PCB Failure Analysis

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You’ve progressed through the design process, fabricated your PCB and assembled your first article prototype for a project. You flip the switch to power everything on and — POP! Immediately, the circuit card bursts into flames — impossible! You’ve checked every capacitor on the circuit! It’s supposed to be 2-ounce copper and your ground plane thermals are flawless! You scramble for the nearest fire extinguisher as your project goes up in smoke.

There are thousands of reasons that can cause a PCB to fail, from a short in the design or a spark jumping an air gap, a power surge superheating and melting inner circuit layers to a component with too much power drain for an inner layer’s laser-drilled microvias. Some problems can’t be anticipated or are caused by the fabrication process, like solder mask misregistration or overprint, drill misregistration, breakout or shorting, solder paste shorts or stencil defects causing solder failures. Using imaging techniques rooted in a long history of optical inspection and reverse engineering, ScanCAD can precisely identify trouble locations on inner layers of multilayer PCB designs.

By comparing multiple PCBs “side by side”, layer by layer, ScanCAD can also identify issues caused by inconsistencies in the fabrication process by finding differences between two identical products. If no secondary board is available, ScanCAD can generate a partial design from the remaining circuits, resulting in a partial netlist or schematic. Combined with an accurate bill of materials, it is possible to re-engineer circuit routing to reproduce failed circuit designs.

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