August 2021

what are pcbs?

Why PCBs Are So Important in Today’s Technology

What Are PCBs?

PCB simply refers to a board made of fiberglass and laminate materials or a composite epoxy with conductive pathways. Printed circuit boards have a wide variety of both active and passive technological components—the components “talk” to each other to power the device they’re housed in. They come in many sizes to fit the needs of manufacturers and their customers.

The pathways connect to various parts including transistors, resistors, and integrated circuits. Components are supported and connected electrically with special conductive pads or tracks. The electronic components are securely soldered onto a PCB to perform a specific function. Together, they make the heart of a well-operating piece of technology.

Manufacturers use PCBs because of the many advantages they offer. Some of these benefits are their compact size and lack of wires, ease of diagnostic and repair, time savings, compactness, cost savings, reliability, reduced noise, and short-circuit resistance due to tight connections.

How PCBs Are Used in Technology

You may be surprised by the number of things you use every day that require a PCB to function. You probably own tens of devices that house a PCB. If you’re reading this on your smartphone or tablet, it’s relying on the quality of the PCB inside. Your smoke detector, TV remote, and electronic kitchen scale have circuit boards. And if there’s a problem with the circuit board, you can expect your electronics to operate poorly (if at all).

That’s because almost every device you can think of relies on the boards to make connections that would otherwise need wires and other bulky components. Even things like LEDs and industrial equipment need PCBs to function properly. Because of how common and critical PCBs are in our lives, it’s crucial that PCBs come from a reputable PCB manufacturer.

Quality control is one thing you can’t overlook if you want your electronics to live out their full expected lifespan and function effectively along the way.

What We Learned About PCBs

Put simply: there are countless things that wouldn’t work properly without PCBs. And with the cost and time savings manufacturers find after incorporating them into their processes, getting a PCB custom-made for a new product is a no-brainer. Printed circuit boards will only get more common, more efficient, and more reliable. As professionals and consumers in the industry get on board, it’s exciting to imagine the creative ways these beauties will be used in the future.

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Understanding the Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA)

What is PCB Assembly? 

A circuit board prior to assembly of electronic components is known as PCB. Once electronic components are soldered, the board is called Printed Circuit Assembly (PCA) or Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) or PCB Assembly. Different Manual and Automatic PCB Assembly Tools are used in this process.

It has to be noted that assembly of a circuit board is different from PCB Manufacturing Process. Manufacturing printed circuit boards involve several processes including PCB designing and creating PCB prototype. Once a PCB is ready, Active and Passive Electronic Components need to be soldered onto it before it can be used in any electronic equipment or gadget. This assembly of electronic components depends on Type of Printed Circuit Board, type of electronic components and purpose of the circuit board.

Printed Circuit Board Assembly with Thru-Hole Electronic Component

The first PCBs used through-hole technology, mounting electronic components by leads inserted through holes on one side of the board and soldered onto copper traces on the other side. Boards may be single-sided, with an unplanted component side, or more compact double-sided boards, with components soldered on both sides. Horizontal installation of through-hole parts with two axial leads (such as resistors, capacitors, and diodes) is done by bending the leads 90 degrees in the same direction, inserting the part in the board (often bending leads located on the back of the board in opposite directions to improve the part’s mechanical strength), soldering the leads, and trimming off the ends. Leads may be soldered either manually or by a wave soldering machine.

Through-hole manufacture adds to board cost by requiring many holes to be drilled accurately, and it limits the available routing area for signal traces on layers immediately below the top layer on multi-layer boards, since the holes must pass through all layers to the opposite side. Once surface-mounting came into use, small-sized SMD components were used where possible, with through-hole mounting only of components unsuitably large for surface-mounting due to power requirements or mechanical limitations, or subject to mechanical stress which might damage the PCB (e.g. by lifting the copper off the board surface).

Surface-Mount Technology for Printed Circuit Board Assembly

Surface-mount technology emerged in the 1960s, gained momentum in the early 1980s and became widely used by the mid-1990s. Components were mechanically redesigned to have small metal tabs or end caps that could be soldered directly onto the PCB surface, instead of wire leads to pass through holes. Components became much smaller and component placement on both sides of the board became more common than with through-hole mounting, allowing much smaller PCB assemblies with much higher circuit densities. Surface mounting lends itself well to a high degree of automation, reducing labor costs and greatly increasing production rates compared with through-hole circuit boards. Components can be supplied mounted on carrier tapes. Surface mount components can be about one-quarter to one-tenth of the size and weight of through-hole components, and passive components much cheaper. However, prices of semiconductor surface mount devices (SMDs) are determined more by the chip itself than the package, with little price advantage over larger packages, and some wire-ended components, such as 1N4148 small-signal switch diodes, are actually significantly cheaper than SMD equivalents.

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Why is PCB Prototyping So Important?

Why Is PCB Prototyping So Important? 

The essentialism of PCB prototyping is best understood by first clearly defining the circuit board development process, as shown below.

As illustrated above, developing circuit boards is typically cyclical and consists of numerous iterations. Each iteration is comprised of design, build, and test stages performed with the intent of improving the quality of the design. This technique of continually modifying the board until all errors have been corrected and the desired quality is achieved is known as PCB prototyping.

Advantages of Prototyping boards

When developing a PCB board, you need to make sure your design is free of error. You can test your designs through prototyping PCBs which is an extra step, but it will help save your time and money in the long run. By using prototype boards, you can also create several variations of the same circuit design to see which changes might work better than others. It can help to reduce the amount of rework that would need to be done in case your design has errors and resultantly give you a fast turnaround time.

