A Brief History of Printed Circuit Boards: Design and Manufacturing

Today, building electronics systems that are simply functional is becoming an obsolete objective. Instead, the expectation that our devices and systems are “smart” is rapidly becoming the standard by which they are judged. These expectations are encapsulated in the concept of Ambient Intelligence (AmI), which can be thought of as the continual transformation of our environments into smart technological systems that are responsive to our needs and work cohesively to enhance our quality of life. The push towards this AmI destiny has affected the design and development of PCBs and electronic systems profoundly in recent history and is poised to be a driving factor for the foreseeable future.

With the deep entrenchment of electronics and printed circuit boards (PCBs) in our lives today, it would be understandable to assume that PCBs have been around for quite a while. This assumption, however, would be an error. In fact, the PCBs that we design and manufacture today have been with us for a scant few decades. Yet, we have been on the evolutionary road that has brought us here for over a century. Let’s take a look at the history of printed circuit boards to better understand this journey. You will probably be surprised by what we find!

Milestones in the History of Printed Circuit Boards

Below is a list of the inventors and companies whose ideas or developments have provided the most resounding impact in the history of printed circuits.

🗲 Albert Hanson invents first circuit board.

💡 Consisted of multiple layers.
💡 Utilized through-hole connectivity.
💡 Filed for a patent in 1903 in the United Kingdom.

🗲 Arthur Berry develops print and etch method in the United Kingdom.

💡 Patented in 1913.

🗲 Max Schoop, a Swedish inventor, develops a practical thermal spray

💡 Developed a flame spray gun called the “pistol” in 1912.
💡 Patented a twin wire arc spray gun in 1914.

🗲 Charles Durcase creates means of electroplating circuits.

💡 Patented in 1927.

🗲 Paul Eisler invents the first contemporary printed circuit board.

💡 Developed a PCB for a radio system in 1936.
💡 United States uses technology during World War II for proximity fuses.
💡 U.S. Army releases printed circuit technology to the public in 1948.

🗲 Moe Abramson and Stanislaus F. Danko develop auto-assembly

💡 Employed dip soldering process.
💡 Developed in 1949.
💡 Patent assigned to United States Army in 1956.

🗲 The Institute for Printed Circuits (IPC) is formed in 1957.

💡 The first organization to develop standards for PCB manufacture.

🗲 International Business Machines (IBM) introduces planar mounting.

💡 Developed in 1960.
💡 Originally developed for spacecraft.
💡 Becomes popular in the 1980’s as surface mount technology (SMT).

🗲 Gerber Scientific develops a PCB design format for vector

💡 Gerber File format RS-274-D introduced in 1980.
💡 First widely accepted or standard PCB design file format.
💡 Two subsequent releases, X1 and X2, developed for CAM processing.

🗲 Vapor Computerized Systems introduces CAM software and file

💡 Genesis 2000 software released in 1992.
💡 ODB++ data file format released to the public in 1997.

🗲 Multek introduces Every Layer Interconnect (ELIC) for high density

💡 Developed in 2006.

The above milestones in the history of printed circuits design and manufacturing have undoubtedly played significant roles in bringing the industry to the present. As with most historical examinations, there are some facts that seem to be elusive. For example, the question “Why are PCBs green?” is often asked. Although there is no clear consensus on a specific answer, there are solder mask considerations that support the green color.

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Glimpsing the Future of Printed Circuit Boards

Now, we know how printed circuits reached their present state, but what about the future? Based on current trends, it is safe to assume that PCB production will continue to grow as demands increase and artificial intelligence (AI) hardware products expand. It is also likely that ELIC and embedded components will continue to transform PCB design, while new materials will lead to more printable components. It is also probable that Internet of Things (IoT) manufacturing, where PCB manufacturing is automated and completely software driven, will affect the types of products designed and developed and revolutionize the way boards are manufactured.

You might have been surprised by some of the incredible developments in the history of printed circuits. The future undoubtedly has more in store. At Tempo Automation, we are committed to not only being on the cutting edge of PCB manufacturing but also helping to shape that future. Our white box approach to PCB design and development, which optimizes the combination of design intent and manufacturing capability, is one way we implement this leadership.

Tempo‘s Custom PCB Manufacturing Service

  • Accurate quote in less than 1 day.
  • Performs entire turnkey process in as fast as 3 days.
  • Emphasizes DFM to eliminate time-consuming back-and-forth design corrections.
  • Sources components from the most reputable suppliers in the industry to reduce procurement time.
  • Performs multiple automated inspections during assembly to ensure PCB quality for prototyping.
  • Provides support throughout the PCB manufacturing process, beginning with design.
  • Smooth transition from prototyping to production.

And to help you get started on the best path to optimizing your development process, we furnish information for your DFM and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you are interested in learning more about the history of printed circuit boards, current issues or future trends, contact us.

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