IPC Class 2 or 3? The customer should be the only standard

Board quality control is a world in which an incredible number of abbreviations appear. There are standards and certifications such as IPC 1, IPC 2, IPC 3, ISO 9000, ISO 14001, CMI 700 and CMI 900 devices, CoC reports, RoHS, and UL certification. Nevertheless, a human is still the decisive variable in the whole process. Ordinary interpersonal communication that solves possible problems and shortcomings. And, at the same time, the error of the human factor, which is by far the most common cause of possible complications. Jaroslava Sedláčková from Gatema PCB, who has been dealing with the quality of the output of manufactured printed circuit boards for twelve years and is also in charge of communication with customers in the event of any complaints, also knows this well. “Every customer is different. Some are accommodating, others are negative. For some, it is enough that the board meets one of the standards, others insist on a number of details. For us, the only real standard is the customer, or rather his satisfaction”, she says at the beginning of the interview.

Since last September, you have been producing IPC Class 3 standard boards. Has it brought more fundamental changes to quality control?

From one point of view, yes, because it requires more successive inspections and partial measurements. We fill in protocols that address the adhesion of the grid method, print resistance, delamination matters. Thus, there is a very low probability that the defective board would reach the final inspection or even the customer. We detect everything in the process. From the other point of view, however, IPC Class 3 itself is not omnipotent. If the customer wants anything non-standard, we meet his needs.

Does it concern, for example, printing, about the quality of which we recently wrote?

Yes, this is one of the typical examples. The IPC standard allows us to print with new methods that are more environmentally friendly and cheaper. But many clients continue to rely on screen printing technology, so we still have it in our portfolio. On the other hand, there are customers for whom the printing of the board itself is not essential at all, because everything is available electronically today.

For years, Gatema is very particular about the ability to produce prototype boards expressly. Does speed complicate work in terms of quality?

First of all, speed must never be at the expense of quality. We have come a long way from the procedural and technological point of view. We have top machines and a production information system, that is why technological errors are absolutely minimal. But besides, there is still the human factor. Sometimes a defective board goes unnoticed in sales and escapes also the TPV department, sometimes a production error occurs. In such cases, we get into trouble, because customers always expect us to deliver the board quickly and we have to start producing it again and there are delays. Customers have other processes connected to the board, so it's annoying.

How do you handle these situations?

You must never bury your head in the sand. We also know from our customers that some of our competitors stop communicating in such cases. They don't reply to e-mails, don't pick up the phone, so they kind of wait for the whole thing to solve itself. I will insist that this will not happen with us. If we know that we have made a board that has, for example, an abrasion on the non-solder mask which does not affect its functionality in any way, we will take a picture of it and send it to the customer in advance. The customer evaluates the difference and together we propose a solution. At the same time, we answer the phone calls and handle complaints as helpfully as possible. It's a thing that is not so much seen in numbers, in turnover or fulfilment of plans, but it says something about the company's culture. We are proud of that.

What quality controls are actually part of the standard production process?

The introduction of effective control begins with the initial demand. In order to clarify all product parameters. We try to make sure that the store or TPV does not allow inappropriate designs into production, because this causes us material damage and at the same time a time delay. The production itself takes place in such a way that each of the operators is responsible for its own activities. We have two key intermediate steps – the first is a visual inspection, where the data sent by the customer is compared with the data on the board with what we produced. Of course, the quality of drilling, etching, plating is checked. This is how we test all boards. Then there is the second important check – this is the electrical test, where the functionality of the board is checked. The quality department has a CMI 700 device at its disposal – which helps to measure the plating layer in the holes and on the surface. Then we have the X-ray device CMI 900, which is used to check the layer of applied surface treatments – whether it is gold, tin or chemical tin. The most important and final check that each order must pass is the exit check. The task of the output control staff is to compare the produced order with the production process, measure the dimensions of the plates and prepare the required number of pieces that the customer ordered. The result of the exit check is the issuance of a quality certificate for each order. Other protocols that we supply are based on customer requirements.

Gatema pcb

What does the regular report include?

By default, it is the day of the exit check, the quality certificate, the customer's name, our identification number, what and how was tested. Also, the customer can request CoC reports, which indicate what material the order was made of, what mask was used, there are measured some unpunched holes there. We also have UL or RoHS certification. Some customers then require metallographic grinding protocols. The plate is taken from the order, and is cut, poured and ground. Thanks to this, we will find out everything that the customer requires. Drilling quality, joint width, mask layers, plating. These metallographic grindings help us solve complaints. A new microscope was purchased for the grindings. Two years ago, we started producing impedance-controlled boards. At that time, we had to purchase a ZMETRIX measuring device, which is used for these specific orders to control impedance coupons.

You work in a field that is predominantly a male field and at the same time does not sound completely seductive at first glance. What do you enjoy about your work?

The fact I don't do the same work every day. It's always a different order that looks different. As we say in the quality department, we often play with “puzzles”. The operator usually does not see the detailed layout, but we often work with plates measuring 1.5 cm x 1.5 cm – which are put on a base and soldered. We can also appreciate the originality of some designers who place the PCB in the shape of a cow or put together a photo of the customer's team from them. And a praise also energizes me. For example, I was recently called by a customer with whom we have been cooperating for a long time and who is for me a kind of standard of the level we do. He told me: “I've spoken to your salesperson, but we don't know if he's told you that we really appreciate how you handle complaints. There are companies that do not respond for a month or two. It is also an art to resolve complaints sensibly.” These are the moments when I know we have done a good job.

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Luděk Buchta
Marketing Manager