The role of the process engineer is arguably one of the most important jobs in the printed circuit industry. The process engineer is on the front line of manufacturing and responsible for making sure product yields and profitability meet expectations. The job typically entails and intertwines many different and even disparate disciplines, including: electrochemistry, mechanical engineering, NC machining, robotics and automation, metallurgy, laser technology, polymer processing and photolithography. It even reaches back into the printed circuit design process. Because of this variety, it is also arguably at once, one of the most challenging and interesting jobs in the PCB industry.
In practice in most major manufacturing facilities, process engineers often specialize in just one of the areas identified here. In smaller facilities, the process engineer often must move between and attend to matters in more than one discipline, most commonly process steps which immediately precede or follow the area where the engineer has special training and expertise. However, in many cases, factors which may influence product quality and yield may be several steps earlier or later in the process. This is extremely important when one is looking into, or in the midst of implementing a new process on the manufacturing floor. Change comes slowly in PCB manufacturing and old habits are hard to break, so keeping a finger on the pulse of the process is critical.
It is a simple fact of life that in PCB manufacturing, process characterization, monitoring and maintenance are critical to success, and so also is collecting and evaluating data on process health. The tools and specific methods and measurements required will vary significantly from process to process, but without control, the quality of the results of the process will be left to a roll of the dice.
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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of The PCB Magazine