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How to Repair PCB Trace

Simon / 2020-10-29

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When people think of printed circuit board trace repair, they usually visualize welding tools, sawing machines, hammers and nails. However, the tools that are used may be quite different from what you have in mind. Becoming familiar with various PCB repairs is a valuable skill that can help to develop ongoing interest in basic and complex electronic projects.

Many people are fascinated by how electrical engineers repair printed circuit boards and the good news is that virtually anyone can harness this skill as a hobby or step towards building their careers. With confidence and enthusiasm, you can learn how to repair PCB trace.

In regards to PCBs, trace primarily refers to the network of insulation, wiring and copper along with fuses that form the circuit board. Generally, there is a risk of the PCB trace performing inconsistently or failing intermittently, which adversely affects the electronic device.

The term trace resistance is used in reference to the components of a printe circuit board that are resistant to the flow of currents or the flow of electricity between different electronic parts.

How to Diagnose the Trace Damage on PCB

The traces on a printed circuit board are pathways that conduct electricity and consist of either copper or silver. Problems with traces can usually be observed visually but there are times when this is not sufficient. PCB trace damage that occurs as a result of physical breakdowns or ongoing use can lead to major problems that affect the parts and conductivity of the printed circuit board and the actual device.

There are different causes of trace damage and these include regular wear and tear, overheating, dust, power surges and lightning. If the trace is not hard to see due to being extremely thin, it is generally possible to identify the damage by examining the pathway.

Since silver and copper are naturally bright and conspicuous elements, they are easy to detect when there is a problem. This is a worthwhile consideration during PCB trace repair even though it cannot always be guaranteed.

Fixing damaged or defective pathways involves using the right material to solder the board in order to restore the damaged circuit and enable electricity to flow without disruption through the circuit board.

PCB Trace Repair Tools

There are various ways to service or fix a printed circuit board as well as different types of skills that are required to carry out the process. When it comes to trace pathways, repairs may consist of replacing, removing or coating the silver or copper. These tasks typically require certain tools like heat guns and soldering irons.

Using the right tools to repair circuit board traces ensures that you have everything you need for fast and effective modifications. The following equipment and tools can be used to repair PCB trace.

Conductive Pen: This is used to repair and draw conductive traces on circuit boards.

Overcoat Pen: This provides a convenient solution for protecting and insulating electronic components.

Soldering Machine: This equipment is ideal for large-scale repairs and is used to fix and attach the electrical parts to the wiring board.

Soldering Iron: This pencil-like handheld tool comprises different parts and provides the source of heat that is required to melt solder and join the components on circuit boards.

Heat Gun: This is a versatile tool that produces hot air that helps to melt solder and take out components during PCB repairs.

Desoldering Pump: This pump is used to suck in the melted solder that is produced by the soldering process.

Desoldering Wire: The desoldering wire is responsible for getting rid of the excess solder on the board.

PCB Holder: Also known as a stand, the PCB holder provides firm grip for the printed circuit board to prevent it from moving during repairs or soldering.

Magnifying Lamp: This is used to enlarge small components and make them more visible.

Digital Multimeter: This a type of test instrument that eases PCB repair and is used to measure electric resistance, voltage and current.

PCB Repair Kit: Rather than purchasing each separate tool, a repair kit provides a convenient way to access the tools that are necessary to repair circuit board traces.

PCB Repair Safety Considerations

In general, tasks that entail working with the internal components of electronic devices should be handled by knowledgeable and experienced technicians who are well-versed with the intricacies of electrical circuits. You can end up becoming a victim of major and life-threatening injuries if you attempt to repair complex devices when you are not sure about what you should do. That's why you need to find some professional PCB assembly service providers like us.

Professionals in the industry are expected to adhere to a number of standards that regulate the repair and construction of different electronic devices and components. It is advisable to become acquainted with these standards to avoid mishaps. If you opt to work with a professional circuit board repair service, make sure they are aware of the procedures and that they follow them accordingly.

Step by Step PCB Trace Repair

Printed circuit boards are vulnerable to damage as improper handling can easily break a trace while removing or installing the components of a board.

Even in instances when you are not purposefully rough with it, you may have to use a little extra force to put in or pull out the stubborn plug-in boards, which can lead to damage. Exposure to excessive heat for an extended period of time as you remove or install parts might result in the copper or silver trace coming off the underlying layer of the board.

The first step towards successfully fixing the PCB trace is to find the tiny crack in it. After you find where the breakage is, you can proceed to repairing the board.

PCB Trace Repairing Steps: 

1.  Begin by finding the broken trace that you want to fix.

2. Use an Emory cloth to remove the green overcoat from the damaged trace. This is followed by cleaning the trace on either sides of the breakage until a shiny copper color appears.

3. Use a conductive pen to apply a generous amount of ink to coat the break and allow the board to set while ensuring that the ink dries completely. Depending on the type of ink, the drying period will vary and you can refer to the guide that accompanied your conductive pen.

4. Use a green overcoat pen to apply a large amount of protective coating and allow the board to set until it dries.

5. Set your multimeter to the required range and obtain a reading across the area of the trace that has been fixed. It should provide a reading of 0 Ohms and in situations where the internal fuse resistance is read, a 0.5 Ohms reading or less indicates that the trace repair is effective.

Conductivity ink is not an ideal repair solution for a circuit board that tends to flex or vibrate. The alternative to this is as follows:

1. Find and prepare the damaged trace as mentioned in the above approach.

2. After plugging in the soldering iron, use a wet sponge to clean the tip when it gets hot. Tin the tip that you have just cleaned by applying a light Rosin Core coating. A tip that has been tinned correctly will look silver and bright. This is important because it conducts heat quicker and you minimize the risk of damaging the circuit board further while you repair the trace.

3. Tin the trace that you want to fix by coating it with solder.

4. Cut a small piece of the hook-up wiring and remove 1/4 of insulation from the ends.

5. Tin the jumper's exposed copper ends. Solder it across the breakage in the trace.

Significance of Timely PCB Repairs

Along with physical damage, PCBs need rework and repair due to defective components. Components may fail for various reasons, including aging, dislodging and general quality. Poor design is another common reason for circuit board failure because it can lead to issues such as overheated and burnt components as well as power disruption.

A timely repair PCB trace is important because whenever a problem is discovered, it should be corrected as soon as possible. Making the choice to repair your electronics also has the positive impact of reducing waste and cutting costs.

Each process that involves manufacturing different types of electronic devices has major implications, both financially and environmentally. Fixing your PCB with a fraction of the components that are typically required is great for not only saving you money, but preserving the environment as well.

PCB Trace Repair Conclusion

Printed circuit boards continue to be essential parts of modern electronic devices and equipment. They consist of a large network of both active and passive components that are all connected along the sides with traces on the circuit board. Functional PCBs are crucial for a wide range of equipment, components and instruments that are manufactured around the world.

These electronic boards are designed to mount electronic parts on non-conductive boards in order to create the conductive connections that yield the desired outcome. Coming up with circuit patterns is a task that is achieved in different ways. The circuit is typically copper but other materials may used under some circumstances.

In case of damage, it is relatively easy to find out how to repair PCB trace and replace or fix the faulty components. The parts on an appropriately designed circuit board have been clearly described, which aids the installation process as well as the process of diagnosing and fixing issues.