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Total Electronics Maintenance: What PCB Designers Should Know

Key Takeaways

  • Find out why total electronics maintenance is important.

  • Learn how to perform total electronics maintenance.

  • Explore ways to optimize PCBs for total electronics maintenance.

The last time I sent my car in for a routine check, I ended up with a hefty bill. Of course, the workshop had every right in charging the enormous figure—I’d neglected to maintain my car for quite a while. Besides the regular engine oil service, I was billed for fixing the oil leakage, replacing faulty absorbers, and new brake pads.

I was never competent in keeping my car in the best condition. Thankfully, I’m better at planning and executing maintenance for electronics. After all, I spent the first two years of my career as a field service engineer. 

Why Do You Need Total Electronics Maintenance?

An engineer performing total electronics maintenance on products in an outdoor environment

Electronics in harsh operating conditions require total maintenance.

Total electronics maintenance isn’t about dismantling your mouse and cleaning the electronics in it. No. For most household electronics, they don’t require servicing as the electronics are operating in a pretty comfortable environment.

However, electronics wear down easily when deployed outdoors, or in harsh operating conditions, like factories or HVAC installations. If the electronics are not moisture-proof, the humidity would pose a problem when moisture forms on the PCB. 

Pests and rodent infestations also call for total electronics maintenance. I’ve seen how ants have built nests on PCBs. Ants create acid build-ups, which erode the copper traces and lead to a broken circuit. Rats biting on communication cables are also common in some environments.

Even without active destruction from external sources, electronics do deteriorate over time. The change in properties could affect analog components, particularly sensors. Total electronics maintenance allows the sensors to be calibrated for accuracy. 

How to Perform Total Electronics Maintenance

A close up of a PCB and its components

Check for physical degradation in components.

Generally, there are two types of maintenance—preventive and corrective. Preventive maintenance is performed according to a schedule. It is meant to prolong the lifespan of the electronics and avoid unnecessary breakdowns. Meanwhile, corrective maintenance is done after the electronics have failed. The objective is to get the system back to operational in the shortest time. 

You’ll need keen eyes and deft hands to efficiently carry out electronics maintenance. Expect a working environment that’s very different from the lab. Some electronics are installed in hot and humid areas while others can be greasy and dusty. 

A visual inspection is needed to look for troubling signs on the electronics. As mentioned, ants nesting on the PCB is one that ought to be detected. Build-ups of minerals are signs of water exposure that has been going on for quite a while. A thick layer of dust is also a concern for the electronics. 

While you’re inspecting the electronics, you ought to look out for signs for components that are failing. Bulging electrolytic capacitors are a common suspect for eventual failures. Also, check for corrosion marks on the PCB.

If the problem is only a dusty PCB, you can easily remove the dust with a blower and antistatic brush. Removing mineral buildup and insects are tricker. It involves shutting down the electronics and a manual removal process. For PCBs that are exposed to high humidity, check if the conformal coating is still intact and apply a new layer if needed.

I’ll often suggest that a one-to-one replacement is better than conducting corrective maintenance on site. However, there are occasions in which you’ll need to replace faulty components on the site. In such cases, remove the PCB and disconnect all connecting cables before replacing the faulty components. 

Optimizing PCB for Total Electronics Maintenance

Red and yellow LEDs on a circuit board

LED indicators help with the preliminary inspection.

PCB designers play an important role in making total electronics maintenance easier. For a start, ensure that the designators are properly positioned on the PCB. It helps the technician to locate the components based on the schematic easily. 

Corrective maintenance requires the wire harnesses to be removed. When you’re designing the PCB, arrange the connectors at the edge of the PCB and take the actual installations into account to ensure they can be connected with ease. 

Visual indicators are also helpful in preventing maintenance. Adding indicator LEDs for power, communications and onboard status allows the technicians to carry out preliminary diagnosis easily. It spares them to check those traces with multimeters and oscilloscopes during the preliminary inspection.

Making these optimizations is easy when you’re using the right PCB design software. OrCAD PCB designer has all the features to optimize your design for total maintenance.  

If you’re looking to learn more about how Cadence has the solution for you, talk to us and our team of experts