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Manufacturing/Packaging??

In-circuit test automation: Replacing the human touch

Posted: 21 Oct 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:printed-circuit-board assembly? PCBA? PCB? printed-circuit-board assembly? in-circuit tester?

The PCB boards under test (panels or individual boards) are transported by conveyor over either a link conveyor or load magazine, which brings the boards to the inline ICT handler. Then, a barcode reader scans the barcode. Once the board is accepted, it is loaded into the fixture and testing starts. Upon test completion, a board that passes will flow to the next station, while a board that fails will be automatically sorted and flowed to the fail magazine or bin.

I observed that there was not a single production operator deployed to solely monitor the whole operation. In situations where the boards were misplaced, the handler automatically stopped operating. The subsequent alarm and LED lighting alert then triggered the operator to resolve the situation in the safe and timely manner.

The inline in-circuit test handler used in this manufacturing plant is smaller than their existing offline ICT. According to one of the engineers, their new inline ICT was only some 900 cm long and around 1700 cm high. This company had set up their ICT handler in line with their conveyor and SMT equipment (figure 2), keeping their valuable production space intact.


Figure 2: Inline in-circuit tester fully integrated into the SMT production line.


I noticed that the company's inline fixture comprises a top jig and a bottom jig. This seems lighter and easier to remove as the fixture can be separated. This also enables shorter setup time during production model change-over. The production technician told me that it is pretty easy and fast to support and troubleshoot the system as he is not constrained by space and the fixture can be easily removed. If, however, the inline in-circuit handler broke down, all the boards under test must either be bypassed to the next station, or be collected ahead so as not to further disrupt the whole production operation.

This inline ICT test handler uses a traditional bed-of-nail test fixture and doesn't need suction grippers to handle the board. You could tell that the bulk of the setup cost will go into the initial investment in capital equipment. In the long run, however, the main recurrent test cost is just the fixture expenses.

The table shows a summary of the similarities and differences between a robotic arm ICT system and a fully-automated inline ICT system. End-users can consider these together with budgetary requirements, and decide on the best deployment option when it comes to automating in-circuit test.


Table: Summary of key differences between robotic arm and inline automation for in-circuit test.


Detractors of automation have feared the obsolescence of jobs. In today's world where employees are have a choice of work, repetitive work no longer holds much allure versus other job opportunities.

In the electronics industry, automated PCB assembly has led to higher quality, lower cost and enormous strides in productivity. End-users are the key beneficiaries of these changes, enjoying access to better products at lower pricesjust think computer notebooks a decade ago compared with today's features-packed tablets.

About the author
Wee-Sheng Yong is Technical Marketing Engineer at Keysight Technologies.

To download the PDF version of this article, click here.


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