How PCB Milling Works And What Does It Do For You?

Printed circuit boards have become the foundation building blocks of modern electronic gadgets. From a simple electronic gadget like a toy to the most complicated ones like military devices, PCBs are the foundation on which all electronic elements are assembled. When we are talking about PCB manufacturing, CNC milling is a process of removing copper tracts from a sheet of PCB material. To help you understand this process, here is the complete guide you need to know. 

What Is PCB Milling?

Printed Circuit board milling removes copper from a PCB sheet to recreate pads and signal traces according to a digital circuit plan. Like the popular chemical, PCB etch process, 

Why Do You Need A Milling Process In PCB Manufacturing?

There are many reasons why you need a milling process in PCB manufacturing. First, it does not fabricate the board with chemicals. Moreover, if you do not want to outsource and prefer to make PCBs at home, milling is a process that can work wonders for you. 

The wet process can present some challenges when making a PCB in-house due to chemicals and disposal. In addition, high-resolution boards are hard to achieve using the wet process. But CNC machine prototyping offers a fast turnaround board production. 

With a CNC machine, there is a need for wet processing. It is a machine used for drilling, cutting, and milling. Thus, it is a machine that can handle various parts of the process. However, milling might not replace etching in mass production. 

Design Guidelines For PCB Milling

0.8mm is the minimum tool diameter, while the standard diameter is 2.0mm. Nevertheless, the circuit board’s internal and external contours are milled based on the client’s requirements. 

For example, the external contour can be 90 degrees, but it is based on the customer’s needs. On the other hand, the internal corner should be at least the radius of the milling cutter. Generally, the corner of the rectangle is circular. This is to maintain a precise rectangular section. 

Some of the rules sets during the contours and breakthrough of PCB are:

  • There are no extra charges for frying.
  • During PCB milling, it is necessary to avoid copper.
  • To ensure there are no measurement issues, the board’s internal and external contours need to be marked with a line of 1μm.

Tips about PCB milling process

  • PCB milling is a process where excess copper is removed from the circuit board. This helps in creating traces and paths according to the detailed design. 
  • It is possible to complete the milling process within 30 minutes. However, some factors can affect the time. For instance, the thickness of the bit, the number of components, the dimension of the circuit board, and the alignment the board can accommodate can affect the time. 
  • You can get software for PCB milling from the PCB manufacturer.
  • You can carry out PCB milling in a lab environment because it is a non-chemical method. Moreover, it has a fast lead time due to the number of circuit boards.
  • The sharpness and accuracy of milling bits you use can directly impact the quality of the printed circuit boards.
  • PCB milling has little or no effect on the quality and accuracy of the board for the rotational speed of the milling bits.
  • If you are using the PCB milling machine for the first time, it is important to practice the process of making printed circuit boards.
  • It is important to take all safety measures before making the circuit boards. This will help you make high-quality boards with greater precision.
  • With milling, the software has two categories: Raster and Vector.
  • The raster category’s software has a lower processing resolution than a vector does. This is because it is dependent on raster information.

Milling VS Etching

PCB milling is a popular method of removing copper from a PCB sheet. Even though milling is a subtractive method, etching is another common method of removing excess copper from PCB sheets. However, milling is non-chemical, while etching uses chemicals. 

Etching demands film laser imaging even though the grafting is typical and costs less in PCB production. On the other hand, milling does not need a film laser. However, the initial cost of tools is high, and there are some program issues. But PCB milling is the best option for PCB prototyping.

But to some people, PCB milling is slower and more expensive than chemical etching. In addition, it is important to invest time in learning how to use and produce circuit boards with isolation milling. 

However, PCB milling comes with numerous benefits over chemical etching. Since it is a non-chemical process, it is great for an in-house lab. Also, it creates effective boards that differ heavily in their electrical performance compared to etched circuit boards. The process of chemical etching is fast, and it may not be hard since the FR4 is not etched. But it is a chemical process. Thus, it can only be performed in a factory, not in an in-house laboratory. 

PCB Manufacturing Conclusion

PCB milling has become a common practice in manufacturing printed circuit boards. This is because it is a process that comes with numerous benefits. Many leading electronic prototyping companies use PCB milling due to its low costs and fast-turn prototypes that can enhance customer experience. Therefore, ensure you look for a company that uses innovative PCB milling machines to fabricate your circuit board and engage the drilling procedure effortlessly.


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