I recently installed a pedometer app to improve my health through fitness tracking. Considering that it has to distinguish between many different movements to track how many steps I’m taking, the app works surprisingly well. I’ve since wondered what kind of sensing technologies were designed into my phone’s circuit board to provide such high accuracy.
Cell phones are only one example of how circuit board design and manufacturing advancements support the latest in new technologies. In domestic and industrial applications, the demand for next-generation features and functionality requires more circuit board designers than ever before. Let’s take a look at some of the applications where the importance of PCBs in developing technology is crucial and how PCB designers can best meet these new challenges.
Developing Technologies and the PCBs at Their Core
In virtually every industry, the need for new and growing technologies is fueling the demand for more intricate circuit board designs. Here are some of the industries and applications where these PCB designs are needed.
Medical equipment is constantly being enhanced and replaced with updated technology, and new circuit boards are in high demand to power these advancements. This equipment includes imaging systems, monitors, and analysis tools, plus infusion pumps, pacemakers, and other treatment devices. In some cases, miniaturized cameras and their associated electronics are used for internal diagnostic procedures in a patient, which wouldn’t be possible without high-density interconnect PCBs.
Part of the medical diagnostic process is wearable devices that track the physiological status of patients, but the use of these devices extends far beyond the medical field. Wearables are common now in consumer applications like smartwatches and wouldn’t be possible without the latest PCB design technologies that utilize new and thinner materials.
Not only do wearables capitalize on networking capabilities, but the consumer and industrial markets now feature numerous Internet of Things (IoT) devices. From personal aids in the home to robotic manufacturing systems, IoT devices include circuit boards full of functionality. These PCBs stretch the limits of technology that can be contained on one board and push the boundaries for density, power, and signal integrity.
New advancements in energy technology are increasing, with solar and wind power at the forefront to end the reliance on fossil fuels. The circuit boards for these electronics require the greatest care in their design for high-powered performance and operation in harsh environments.
From automobiles to spacecraft, the circuit boards used in different modes of transportation must withstand great environmental stress. These stresses include heat, cold, vibration, pressure, excessive G-forces, and electromagnetic interference. The designs of communication, navigation, control, and other important vehicle systems require the latest technologies in PCB design and manufacturing to withstand all of this.
The Importance of PCB in Developing Technology, and What is Required for Design
As evidenced above, there is a great need for PCB design and development to supply new technologies in demand today. Therefore, these circuit boards will also need new PCB design and manufacturing technologies. Here are some of those circuit board technologies that PCB designers should consider.
High-density interconnect design and miniaturization
With the amount of circuitry required to support new technologies, printed circuit boards need to be smaller and contain more parts and routing than ever before. This circuitry density will require high-density interconnect (HDI) designs to achieve the level of miniaturization necessary. HDI design’s smaller trace widths and spaces, plus the use of smaller, denser components with less space between them, will also call for advancements in materials and manufacturing.
Not only will HDI require new fabrication techniques, but to stay environmentally compliant will require that board designers look into lead-free alternatives for PCB manufacturing. In addition, greater attention than ever before is required to stay ahead of global part shortages and the problems with electronic component counterfeiting.
Circuit boards used in solar or wind energy applications aren’t the only ones working with more power. Electric vehicles, battery and charging systems, and even high-powered consumer electronics all require the ability to operate at elevated power levels. The challenge for PCB designers is to incorporate these power circuits onto smaller thinner boards where thermal dissipation is more important than ever.
Many wearable, IoT, and medical applications will require flex circuits for their electronics. Designers have to learn how to design to flex standards and the new requirements for HDI and power electronics. These standards will include bend ratios, trace thicknesses, copper weight, new board materials, and working with tiny package sizes for parts.
To incorporate these new technologies into PCB design will involve some new approaches to layout, which we will look at next.
What PCB Designers Will Need to Design Developing Technologies
PCB designers must have layout tools that can handle the complexities of HDI, flex, and other advanced PCB design techniques. Designers must assign specific rules and constraints and set up bend points and special materials for flex circuits. Another important part of successfully designing new technologies is a collaboration between the mechanical and PCB design groups. The electrical and mechanical design teams must work together to co-design through the device’s restricted space requirements. It is also helpful to have design tools that allow access to both environments so that each design group isn’t working in the dark.
Another helpful resource for PCB layout designers is to work with a PCB contract manufacturer that understands the importance of these different developing technologies. At VSE, we have been working with design innovators like you for over 30 years. Our engineering team is familiar with the challenges that you face and can provide circuit and layout recommendations that can potentially save time and money on your next design.