Producing printed circuit boards can be a costly procedure. If not done correctly, the circuit boards can be put at risk of being damaged or destroyed during production, transportation, or assembly. Panelizing your printed circuit boards is an excellent way to not only ensure their safety during production but also to reduce your overall costs and production time during the process. Here are some methods of panelizing your printed circuit boards, as well as some common challenges faced during this process.
Methods for Panelization
Panelizing PCBs is useful in processing them while still keeping them arranged on a single substrate together. The panelization of PCBs allows manufacturers to lower costs while maintaining high-quality standards met at the same time. The main two types of panelization are tab-route panelization and V-groove panelization.
V-groove panelization is done by using a circular cutting blade to cut ⅓ the thickness of the circuit board from the top and the bottom. The rest of the board is still sturdy as ever, and a machine is used to depanel it and avoid any extra stress on the printed circuit board. This method of panelization can only be used when there are no overhanging components in the way.
The other type of panelization is called tab-route panelization and involves pre-routing the majority of each PCB outline on the pane prior to populating it with components by leaving several small break-out tabs to secure each board to the panel. This method of panelization creates the majority of the stress on the PCB before any sensitive components or solder joints are mounted. Of course, after the panels are populated with components, they must also be separated before installation into the end-product. By having the majority of each board’s outline pre-routed, only the break-out tabs must be cut in order to free the individual boards from the panel after population.
Methods of Depanelization
Depanelization is complex in its own right and is done in a variety of different ways.
This method is one of the fastest and can cut both non V-grooved printed circuit boards as well as ones with V-grooves.
This method is only used for V-grooves and is best used for cutting big panels into smaller sized ones. This is a very low cost and low maintenance method of depanelization, which typically requires significant manual labor to rotate each panel in order to cut all sides of a PCB.
The laser method costs more to use but has less mechanical stress and precise tolerances involved. Additionally, consumable costs for blades and/or routing bits is eliminated.
This is obviously the cheapest way to depanelize but should only be used for circuit boards that are stress resistant.
This method is slower but more precise. It uses a router bit to mill out boards connected by tabs and can turn at sharp angles and cut arcs as well. Cleanliness and redeposition of the routing dust is often a challenge associated with routing which may require a post-depaneling cleaning process.
Punching is one of the more expensive and physically aggressive methods of depanelization, but it can handle a higher capacity and is run by a two part fixture.
Panelizing is a great way to save time and money, but it’s not without its own challenges. Depanelization presents problems like routers which leave debris after processing, and limits on PCB layouts with contoured board outlines when using a saw, or limits to board thickness when using lasers.
Overhanging parts make the depaneling process more complicated – they need to be planned for between the board house and the assembly house – as they can be easily damaged by saw blades or routers.
Although there are a few challenges to implementing a depaneling process for PCB manufacturers, the benefits tend to outweigh the negatives. There are ways to panelize and depanel all types of printed circuit boards as long as the right data is provided and care is taken is laying out the step-and-repeat panel array. With all things taken into account, effective panel layout and the method used to depanel, can save you a lot of time and money.