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What is IC programming?
Jan 30, 2018

      Programming assembled PCBs during production is a common topic we’re asked about at MacroFab. There are a couple different ways to go about programming a device after production and it mainly depends on the volume of the assembly run and the form factor of your device. These methods have all of their own pros and cons.

    Programming ICs: From the Factory

The first method and possibly the easiest is to get your ICs preprogrammed from either the manufacturer or through the distributor for the parts. Both Mouser and Digi-Key offer low-cost programming as an add-on service. With the ICs preprogrammed you can skip the programming fee of the assembly house. It also removes the need for a programming connector or footprint on the PCB which enables lower cost manufacturing and a smaller product.

Figure 1: ZIF IC Socket for a QFP-100 Package.

This works by placing the IC inside a ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) socket (See Figure 1). The ZIF socket is connected to the ICs appropriate programme and support circuitry to make it function. The IC is then programmed and repackaged for assembly.

      The downside to preprogramming is if there is a firmware bug or feature change, and you need to push an update mid-production, you are out of luck and would have to reprogram all your ICs. If you opted to remove any kind of programming header, then rework would be needed on the PCBs to remove the chips with faulty code. This is the least flexible option for programming your assembled PCBs. There is usually a setup fee from the manufacturer or distributor along with a per unit charge. This method works great for programming bootloaders as these seldom change


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