PCB Arrays & Panels

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In the world of printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturing, the terms “array” and “panel” are often used interchangeably, but they refer to distinct concepts that play crucial roles in optimizing production efficiency and reducing costs. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of PCB arrays and panels, their differences, advantages, and practical applications.

What are PCB Arrays?

A PCB array, also known as a multi-board array, is a single PCB that contains multiple identical or different circuit designs arranged in a specific pattern. This arrangement allows for the simultaneous fabrication of multiple PCBs in a single production run, resulting in cost savings and increased manufacturing efficiency.

Advantages of PCB Arrays

  1. Cost Savings: By producing multiple PCBs in a single run, the costs associated with materials, setup, and processing are shared among the individual boards, leading to significant cost reductions.
  2. Increased Efficiency: PCB arrays streamline the manufacturing process by reducing the number of individual setups required, thereby minimizing downtime and maximizing throughput.
  3. Consistent Quality: Since all boards in an array are produced under the same conditions, the consistency and quality of the boards are improved.
  4. Reduced Waste: PCB arrays minimize material waste by utilizing the available panel space more efficiently.

What are PCB Panels?

A PCB panel, also known as a production panel or master board, is a larger board that contains multiple identical or different circuit designs arranged in a specific pattern, similar to an array. However, unlike arrays, panels are typically designed to be separated into individual PCBs after the fabrication process is complete.

Advantages of PCB Panels

  1. Efficient Handling: PCB panels allow for easier handling and processing of multiple boards as a single unit, reducing the risk of damage and increasing productivity.
  2. Scalability: Panels can accommodate a wide range of board sizes and quantities, making them versatile for different production requirements.
  3. Automated Assembly: PCB panels are well-suited for automated assembly processes, as they can be easily handled by pick-and-place machines and other automated equipment.
  4. Testing and Inspection: Panels facilitate efficient testing and inspection processes, as multiple boards can be tested simultaneously before separation.

Differences Between PCB Arrays and Panels

While PCB arrays and panels share some similarities, there are distinct differences between the two:

  1. Intended Use: Arrays are designed to remain as a single unit throughout the entire manufacturing process, while panels are intended to be separated into individual PCBs after fabrication and assembly.
  2. Separation Process: Arrays do not require a separation process, as they remain as a single unit. Panels, on the other hand, need to undergo a specific separation process, such as depaneling or singulation, to separate the individual PCBs.
  3. Board Interconnections: In PCB arrays, the individual boards may be electrically interconnected, allowing for testing and programming as a single unit. Panels typically do not have electrical interconnections between the individual boards.
  4. Flexibility: Panels offer greater flexibility in terms of board sizes, quantities, and layouts, as they can accommodate a wider range of design requirements.

Applications of PCB Arrays and Panels

PCB arrays and panels find applications in various industries and product segments, including:

  1. Consumer Electronics: Arrays and panels are widely used in the production of consumer electronics, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops, where high-volume manufacturing and cost optimization are critical.
  2. Automotive Electronics: The automotive industry relies heavily on PCB arrays and panels for the production of electronic control units (ECUs), infotainment systems, and other automotive electronics.
  3. Aerospace and Defense: Aerospace and defense applications often require high reliability and consistent quality, making PCB arrays and panels an ideal choice for manufacturing critical electronic components.
  4. Industrial Automation: Industrial automation systems, including programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and motor drives, frequently utilize PCB arrays and panels for efficient and cost-effective production.
  5. Medical Devices: The medical device industry, with its stringent quality requirements, benefits from the consistent and high-quality production offered by PCB arrays and panels.

Design Considerations for PCB Arrays and Panels

When designing PCB arrays and panels, several factors need to be considered to ensure optimal performance and manufacturability:

  1. Panel Utilization: Maximizing the panel utilization by arranging the individual board designs efficiently can reduce material waste and increase cost-effectiveness.
  2. Board Spacing: Appropriate spacing between individual boards is crucial to facilitate easy separation and prevent damage during the depaneling process.
  3. Fiducial Markers: Fiducial markers, or reference points, are essential for accurate alignment and registration during the fabrication and assembly processes.
  4. Breakaway Tabs: In the case of panels, breakaway tabs are designed to connect the individual boards and facilitate easy separation after assembly.
  5. Thermal Management: Proper thermal management considerations, such as heat dissipation and component placement, are vital for arrays and panels to ensure reliable operation and prevent overheating.
  6. Test Points and Interconnections: For PCB arrays, test points and interconnections between individual boards may be required for testing, programming, and debugging purposes.

Manufacturing Process for PCB Arrays and Panels

The manufacturing process for PCB arrays and panels typically involves the following steps:

  1. Design and Layout: The individual board designs are arranged in the desired array or panel configuration, considering factors such as panel utilization, board spacing, and fiducial markers.
  2. Fabrication: The array or panel is fabricated using standard PCB manufacturing processes, including solder mask application, copper plating, and surface finishing.
  3. Assembly: The array or panel undergoes automated or manual assembly processes, where components are placed and soldered onto the boards.
  4. Testing and Inspection: Electrical and functional testing, as well as visual inspection, are performed on the array or panel to ensure quality and functionality.
  5. Depaneling (for Panels): If a panel configuration is used, the individual PCBs are separated from the panel through a process called depaneling or singulation, which can be achieved using various techniques such as routing, scoring, or punching.
  6. Final Testing and Packaging: After separation (if applicable), the individual PCBs undergo final testing and are packaged for shipping or further integration into end products.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Q: Can PCB arrays and panels be used interchangeably? A: While PCB arrays and panels share some similarities, they are not interchangeable. Arrays are designed to remain as a single unit throughout the manufacturing process, while panels are intended to be separated into individual PCBs after fabrication and assembly.
  2. Q: What are the advantages of using PCB arrays over individual boards? A: The main advantages of using PCB arrays include cost savings, increased manufacturing efficiency, consistent quality, and reduced material waste. Arrays allow for the simultaneous production of multiple boards, optimizing the use of resources and minimizing setup times.
  3. Q: How are individual PCBs separated from a panel? A: Individual PCBs are separated from a panel through a process called depaneling or singulation. This can be achieved using various techniques, such as routing, scoring, or punching, depending on the panel design and manufacturing requirements.
  4. Q: Can PCB arrays and panels accommodate different board designs? A: Yes, both PCB arrays and panels can accommodate different board designs within the same configuration. This is commonly referred to as a “mixed array” or “mixed panel,” and it allows for the production of multiple product variants simultaneously.
  5. Q: What are the typical industries that benefit from using PCB arrays and panels? A: PCB arrays and panels are widely used in industries that require high-volume manufacturing, such as consumer electronics, automotive electronics, aerospace and defense, industrial automation, and medical devices. These industries benefit from the cost savings, efficiency, and consistent quality offered by these production methods.


PCB arrays and panels are essential concepts in the world of printed circuit board manufacturing, offering a range of benefits and applications. By understanding the differences between arrays and panels, as well as their respective advantages and design considerations, manufacturers can optimize their production processes, reduce costs, and enhance overall efficiency. Whether producing high-volume consumer electronics or mission-critical aerospace components, the strategic use of PCB arrays and panels can significantly contribute to the success and competitiveness of any electronics manufacturing operation.