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Handling and Storage Tips for Your Printed Circuit Boards

541045 – Handling and Storage Tips for Your Printed Circuit Boards (37573770) (89430) Your PCB manufacturer can go above and beyond to deliver you a high-quality product. Once that product is out of their hands and in yours, maintaining the viability of those boards is up to you. A PCB requires delicate handling and optimum storage conditions. Here are some general rules for handling and storing your PCBs.

Handling Printed Circuit Boards

If you don’t already have one, invest in a dedicated PCB transport rack or tray cart. Remember, you want to handle your PCB as little as possible. Whenever the PCB handling does require actual hands, make sure that you or your techs wear clean gloves at all times.

The glove requirement typically applies when the PCB is out of its packaging and exposed. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution and have gloves on even when the PCB is in its packaging.

When handling becomes necessary, you should only pick the boards up or hold them by their edges. Use a light touch when handling your PCBs, and never apply force or pressure.

Any time you’re not using a circuit board directly, the board should sit inside of a protective bag. Understand that the more time the PCB spends outside of its protective casing, the more likely it is that it will be exposed to moisture. This is especially true if the environment where you’re running your operations or fabrication has a lot of humidity.

A PCB is a moisture-sensitive device. If the PCB is exposed to moisture for too long, you will need to bake it. Your PCBs should come to you vacuum-sealed with a moisture level indicator that will let you know the floor life of the board before it will need baking.

The areas where the PCBs will see handling should maintain a high level of cleanliness. Maintain clean gloves, clean hands, clean workstations, and eliminate all possible sources of contamination.

You’ll want to keep the PCBs away from liquids and anything that can create static. You must make sure that everyone involved with or close to the fabrication process involving the PCBs knows these rules.

This may all seem like a lot, but these handling tips are vitally important. PCBs of all types and specifications are sensitive and require a lot of care and attention. Even a rugged design can lose viability and functionality if mishandled before you put it to use in your application.

Storing Printed Circuit Boards

How you store your printed circuit boards is just as important as how you handle them. Several PCB storage solutions exist, and different PCBs may have slightly different storage requirements. However, there are several things you need to protect your PCBs from at all times. Your storage solution should account for:

  • Moisture
  • Heat and Cold
  • Electrostatic force
  • Contamination

Moisture brings with it several potential problems. When the PCB has absorbed moisture, soldering can cause the moisture to expand and delaminate, or partially separate, the board’s layers. This will cause your boards to fail either during testing or in the field. Moisture can also lead to oxidation or diffusion, which can cause component corrosion or physical cracking respectively.

Changes in temperature can cause expansion and shrinkage if the board absorbs even a small amount of moisture. And static can lead to degraded components or failure. All of these problems can lead to corrosion, contamination, warping, and shorts.

You can eliminate these hazards by keeping a dedicated space for your PCBs that can maintain a consistent temperature and keep moisture to a minimum. The drier you make the space, the better protected your PCBs will be. Before storing PCBs in your dedicated space, make sure to place the boards into moisture barrier bags.

If you need longer-term storage for your PCBs, you can create dry packages or dry shield bags. These packages consist of:

  • Moisture barrier bag
  • Humidity indicator card
  • Desiccant
  • Moisture-sensitive label

Consider keeping extra bags and dry package components in your inventory. You can also find preassembled dry packages. Once you have the PCB inside its bag, vacuum-seal it.

A dry storage cabinet is also an excellent choice for storing PCBs. Some of these cabinets are designed specifically for PCBs and can handle all the conditions that your boards require.

How you choose to store your PCBs is ultimately up to you and your needs. No matter what, make sure that your storage solution adequately deals with the most common hazards and problems that can render a PCB unusable.

Streamline Circuits is a leader in PCB design. We follow stringent rules when it comes to how we produce, package, and deliver your circuit boards, and we have impeccable handling and storage practices so that you don’t have to worry if a fault in a PCB came from you or from us. If you want high-quality PCBs and guidance from industry professionals, contact us today.