How to Find and Read Serial Numbers on Circuit Boards

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Serial numbers on circuit boards provide important information about the board’s manufacturer, date of production, revision, and other details. For troubleshooting, warranty claims, and record keeping, it’s often necessary to locate and decipher the serial number printed on a circuit board. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire process step-by-step.

Overview of Topics Covered

  • Locating the Serial Number
    • Common Placement
    • Hidden/Obscured Numbers
    • Missing or Damaged Serial Numbers
  • Reading and Decoding the Serial Number
    • Date Codes
    • Revision Codes
    • Manufacturer Identification
    • Product Codes
    • Check Digits
  • Uses for Circuit Board Serial Numbers
    • Troubleshooting and Repairs
    • Warranty Claims
    • Inventory Management
    • Identifying Counterfeits
  • Special Considerations
    • Proprietary Numbering Systems
    • Serial Numbers for Compliance
    • Serialization After Manufacturing

By the end of this guide, you’ll know exactly how to find serial numbers on any circuit board and understand the wealth of information encoded in these small identifiers.

Locating the Serial Number

The first step in using a circuit board’s serial number is actually locating it on the physical board. While serial numbers are often prominently labeled, they can also be tucked away in less obvious places.

Common Placement

Circuit board serial numbers may be labeled in any of the following locations:

  • Printed on a sticker/label affixed to the board
  • Printed directly on the board silkscreen
  • Etched or stamped into the bare circuit board

On stickers or labels: Sticker serial numbers are common for consumer electronics and appliances. The label will typically be on the largest surface area of the board or in a consistent location across product lines. Serial number stickers can wear off or become separated from the board over time.

Silkscreen text: For custom and commercial boards, the serial number is often printed onto the silkscreen – the white lettering on the board that labels components and connections. The silkscreen serial number may be very small.

Etched/stamped numbers: Some manufacturers permanently etch or stamp the serial number into the bare circuit board material. This creates a durable identifier that won’t wear off, but can be difficult to read.

If the serial number isn’t immediately visible, try looking near identifying text like “Serial No.” or “S/N”. It may be alongside labels for product codes, barcodes, copyright notices, or company logos.

Hidden/Obscured Numbers

Don’t be afraid to carefully move components or connectors to access hidden serial number labels. Numbers are often printed under large IC chips or mounting plates. Use a flashlight to illuminate numbers stamped into the board itself.

Removing the board from a device’s case may be required. On laptops and other devices, the serial number is sometimes underneath the keyboard or located on the underside of the mainboard.

Pay special attention to folded flexible (FFC) and rigid flexible (rigid-flex) circuit boards. Serial numbers printed along the bends can crack and separate when the board is unfolded.

Missing or Damaged Serial Numbers

Unfortunately, some circuit boards leave the factory without any serial number or other identifiable markings. Numbers also routinely wear off or become damaged through heat and physical stress.

If no intact serial number can be located, other identifiable markings may allow narrowing down the board’s origin:

  • Copyright years
  • Logos and brand names
  • IC part numbers
  • PC board/layout codes

Contact the manufacturer with detailed images and descriptions to request further identifying details. Possessors of military or aerospace boards may need to consult maintenance records for serial numbers of installed units.

In rare cases where the board can’t be identified at all, forensic techniques like measuring dielectric layer thickness and material composition can be used to determine the manufacturer.

Reading and Decoding the Serial Number

Once located, the specific numbers and letters in the serial number provide information on when, where, and how the board was built. With some decoding, the significance of the identifier can be understood.

Date Codes

Most serial numbers start with a date code – a series of numbers and/or letters indicating when the board was manufactured. Date codes come in different formats:

Numeric dates:

  • YYWW – 2 digit year, 2 digit week
  • YYYYWW – 4 digit year, 2 digit week

Alphanumeric dates:

  • YYWW – 2 digit year, 1 letter month, 1 digit week
  • YYMM – 2 digit year, 2 digit month
  • YYMMDD – 2 digit year, 2 digit month, 2 digit day

So for example, a date code of “2515A” would indicate the board was made in 2025 during the first week of May.

Some codes will clearly include text labels for the year or month. Date codes may also be reversed with the year at the end rather than the beginning.

Military and aerospace boards often use Julian dates which represent the numeric day of the year from 1 to 366. Julian dates look like “009” for January 9th or “198” for July 17th.

Revision Codes

The characters immediately after the date code typically indicate the board’s revision:

  • A, B, C – Major revisions
  • 1, 2, 3 – Minor revisions
  • a, b, c – Internal revisions

So a serial number starting with “2315BE2” indicates a board from the second minor revision of the third major revision as of May 2023.

Updates to a board layout will prompt a revision code change even if the circuitry and components remain the same. Revision codes are important for troubleshooting boards with known issues in certain revisions.

Manufacturer Identification

Letters or numbers after the revision code identify the manufacturer or production site:

  • Acronyms like “QAV” for “Quality Audio Visual”
  • Site location codes like “TPE1” for “Taipei Site 1”
  • Country codes like “MY” for Malaysia

Manufacturer IDs come at the beginning of a serial number in some numbering systems. These often consist of 2-4 letters which can be referenced.

