What to do when you need multiple designs on a single board?
How to handle products that use multiple PCBs for various designs?
This is where a panelized PCB comes in. A panelized PCB contains multiples of the same or sometimes even different designs on a single board. These sections then break off into different individual boards resulting inefficient use of space.
This article provides all the information you need to make your PCB panels and increase productivity for you.
1、What is the Need for a Panelized PCB?
1.1 Cost Efficiency
This is one of the main benefits of having a PCB panel. If you want to make multiple PCBs, then the manufacturer would likely charge more for the additional time they spend to manufacture a higher number of boards.
A panel will have multiples of the same design on a single PCB. This could result in one large board that has over 30 designs and has to be made and processed only once instead of having to make it 30 times on multiple PCBs.
1.2 Faster Turnaround Time
Since a lot of boards can make on a single panel in a single run, this results in a large amount of time-saving for the manufacturer. Which then results in faster delivery time for your PCB.
You are using panel results in a faster time to market for your product.
1.3 Convenience Factor
Imagine you are working on a device that has one mainboard and two daughterboards. In a case like this, where your final product has multiple PCBs, It makes more sense to combine all three on a single panel. This also helps in organizing large quantities. Using a panel, you can make sure that all PCBs for a single product are on one panel rather than multiple PCBs scattered all around.
1.4 Faster Board Assembly
When doing board assembly, whether it be a couple of 10s of prototypes or 1000s, time consumed in swapping outboards and putting new boards into your machines causes a loss of productivity.
If you are doing it manually, then it takes a lot of time to align a stencil and then apply the paste to all boards. In situations like these, panels speed up the process. Loading a single panel of multiple boards results in faster production.
A hobbyist can also order a stencil for a panel and manually solder multiple boards saving lots of time.
More information on assembly: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Printed_circuit_board#Assembly
Image 1: PCB Hand Assembly
2、Design Tips for Panelized PCBs
2.1 V Score or V Groove
Each panel after fabrication, we require a reliable method to separate from each plate.
This method should be such that it requires minimal or no tools to separate boards. One such way to do it is by using V Score lines.
V Score lines are the cut line defined on the mechanical layer of the board design. The manufacturer then performs V-shaped cuts on those lines which go about 1/3rd the depth of the board.
The next step after this is to break off the boards physically, and they then break off cleanly along the edge where V cut lines exist.
2.2 Break Off Tabs
The second approach to separating individual boards from a panel is using break-off tabs.
These are narrowed down areas of the board with a lot of holes or vias drilled into the edge which is later broken off.
On the application of force, the narrow region with the holes breaks off as it is the weakest point on the panel.
The only disadvantage to using this approach is that the board edges won't come clean. It is different from when using the V Groove method.
Whenever designing a panel, there needs to be a minimum clearance between individual boards on the panel.
A board that uses V Grooves would also need some minimum clearance near the cut lines.
This value is usually about 2mm and usually specified on the manufacturer's technical capabilities page.
A board that does not have enough clearance may break off in a manner that damages the functional section of the board.
2.4 Processing Tabs
Finally, on certain boards or panels that are very small, there needs to be a blank region added so the factory's machines can process the entire board.
This is a blank region that is added to the design, so the board meets the minimum size requirements. Often this is done by the factory, but sometimes you may need to define a blank region along with cutting lines in your CAD software.
Image 2: A PCB with low clearance between components.
3、Common Products for Panelized PCBs
3.1 Products with multiple boards
Many products these days contain multiple boards.
These can be large appliances like inverters and microwaves where you have a separate power and control board or a product like a game console with daughter boards.
In these cases, it's common to consolidate all the different boards onto a single panel before you send out for manufacturing.
This method helps keep things organized and numbers easy to track
3.2 PCBs with small physical dimensions
Many products have very small PCBs. These can be devices like cell phones or adapter boards for microcontrollers and so on.
In such cases, getting multiple small PCBs made would be more expensive than just getting a panel made which contains a lot of these smaller boards.
Many times, in case of very small designs, 100s of boards can be made on a panel for less than 10$.
This is extremely helpful for prototypers and hobbyists.
Image 3: Example of a small PCB
3.3 Designer Products made out of PCBs
These days there is an increasing trend to make products such as business cards, badges, and rulers out of PCBs.
In these cases, it makes sense to build a large panel with multiples of these designs. There are two reasons for this.
1. The individual boards are usually too small to manufacture independently
2. The overall price is lower when using a panel
Also, these products are usually mass-produced, so using a panel becomes very convenient and economical. It's common to be able to fit up to 30 Business cards onto a single panel.
4、Providing the Manufacturer With Panel Details
4.1 Panel details
When sending design for the panel, the following are important parameters that should be specified,
1. V- Groove lines or break off tabs - These should typically be specified on a mechanical or keep out layer on your CAD software.
2. Dimensions of the individual boards within the panel - Again, these should be specified on a mechanical layer and described in millimeters.
3. Dimensions of the entire panel - This also goes on a mechanical layer and specified usually in millimeters. Most CAD programs have a special option to place dimensions with arrow markings.
4.2 Panels by the board manufacturer
Many times, if a hobbyist or someone without much technical background is getting a PCB made, they may not be able to penalize it.
In these cases, usually, the manufacturer would have an option where they would make the panel from a single design. This is very convenient in cases where the customer isn't well versed with PCB design, and in other cases, it also saves an individual's time.
4.3 V-Grooves VS Break off tabs
One important question is whether to go with a V-Groove for board separation or use holes and make break-off tabs.
This is primarily dependant on two factors
1. The shape of individual boards, if the boards are rectangular or square-shaped, then going with V- Grooves for separation of individual boards is a better approach. However, if your board is oddly shaped, like a circular or hexagonal board, then it's better to have broken off tabs with holes.
2. Board Area - If panel area utilization is essential, then an approach using V- Grooves is better since it wastes less space on the panel. This is especially important for small boards that are used to manufacture products at low cost on a large scale.
More information on separating boards can see here:
5、What OUR PCB Offers
SMD Component Assembly
OurPCB has a very capable assembly setup which can handle even smaller components that are popular today. The smallest component we can accurately mount is 0201. Our Assembly service saves time and money for both hobbyists as well as large companies.
PCB Panel Manufacturing
OurPCB also offers to manufacture for panels containing multiple PCBs, the customer can provide their panel design, and we manufacture. This is perfect for high quantity boards.
Online Quotation System
Finally, OurPCB also has an online quotation system that automatically calculates the price of your PCB after you upload your Gerber files and input the required data.
This results in a very fast order generation time and causes your board to complete the manufacture in the shortest possible time.
Image 4: Multiple PCB Panels with V-Groove lines
PCB panels add a lot of value in terms of price and convenience to anyone who needs them.
Learning to make panels correctly is a skill that is essential for every PCB designer.
OurPCB is the perfect place to get your panels made at a good price.
For more information, please feel free to contact us.