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Small but Mighty: Navigating PCBA Challenges of Miniaturization

| Electronics Manufacturing

With increasing demand for small, lightweight and yet highly reliable equipment in numerous industries — including healthcare, aerospace and energy — there is a growing need for miniaturized printed circuit board assembly.

Working at a small scale presents several unique challenges, but an electronics contract manufacturer can help your business navigate them with ease. When you partner with a manufacturer like Alert Tech SMT, a team of skilled engineers works to ensure your boards are fully optimized for the size, weight and power needed for your application. (We even have a handy acronym for this, SWaP — and who doesn’t love a good acronym? More on that later.)

From new builds to retrofit boards, you may run into situations where size or component weight can become a challenge. For example, weight and overall functionality needs to be considered for the circuitry in a wearable like a fitness tracker or Smart watch. Alternately, the form is typically already set in place when retrofitting a board — which means a manufacturer needs to work within the size and space limitations without sacrificing quality.

Let’s take a closer look at the complexities and benefits of scaling printed circuit boards down.

What Industries Have a Need for Miniaturization?

Wondering if your industry has a need for miniaturized electronic components or assemblies? The short answer is, most likely, yes. The need for flexible, lightweight and compact components are vast and can impact a variety of projects across industries, including — but not limited to:

  • Healthcare and medical devices
  • Aerospace
  • Oil and gas
  • Alternative and green energy
  • Military and defense
  • Automotive and transportation
  • Wireless communications and Smart technology
  • Consumer electronics 

What are the Benefits of Miniaturization?

Do you want things to be lighter, faster, smaller and more efficient? Those can be hard things to say “no” to when it comes to developing your product. There are several benefits available with miniaturization, including:

  • Increased Efficiency: As the size decrease, signal paths between components become shorter, the board density increases and frequencies are higher, all of which allows for greater efficiency on smaller boards. 
  • Lightweight + Flexible: As electronic components get smaller and substrates get lighter, the resulting boards are much lighter weight, compact and flexible when it comes to use.
  • Innovation: As electronics as a whole trend toward smaller iterations, miniaturization offers lots of opportunity for ingenuity and new development.

What are the Challenges of Miniaturization?

While scaling down in size does have its benefits — and may be necessary for your project — it is not often a simple or straightforward process. There are several factors to consider and account for with miniaturization, including:  

  • Limited Surface Area: Miniaturization essentially shrinks down the amount of surface area available for circuitry, which can make it more difficult to ensure proper placement and assembly.            
  • Overheating: As components become smaller and are placed more closely together in tight spaces, the changes for thermal increase issues, or overheating, are increased.
  • Rework: Miniaturization presents unique challenges when it comes to accuracy and turnaround time when rework is needed on older components or boards.

How Can an Electronics Contract Manufacturer Help?

Miniaturization is rarely simple, but luckily, you don’t have to address it alone. Electronic contract manufacturers have processes, engineers and experts in place to help navigate the challenges and help you make the most of the benefits such as:

  • SWaP Optimization: “SWaP” stands for size, weight and power. (Sometimes you’ll also see it written as “SWaP-C” which stands for “cost.”) Your design and assembly is evaluated and optimized for each of these criteria to find the best solution — ideally benefiting each of the three to four factors.
  • Design for Manufacturing (DFM): SWaP Optimization goes hand in hand with Design for Manufacturing, which refers to the process of evaluating the design for long-term manufacturability and scalability. DFM focuses on refining and streamlining the process to lower costs, streamline component sourcing and improve the overall manufacturing process.
  • Accuracy + Advanced Technology: Ensuring accuracy is critical with all PCBA, but it can be especially challenging on miniaturized boards. An electronic contract manufacturer has the tools and technologies needed to develop a custom plan for manufacturing your project.

If you’re weighing the pros and cons of miniaturization or have an upcoming project that you need to scale down, reach out to us. Our team of in-house engineers and PCBA experts can help you understand the benefits and challenges specific to your project, and we can help develop a plan for your needs.