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Design & Technology

Manufacturing processes

A wide variety of processes are used during the manufacture of electronic products. The choice of process will depend on the number of products being made and the materials being used.

Production systems

The production system used depends on how many identical products need to be produced. There are three types of production system:

  • one-off
  • batch
  • high volume

One-off production

This is used to produce very small amounts of items or specialised electronic products. For example, using photo-etching to make a one-off printed circuit board (PCB) to test a design. Many of the processes (such as making the PCB or soldering the circuit) might be carried out by hand.

Batch production

Printed circuit board being checked after manufacture

This is the most common type of production in the electronics industry. It involves making a set quantity of the same product, then switching over to make the next product.

Manufacturing is normally divided into a number of separate stages during batch production. Each stage is carried out using different machines, which are often computer-controlled. The stages in a PCB batch-production process might be:

  1. making the PCB
  2. drilling the holes
  3. populating the board with components
  4. soldering the components in place
  5. checking the board, and mounting it into the product

High-volume production

Car production line

This is used to produce very large numbers of identical products, such as electronic circuits for cars, washing machines and fridges.

The manufacturing process is broken down into a number of steps that are carried out in sequence on a production line. Production is often done using computer-controlled machines. For example, these might load the PCBs into chemical etch tanks, or pick and place the components on the PCB.

Production lines tend to be very expensive to set up. Thousands of products have to be sold to cover the costs of the equipment.

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