What is the difference between PCB assembly and PCB manufacturing?

PCB Manufacturing

PCB manufacturing is the process of creating the bare PCB board itself. This process involves several steps, including:

1. PCB Design

The first step in PCB manufacturing is the design phase. This involves creating a schematic diagram and a layout of the PCB using specialized software such as Altium Designer, Eagle, or KiCad. The schematic diagram represents the electrical connections between components, while the layout determines the physical placement of components and traces on the board.

2. pcb fabrication

Once the design is finalized, the PCB fabrication process begins. This involves the following steps:

2.1 Substrate Selection

The substrate is the base material of the PCB, typically made of fiberglass or other insulating materials. The most common substrate is FR-4, which is a flame-retardant glass-reinforced epoxy laminate.

2.2 Copper Cladding

A thin layer of copper is laminated onto the substrate. This copper layer will form the conductive traces, pads, and vias on the PCB.

2.3 Drilling

Holes are drilled into the PCB for through-hole components and vias. Vias are small holes that allow electrical connections between different layers of the PCB.

2.4 Patterning

The desired circuit pattern is transferred onto the copper layer using a photoresist and exposure to UV light. The exposed areas are then etched away, leaving the desired copper traces and pads.

2.5 Plating

The PCB is then plated with a thin layer of copper to reinforce the traces and pads. Additional plating, such as gold or silver, may be applied to specific areas for improved conductivity or corrosion resistance.

2.6 Solder Mask Application

A solder mask is applied to the PCB to protect the copper traces from oxidation and to prevent solder bridging during the assembly process. The solder mask also provides insulation and improves the PCB’s appearance.

2.7 Silkscreen Printing

The final step in PCB fabrication is silkscreen printing. This involves printing text, logos, and component identifiers onto the PCB for easier assembly and identification.

PCB Manufacturing Step Description
PCB Design Creating schematic diagram and layout
Substrate Selection Choosing the base material (e.g., FR-4)
Copper Cladding Laminating copper layer onto the substrate
Drilling Creating holes for through-hole components and vias
Patterning Transferring circuit pattern onto the copper layer
Plating Reinforcing traces and pads with additional copper or other metals
Solder Mask Application Protecting copper traces and providing insulation
Silkscreen Printing Adding text, logos, and component identifiers

PCB Assembly

PCB assembly, also known as PCBA (Printed Circuit Board Assembly), is the process of populating the fabricated PCB with electronic components. This process involves several steps, including:

1. Component Placement

The first step in PCB assembly is placing the components onto the board. This can be done manually for low-volume production or prototypes, but automated machines, such as pick-and-place machines, are used for high-volume production. These machines use computer-aided design (CAD) files to precisely place components on the PCB.

2. Soldering

After the components are placed, they are soldered onto the PCB. There are two main soldering techniques:

2.1 Through-Hole Soldering

Through-hole components have long leads that are inserted into holes drilled in the PCB. These leads are then soldered to the pads on the opposite side of the board. This can be done manually or using wave soldering machines.

2.2 Surface Mount Soldering

Surface mount components are placed directly onto pads on the surface of the PCB. These components are soldered using a reflow soldering process, which involves applying solder paste to the pads, placing the components, and then heating the board to melt the solder and create a strong connection.

3. Inspection and Testing

After soldering, the assembled pcb undergoes inspection and testing to ensure proper functionality and quality. This may include:

  • Visual inspection
  • Automated Optical Inspection (AOI)
  • X-ray inspection
  • In-Circuit Testing (ICT)
  • Functional testing
PCB Assembly Step Description
Component Placement Placing components onto the PCB manually or using automated machines
Through-Hole Soldering Soldering components with leads inserted into drilled holes
Surface Mount Soldering Soldering components directly onto pads using reflow soldering
Inspection and Testing Ensuring proper functionality and quality through various methods

Differences between PCB Assembly and PCB Manufacturing

While PCB assembly and PCB manufacturing are closely related, they are distinct processes with several key differences:

  1. Focus: PCB manufacturing focuses on creating the bare PCB board, while PCB assembly focuses on populating the board with components.

  2. Process: PCB manufacturing involves processes such as substrate selection, copper cladding, drilling, patterning, plating, solder mask application, and silkscreen printing. PCB assembly involves component placement, soldering, inspection, and testing.

  3. Equipment: PCB manufacturing requires equipment such as CAD software, fabrication machines, and plating equipment. PCB assembly requires pick-and-place machines, soldering equipment, and inspection tools.

  4. Skillset: PCB manufacturing requires knowledge of materials, fabrication processes, and design rules. PCB assembly requires knowledge of component handling, soldering techniques, and quality control.

  5. Outsourcing: Many companies choose to outsource PCB manufacturing to specialized fabrication houses, while keeping PCB assembly in-house or outsourcing to a separate assembly service provider.


  1. Q: Can the same company handle both PCB manufacturing and assembly?
    A: Yes, some companies offer both PCB manufacturing and assembly services, providing a one-stop solution for customers.

  2. Q: Which process is more time-consuming, PCB manufacturing or assembly?
    A: PCB manufacturing is generally more time-consuming than assembly, as it involves several complex fabrication steps. However, the time required for each process can vary depending on the complexity of the design and the volume of production.

  3. Q: Is it more cost-effective to outsource PCB manufacturing or assembly?
    A: The cost-effectiveness of outsourcing depends on factors such as volume, complexity, and the company’s in-house capabilities. Many companies find it more cost-effective to outsource PCB manufacturing due to the high cost of equipment and expertise required, while keeping assembly in-house for better control over the process.

  4. Q: What are the advantages of using surface mount components over through-hole components?
    A: Surface mount components offer several advantages, including smaller size, higher component density, better performance at high frequencies, and faster automated assembly. However, through-hole components are still used in some applications due to their stronger mechanical bonds and ease of manual assembly.

  5. Q: How do I ensure the quality of my PCB during manufacturing and assembly?
    A: To ensure PCB quality, it is essential to work with reputable manufacturers and assembly service providers who adhere to strict quality control standards. Additionally, implementing thorough inspection and testing procedures during both manufacturing and assembly can help identify and address any issues before the final product is shipped.

In conclusion, PCB manufacturing and PCB assembly are two distinct processes that work together to create a complete, functional printed circuit board. Understanding the differences between these processes, as well as their respective challenges and best practices, is essential for anyone involved in the design, production, or procurement of PCBs. By carefully considering factors such as design requirements, volume, cost, and quality control, businesses can optimize their PCB manufacturing and assembly processes to create high-quality, reliable electronic products.