The Printed Circuit Board Explained

The Printed Circuit Board, or PCB, has revolutionized the electronics industry. Invented in the 1930s, it has come to be used in every imaginable electronic gadget. This article explains the importance of these boards, and examines their benefits and manufacturing options.

Why Use A PCB? What Can It Be Used For?

Before delving into the details, it’s important for you to know the possible applications of Printed circuit boards, and why you should use them (i.e., what their advantages are).

What can you use them for? Absolutely everything! There’s virtually no electronic device that can’t be built using PCBs. Battery-operated toys, cell phones, music players, TVs, computers, automobiles, aircraft – almost everything that uses some sort of electronics, makes use of them.

Whether you’re a hobbyist building a toy, a student doing science-project, or an appliance-maker manufacturing millions of devices, the use of printed boards offer benefits.

Firstly, a PCB is much smaller than other types of circuits. Its reduced size is an extremely important aspect to its overall production process. In addition, a printed circuit greatly reduces the need for wires. This improves the appearance of the final circuit and enhances durability. For mass-producers ordering in large production, it’s the cheapest method, offering huge cost benefits.

What are the Key Design Considerations when making a PCB?

There Are Three Main Elements:

* A laminate board.
* The components mounted on the board.
* Traces that serve as the “wires” connecting components and forming the circuit.

The actual components used depend entirely on the purpose of circuit. Examining which components to use is best dealt in an encyclopedia series. This leaves laminate boards and traces. Production costs, working efficiency and operating cost of the finished circuit, all depend on these elements.

Of the several materials used for the boards, six are the most widely manufactured: FR-1, FR-2, FR-3, FR-4, CEM-1 and CEM-3. “FR” stands for “flame retardant”. FR 1, 2 and 3 are essentially the same, with only minor differences in properties. They are not suited for building multilayer boards. The same is true for CEM-1.

FR-4 and CEM-3 are two laminates that can be used for multilayer boards. Of the two, FR-4 is more widely manufactured, and hence is cheaper. It can be used for single and multilayer boards, and has excellent thermal tolerance up to 130°C.

Copper is the most commonly used material for traces. Simple methods involve plating the entire board with copper, and then etching away unnecessary areas through a mask (stencil) to leave the required traces. More complex methods allow traces to be added on to a bare board. Each approach has associated pros and cons.

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