4 Causes of PCB Failure and What to Do About Them

The world runs on printed circuit boards (PCBs) now. You’ll find them in your phone, your TV, and your computer. Not only do they surround you in your personal life, but businesses rely on them for all kinds of functions as well.

If you’re ordering PCBs for your product, you’ll need them to work reliably for as long as possible to keep your customers happy. But PCBs can fail for many reasons, sometimes right away and sometimes after years of use — neither of which is great for your customers’ satisfaction and your bottom line.

To keep your PCBs running properly, learn the four main problems that can cause PCB failure and how to prevent them.

  1. Problems With the PCB Design

Some PCBs are doomed to fail from the beginning due to poor design — and if the design itself is bad, you won’t have many options for fixing the problem. You’ll just have to replace the PCBs.

Poor design can include:

  • Improper board thickness. If the PCB itself is too thin, it could bend or break due to the pressure placed on it. You’ll need your PCB designer to understand the requirements of your product in order to design your PCB correctly.
  • Incorrect component placement. Unfortunately, sometimes a PCB designer can simply place components in the wrong spot, which means the PCB will never work as intended.
  • Components too close together. Even if components are in the right place to function correctly, it won’t matter if they’re too close together. Lack of space on the PCB can cause overheating, which will damage the PCB eventually.

The only real way to prevent design problems is to work with a trusted designer with a great track record. Make sure to choose a designer who will make things right with you if they accidentally introduce a design flaw.

  1. Problems With the Manufacturing Process

Even if the design is perfect, mistakes during manufacturing can also cause PCB failure. Some of the most common problems include:

  • Incorrect installation of components. A great PCB design won’t work if the design isn’t followed perfectly. If the manufacturer doesn’t install components on your PCB correctly, the board won’t work efficiently and will eventually fail.
  • Poor soldering. If the soldering isn’t correct, the PCB will have faulty connections that can cause power issues and burnt components.
  • Poor trace insulation. Traces that don’t have the right insulation can cause a voltage arc, which may char the PCB, perhaps irreparably.

Thankfully, many manufacturing problems can be fixed with repairs instead of replacements. Still, you can prevent many of these problems by choosing a trusted manufacturer in the first place.

  1. Environmental Factors

While choosing a great designer and manufacturer will prevent many problems, they won’t solve everything. Because PCBs are complex, minuscule, and delicate, small environmental factors can negatively affect them at any stage of the process from manufacturing to shipping to installation and use.

Two of the most common problems are moisture and debris. Even small amounts of water that come in contact with your PCB can affect how well it works, or if it works at all — if enough water touches your PCB, it may be irreparably damaged. Dirt and debris tend to have a gradual effect that slows down your PCB’s efficiency and may eventually cause it to fail. You can prevent these problems by taking care to keep your PCB’s environment clean and safe.

Don’t stop there, though. You’ll also need to keep an eye on the temperature of your PCB’s environment. The components of PCBs in higher temperatures will degrade and may fail. Work with your PCB manufacturer to ensure that your PCB can handle the temperatures of its future environment.

  1. Age

Even with the best of care, PCBs will eventually fail. Eventually, the components will wear out, though you can slow the process through good design, manufacturing practices, and a clean environment. Thankfully, if your PCB is failing due to age, you can often replace individual components as they fail, which is generally affordable. You’ll still have to replace the PCB entirely at some point, but you can delay that investment for quite a while with minor repairs and replacements.

The PCBs you order for your product are a necessary investment, and you need to protect that investment. You can get the best value for your money by working with trusted PCB designers and manufacturers, maintaining the proper environment for your PCBs, and replacing components as they fail due to age.

If you need PCBs, work with Streamline Circuits. We provide excellent PCB design and manufacturing services, and you can trust that the products you receive from us will work as intended and will be in great condition. For more information about what we do and how we can help you, contact us today.