Printed Circuit Board (PCB) fabrication is an assembly method for circuit boards used in computers and other electronics. In the fabrication process, the layers of the board are put together along with the specific surface pattern so it can be used in electronics manufacturing. Firms that produce PCBs may also make related products for their customers. Electronics manufacturers have a choice between in-house PCB fabrication or services contracted out to a third party that specializes in this aspect of production.
The process starts with a design. Some PCB fabrication specialists can also design boards, using the specifications provides by clients. These provide information about what the board needs to do and the conditions where it will be used so the company can develop and test an appropriate schematic. In other cases, customers develop their own files and send them to the manufacturer. These are rendered in a format known as a Gerber file, an industry standard for recording the specific details of a PCB.
Manufacturers use the Gerber file to program their equipment for PCB fabrication. Several techniques can be used, depending on the number of boards that need to be produced. Custom products tend to be more expensive because they require small production runs, while generic or standard formats are less costly. Prototypes, where a very limited number of boards are produced, can be very costly and in some cases are made in-house by preference to limit expenses and reduce the loss of proprietary information.
Layers of conductive foil are glued together before being covered with a solder mask. This is used as the basis for attaching the fine copper wiring of the circuits, which may be done through electroplating or other means. Multiple layers can be made with some PCB fabrication methods. The finished PCB is assembled with other components and tested to confirm that it works before being sent out to the customer. Turnaround times can depend on the complexity of the board, the size of the order, and other products the company may be working on at the same time.
Companies offering PCB fabrication may work with a variety of customers. Some specialize in products for particular kinds of electronics, and may focus on working with clients who need these services. Others may accept a variety of jobs and can offer a range of types of circuit boards to meet client needs. Additional services can include design, more extensive testing, fabrication of components, and other product development support activities.