dust, including a solder mask is an important step to implement when fabricating PCBs.

BESTProto is a leader in PCB prototyping, PCB assembly, and PCB production. Contact us today for a quote on your project.  224-387-3283

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