For example, “QAV852163” indicates the board was built by Quality Audio Visual. The manufacturer ID allows tracing issues back to a particular factory or facility.

Product Codes

The numbers following the manufacturer ID typically denote the product line and model. These may directly correspond to market model numbers or internal product codes.

Product codes can indicate compatibility of replacement boards and are important when identifying boards without visual part numbers.

In “QAV852163”, the “852163” product code identifies the exact circuit board model being used.

Even if the product name isn’t immediately obvious, the full assembly part number can usually be looked up from manufacturer databases when needed.

Check Digits

A final single number or letter is sometimes included at the end of serial numbers as a basic check that the number sequence is valid.

Check digits are generated through a formula from the preceding numbers. They can catch instances where a serial number is misread or misprinted.

Verifying check digits involves passing the sequence through the same formula and matching the result. Specific algorithms vary between manufacturers.

Uses for Circuit Board Serial Numbers

Beyond just identifying a board, the information contained in serial numbers has a number of important applications:

Troubleshooting and Repairs

During troubleshooting, knowing the board’s revision and date of manufacture can point to potential issues and solutions. Repair techs can identify known affected production runs based on serial number date ranges.

The product code provides a positive ID for selecting the correct replacement parts or boards. Serial numbers also allow tracing a board’s service and repair history.

Warranty Claims

Serial numbers provide proof of purchase dates and serve as an input for warranty status checks. Manufacturers tie serials to original sale records to validate dates and locations.

Counterfeit boards will lack real serial numbers tied to actual manufacturing and sales data. Serial numbers combat fraudulent warranty claims on fake boards or devices.

Inventory Management

Tracking boards by serial number allows detailed inventory status and life cycle monitoring. Revision codes group boards by design iterations for compatibility.

Production dates determine aging of stock and help optimize turnover and remaining product lifetimes.

Identifying Counterfeits

In addition to lacked sales records, counterfeit boards can be identified through nonsensical, invalid, or duplicated serial numbers.

Number patterns on fakes may mimic real sequences but can be spotted as invalid upon close inspection. Verifying check digits is one simple test.

Comparing board internals against manufacturer parts lists for a board’s model number is another counterfeit detection method.

Special Considerations

Certain types of circuit boards warrant special attention or techniques when interpreting their serial numbers:

Proprietary Numbering Systems

Military, aerospace, and certain commercial manufacturers use completely internal serial number schemes. These have no inherent date or revision data without referencing proprietary guides.

Special access or security clearance may be required to obtain decoding documentation for classified or restricted boards.

Serial Numbers for Compliance

Medical, aviation, communications, and automotive boards often must meet regulatory requirements for serial numbers and unique identifiers.

Compliance serial numbers dictate formats, minimum heights, and mandatory data fields. Boards may feature multiple serial labels for different standards.

Serialization After Manufacturing

Some assemblies and multi-board products are serialized at the time of system integration rather than individual board manufacturing.

Top-level product serials must be traced to underlying board identifiers for tracking. Component labels may also be added post-production for field servicing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some other places to look for serial numbers besides labels?

Some other locations to check for circuit board serial numbers include under large components or connector plates, along board edges, etched onto the PCB material itself, and printed onto flexible tail sections. Serial numbers can also be hidden under keyboards, displays, or shields on assembled devices.

What if I can see the traces of a serial number but it’s too damaged to read completely?

With portions of the label remaining, you may be able to reconstruct a serial by reading the board’s manufacturing origin and date first. The product code digits can sometimes be deduced from a board’s model and configuration as well. Contacting the manufacturer with approximate codes can also help decode damaged numbers.

Why do some boards have multiple serial numbers?

Multiple serials are usually seen on boards needing to comply with different regulatory standards that require specific identifiers. Military and telecom boards may feature seperate serials for government inventory tracking and commercial compliance respectively. Secondary vendor serial numbers may also be added for service purposes.

How can I determine the meaning of a cryptic serial number sequence?

If manufacturer reference guides can’t be found, some clues include number length conventions, recognizable codes, and digit patterns. Date and revision codes are usually distinguishable. Online manufacturer forums can sometimes provide crowdsourced decoding details. When needed though, contacting the OEM directly is the only sure method for deciphering opaque serials.

What should I do if I need to read a folded flexible circuit board’s serial number?

Carefully unfold the flexible section while supporting the area underneath to avoid tearing traces or cracks. Use magnification and lighting to find and read a serial number marked along the bend. If the required handling would further damage an already worn serial, document as much of the label as safely possible first. Then try the manufacturer consultation and deduction approaches to recover as much information as feasible.


Reading the meaning within a circuit board’s serial number unlocks vital data about its production history and application. Armed with the guidelines presented here, technicians, inventory personnel, and even casual users can extract this important intelligence. Paired with visual board identification, serials become a tool for troubleshooting, logistics, authentication, and more. Mundane at first glance, these numbers truly represent a wealth of encoded knowledge.