Applications of PCBs – use field engineering experts on your design

by Jeffery Beauchamp, Technical / Engineering Manager - NCAB Group USA

When working with your PCB supplier, do you have a dedicated engineering resource to help with the design of your PCB before fabrication? How about a resource who has experience and knowledge about the different applications for PCBs? I feel that this is one of the most important and valuable factors when producing high-reliability PCBs.

[This blog post is also available (as PDF:s) in French and Chinese]

FAE checking design files for PCB application

Have your PCB supplier involved early in the design phase

First, let’s discuss a resource like this. At NCAB Group, they are field application engineers (FAEs). The benefit here is an experienced field application engineer will have worked on many PCBs for a variety of applications and have the capability and knowledge to recommend the best design practices, materials, etc. It’s best to have your PCB supplier involved as early as possible in the design phase. 50-60 percent of the cost is actually built in the design before we even see the design.

Our field application engineers will inspect the design thoroughly

Each time we receive a new PCB design, one of our FAEs will thoroughly inspect the design and all fabrication notes. During the engineering process we are applying specific demands to benefit the application. Maybe it’s a down-hole PCB and the customer is asking for FR4 material. Typically we would expect to see a rigid polyimide material compliant to IPC4101/41, which is intended for the high heat and harsh environment seen in this application.  We would first check if the material is correct. If it’s not, then we would ask our customer for confirmation the material requested is not intended for the application.  The same goes for other applications as well. Maybe it’s a high-speed application and customer has chosen ENIG for a surface finish, where we would typically recommend immersion silver. For example, we recently had a customer designing a PCB to go into a thermometer, and the customer asked for low-temp FR4. We recommended a higher-grade material so it can withstand a higher temperature. The customer was unaware of this and it really saved them in producing the final product reliably and for volume production.

Unique demands for each application

Even if it’s a new application for you, a knowledgeable FAE will have familiarity and experience with various applications and be able to share this knowledge with you. There are unique demands for each application:

  • Telecommunications
  • Automotive
  • IoT
  • Optical
  • Industrial
  • Medical
  • High-speed
  • Aerospace

Did you know that when producing PCBs for automotive application you must follow IATF-13949 standard? Or with medical applications, ISO 13485 requirements must be implemented? This is knowledge your PCB producer should be able to share with you.

There are many other factors to consider as well. In fact, when we receive a PCB design, consider this data.

  • 30% are not optimized for volume
  • 30% will have mechanical problem
  • 50% do not know which factory to use
  • 70% do not know the unit cost of the PCB in volume
  • 30% have design errors


PCB application experts will give you support and advice

Field application engineers will implement a variety steps to ensure seamless production by utilizing Design for Excellence (DFx) techniques. DFx goes beyond the traditional Design for Manufacture (DfM) review and looks at all the factors from DfM through Design for Assembly (DfA).  The value of DFx is reflected in the design phase to anticipate and solve future production problems. The later we find it, then the larger problems, the greater the cost to solve and the longer the production cycle. The benefits of working with an FAE early on include a faster time to market, responsibility from design to volume production, early identification of cost drivers and project risk. Sustainability is also a factor here as there will be less product waste.

My advice to any PCB designer is always involve your PCB supplier, and the earlier the better. And if your PCB supplier isn’t providing this type of support, I would be cautious to continue working with them. Application experts not only have in-depth knowledge of these applications but an established record of success in supporting multiple types of technology in each application.  Whether it’s your first flex-rigid design for a telecom application or an IMS for a power supply, always feel free to contact NCAB for our FAEs to assist with your next project.


For more advice about PCB design or applications of PCBs – learn more about our PCB design tools