Automated optical inspection (AOI) is an automated visual inspection of a wide range of products, such as printed circuit boards (PCBs), LCDs, transistors, automotive parts, lids and labels on product packages or agricultural products (seed corn or fruits). In case of PCB-inspection, a camera autonomously scans the device under test (DUT) for variety of surface feature defects such as scratches and stains, open circuits, short circuits, thinning of the solder as well as missing components, incorrect components, and incorrectly placed components. Agricultural inspections might check for variations in part color, perhaps to find ripe fruit. AOI is a type of white box testing. It is commonly used in the manufacturing process because it is a non-contact test method. AOI is able to perform most of the visual checks performed previously by manual operators, and far more swiftly and accurately. AOI systems are implemented at many stages through the manufacturing process. They are used for inspecting parts that have limited and known variations. For defect or flaw detection, the AOI system looks for differences from a perfect part. There are systems capable of bare board inspection, solder paste inspection (SPI), as well as inspecting the component placement prior to reflow, the post-reflow component conditions, and post-reflow solder joints. These inspection devices all have some common attributes that affect capability, accuracy, and reliability.
In this way AOI can be used to detect problems early in the production process. Since faults cost more to fix later in the production process, it is essential to notice problems early. For example, problems in the solder and assembly area of a PCB can be seen early in the production process and information used to feedback quickly to previous stages, avoiding the production of too many boards with the same problem.
Low costs and programming efforts make AOI a practical and powerful quality tool for both prototypes and high-volume assembles. It is often paired with the testing provided by boundary scan test, in-circuit test, x-ray test, and functional test. In many cases, smaller circuit board designs are driving up the demand for AOI versus in-circuit test.
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