By Suresh Patel, Sales Engineer, Mer-Mar Electronics
With recent technologies like 5G, IoT, and AI impacting the electronics world tremendously, there are a lot of developments in the PCB manufacturing industry now. New trends are catching up swiftly in the PCB development process. The estimated global PCB market in 2023 is around 70-75 billion dollars.
Many areas in PCB manufacturing are simultaneously undergoing developments, including the following: direct imaging wherein the circuit pattern is printed right on the material; evaluating new substrate materials for the latest tech applications; testing new surface finish for a wide working environment, progress in rigid-flex, flex and HDI PCBs to support increasing circuit complexity; improved automation of the manufacturing process; and building eco-friendly products.
Before discussing the various PCB development trends, we shall briefly consider the technology trends that are driving the PCB industry.
Communication speed has shot up with the 5G technology network. These networks are designed to deliver steady connectivity to mobile users and the associated devices at a speed of 10-20 Gbps which is exponentially faster than its predecessor 4G and fixed-line broadband.
The IoT technology creates specific IoT devices for almost every industry, including industrial automation, smart homes, healthcare, and wearable devices. AI and machine learning have penetrated sectors other than manufacturing or assembly shops. Deployment of robots in the retail sector and restaurants are planned and tested.
Human augmentation is the technology that enhances human productivity or capability. These are mainly wearable devices such as eyeglasses, chip implants, or prosthetics. Autonomous technology is used to automate functions or actions at diverse levels ranging from driverless cars delivery drones in warehouses, etc.
Trends in PCB development listed by the global circuit board market
There is a demand for different roles of the PCB, such as a change in the shape of the PCB or the associated accessories. Recently there has been a significant development in PCB board cameras to improve picture and video imaging with high resolution. Board camera development will be a powerful solution for both the consumer and industrial electronics sectors.
3D printed electronics (3D PEs) are transforming the design of electrical systems. 3D PE is an additive manufacturing process that can build a 3D circuit by printing a substrate layer by layer. 3D printing allows rapid prototyping with a short turnaround time. There is no minimum build volume required. Many parts can be created without any assembly process with this printing technique. This will expand product features and improve overall efficiency due to automation.
High density interconnects (HDI) PCBs offer high-performance and extremely thin materials compared to traditional PCBs. This provides compact wiring, tiny laser vias, and pads. HDI PCBs are the preferred option for trending miniaturized electronic products. Such products use solid PCB prototyping before finalizing the design.
Consumer electronics is one of the fastest-growing trends with an increased subscription for mobiles and internet TVs. Wearables like smartwatches are also contributing to the consumer segment’s expansion. These applications are increasing the demand for compact, precise, and versatile PCBs. Also, the latest IoT applications are driving the development of flex and rigid-flex PCBs due to the durability and size benefits they offer.
The exhaustive silicon usage in the semiconductor industry has forced PCB experts to research new alternatives. Non-degradable electronic wastes have also impacted the environment badly resulting in designers to exploring organic or bio-degradable PCBs as replacements for the existing ones.
AI-enabled solutions are at the forefront in almost all the industrial sectors now. AI applications are creating the demand for PCB design and manufacturing process improvements. Focusing on restructuring the development cycle to reduce the defects and delivering the product quickly is the critical goal to sustain in the evolving PCB industry.
Traditionally, PCBs are the passive medium used to connect active components of a circuit design. But recently, designers have been exploring the possibilities of making the PCB itself an active component of the circuit. This approach can reduce the components’ requirements yet perform the desired functionality.
Tech trends like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are ruling the consumer electronics sector and also influence PCB design to address issues like fitting electronic packages in unconventional shapes. This will confirm proper circuit operation and reduce the place and route technique requirement. Also, AR with software simulation methods can reduce the cost of training procedures as advanced simulations can replicate the actual environment of magnetic and electric fields. This will confirm that the product meets the required regulations.
The demand for electric automobiles and automated driverless vehicles is growing swiftly, and so is the requirement for PCBs with a good heat dissipation ability. The advanced automotive PCB design will address safety, convenience, and environmental concerns. Using alternate energy sources like electric power will require a PCB with an excellent thermal design. The high current requirement and heat generation issues should be handled during the PCB design. Choosing a metal core PCB and following efficient placement strategies are mandatory.
The complex design requirements with multilayer PCB fabrication are part of almost all the trending technologies. PCBs in medical and aerospace applications require strict control over EMI issues. Also, cell phone developers need to minimize unwanted radiation hazards. If the PCB design is not compliant with the EMI regulations, the high-volume boards may end up in re-spin, adding cost and delay in the final delivery. The rising popularity of flex PCB has also brought new challenges to PCB designers. The possibility of electromagnetic interference between components and traces is very high in flex PCBs, leading to performance degradation. This issue has enabled the demand for built-in ESD protection systems.
With growing trends, the speed of PCB design and development has increased enormously. But taking adequate time to design, fabricate, and assemble a product can reduce errors and debugging costs.
As PCB development trends change with the latest technological innovations, PCB manufacturers will have to build a more dynamic supply chain and flexible manufacturing process to address the requirements of these PCB trends.
About the author
Suresh Patel has worked as a Sales Engineer and other management roles at Mer-Mar Electronics. He brings 25 years of experience in printed-circuit-board sales and technical client service and managing business.