Prototyping can help you locate areas you may need to make improvements and locate potential issues in the design you may not have noticed only after manufactured. With the help prototyping, you can even break down multiple PCB based components and individually test the different components to see that they operate just fine. This makes it easier to pinpoint the problems in more complex types of projects involving PCBs.

With the help of prototyping PCBs, you can get an idea of what your final product will look like.

The Role of Fabrication During PCB Prototyping

The build stage of development is where the physical embodiment of the design is constructed. During each iteration of the prototyping cycle, a new board is built or fabricated. Each new board, or set of boards, is then tested. During prototype, testing is primarily done to validate functionality and operation.

The fabrication process will yield a PCB or bare board, as shown above, where no elements are attached. Although, the locations for electronic component placement or footprints and corresponding pads are laid out. Subsequently, the components are connected to the board using through-hole soldering, surface mount technology (SMT), or a combination of the two to yield the final PCB assembly (PCBA), ready to be tested. Depending upon board complexity and your CM’s manufacturing, this process can take days or even weeks to yield a prototype.

To improve the overall speed of development, rapid PCB prototyping techniques have emerged that employ additive manufacturing. These additive manufacturing fabrication processes are capable of building prototypes in less than a day. And there are many options available for your PCB prototyping.

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Understanding the PCB Fabrication and Assembly

Printed circuit board fabrication can be defined as a process of putting together the layers of the board along with particular surface patterns before making it fully usable for electronics manufacturing. In a way, it is an assembly method that can be done either by the manufacturing firms themselves or by outsourcing the service to third party specializing in PCB fabrication.

The process of printed circuit board fabrication starts with a design or a diagram using client provided specifications and requirements. The Printed circuit board layout is an important part of the fabrication process. It involves a schematic design, which is created by the specialists after considering factors like: what the Printed circuit board is required to do, its functional attributes, and under what conditions would it be used. These details are provided by the customers or the clients to the PCB manufacturers who use the information for successful PCB fabrication.

What is the PCB fabrication process? 

PCB fabrication is the process or procedure that transforms a circuit board design into a physical structure based upon the specifications provided in the design package. This physical manifestation is achieved through the following actions or techniques: Imaging desired layout on copper clad laminates. There have a few other terms and their interrelationships as below:-

  • PCB Development – can be defined as the process of taking a circuit board design from the design to the production. This typically includes three stages – design, manufacturing and testing. And for all but the simplest designs, this process is iterative with the objective of arriving at the highest quality design within the development time allotted.
  • PCB Manufacturing – can be defined as the construction o your board design. This is a tow-step process that begins with board fabrication and ends with printed circuit board assembly (PCBA).
  • PCB Testing – sometimes referred to as bring up. is the third stage of PCB development; performed after manufacturing . Testing during development is done to evaluate the board’s ability to perform its intended operational functionality. During this stage, any error or areas where the design should be modified to improve performance are identified and another cycle is initiated to incorporate the design changes.
  • PCB Assembly – PCBA is the second step or stage of PCB manufacturing in which the board components are mounted to the bare board through a soldering process.

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Overview of printed circuit boards

PCBs are most commonly made out of fiberglass, composite, epoxy, or another composite material. Most PCBs for simple electronics are simple and composed of only a single layer. More sophisticated hardware such as computer graphics cards or motherboards can have multiple layers, sometimes up to twelve.

Anatomy of a Printed Circuit Board (PCB)

As we all know what circuit boards look like: They’re thin, rigid, and usually rectangular, with components attached to one or both surfaces. The top and bottom are generally colored in dark blue or green. Lines running between the components have a slightly different color.  In addition to the top and bottom sides, modern circuit boards have internal planes called layers. Internal layers don’t have components but may contain metal lines the carry electricity to and from the components on the top and bottom. For example, the circuit board in the iPhone handset has 10 layers.

Layers are critically important in PCB design, so circuit board are commonly divided into three categories: single-sided, double-sided, or multilayer. This section discusses each of these categories and the manner in which the circuit boards are constructed.

Single-sided boards 

The body of a single-sided board is made of a hard, nonconductive material, typically fiberglass epoxy-resin, or FR4. Some literature refers to a board’s material as substrate, the substrate thickness is given in thousandths of inches called mils (1 mil = 0.001 in). standard board thicknesses are 31 mils, 39 mils and 62 mils. A thin layer of metal is attached (usually glued or electrodeposited) to one side of the board, and will call this the top side. This metal is almost always copper, which is inexpensive and provides a low-resistance path for electricity.

Double-side boards 

As the number of components on a board increases, so do the number of traces. In many instances, the full set of traces can’t be connected on a single plane without intersecting one another. To solve this problem, traces need a way to jump over other traces. This jumping is made possible by adding copper to the board’s bottom side. This bottom side may also support additional components. A board with copper on both sides is called a double-sided board.

Multilayer Boards 

Double-sided boards enable more complex routing than single-sided boards, but sometimes two layers still aren’t enough. This occurs frequently when designing circuit whose components have hundreds of closely spaced leads. It’s also important for designs that require entire layers for ground or power supply. To resolve these issues, board designers create multilayer board designs. In essence, a multilayer board is a group of double-sided board sandwiched together using a material called prepreg. Similar to glue, prepreg is soft to begin with but hardens when heat and pressure are applied. A board’s arrangement of core and prepreg layers in a multilayer board is called its stack-up.

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