In the world of electromechanical manufacturing, proper documentation is a basic necessity. PCB producers need to know the exact requirements expected of their product, and assembly teams must understand how circuit boards fit into the final build. In other words, documentation is multi-layered, and must include information that is both broad in scope and granular in detail.
That's why we've put together the four laws of PCB documentation - to help you ensure that your manufacturing partners can follow best practices every step of the way. Here they are:
1. Include Gerber files: Considered by many to be the PDF of the electronics world, Gerber files are a standard industry file that conveys the structure and design of a PCB to the manufacturer. Now, Gerbers are essentially just image files for circuit boards.
These files are critically important to the manufacturing and assembly process, so don't forget to include them in your documentation and double-check their accuracy before you ship off the order request. It's best to keep past versions archived just in case.
"Convey key requirements in the Readme file."
2. Remember the Readme: It can be hard to articulate the exact requirements of a PCB build to the manufacturer, and even more challenging to convey the ultimate vision of a product to the team responsible for assembly. That's why including a Readme file is so crucial. These text files function as a primary channel of communication for the manufacturing partnership right from the start.
Readme files should include as much detail as possible, and should be easily comprehensible with the Gerber files and bill of materials that come in the request. Make sure that all stakeholders have a look at the readme before it goes out to ensure completeness.
3. Complete the bill of materials: The inclusion of a BOM may seem obvious, but according to an article from Advanced Assembly, this component of documentation rarely contains the necessary amount of information for manufacturers to properly complete the job. Ideally, a BOM in Excel format will include the following elements for each part listed:
- reference designator
- cost value
- item description
- manufacturer part number
- package type
- link to webpage
4. Consider regulations: As an article from Electronics Weekly recently pointed out, many PCBs are produced abroad. While you may want to stick with domestic production, you should always keep in mind the shipping regulations that come with large manufacturing processes. Make sure that your manufacturer follows best practices and that the supply chain is up to your own company standards.