Discrete Components & Printed Circuit Boards

Components and printed circuit boards (PCBs), along with integrated circuits, constitute the backbone of nearly every piece of electronics in the market today.  From small surface mount components measured in millimeters to large inductors or capacitors in power circuits, the optimal manufacture and performance of these parts are critical to the smooth operation of any sort of analog or digital device.

Exponent’s team of engineers and scientists brings a wide range of experience and expertise to problems involving discrete components like the following:


  • Capacitors (ceramic, electrolytic, tantalum)
  • Fuses
  • Resistors
  • Transistors (MOSFET, BJT, JFET)
  • Inductors
  • Switches
  • Motors

Projects may involve failure analysis of these components, as well as a design review and electrical simulation of components in a circuit. FMEA methods may also be used to incorporate the effect of mechanical stresses on fragile components or solder joints. 

PCBs themselves—the boards that carry discrete components and route circuits—can be the cause of or involved in a failure.  Examination of a PCB using SEM/EDS techniques is useful for identifying potential liquid ingress or corrosion, and techniques such as IR imaging and mechanical cross-sectioning (combined with high-resolution metallography) can be utilized to analyze PCB damage or failure.  Issues like metallic whiskers, conductive filaments, and dendrites can often cause unintended and harmful consequences to an electronic device.  We have multiple practices that work together to identify and address issues in PCBs that range from manufacturing to assembly to end-use.

Typical failure analysis of electronic devices will often begin with a component-level inspection of the device. Electrical characterization, structural and material analysis (using SEM/EDS), and X-ray or CT imaging are often employed to non-destructively identify the cause of a particular failure.  Deeper analysis may involve cross-sectioning either by mechanical polishing or focused ion beam in order to examine the structure of a component or PCB at a micron scale (or below).

Exponent’s electrical and thermal characterization capabilities include:


  • DC and AC resistance measurements
  • 4-point resistance measurements
  • Capacitance and inductance measurements
  • Current-voltage (I-V) curve characterization
  • Frequency response
  • Infrared thermal imaging
  • Semiconductor hot-spot measurement using emission microscopy or infrared microscopy

Our engineers perform stress testing to aid in quality and reliability analysis, as well as replication testing to determine the specific root cause of a failed component or device.  Engineers in Exponent’s Materials and Corrosion practice are frequently consulted when electrical failure is believed to have stemmed from a component material failure.

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