As an engineer, I have an affinity for the saying that “Life is Flux.” This pearl of wisdom is one of the more easily understood idioms of Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus. His meaning here is that everything changes. I would go a step further and assert that the only constant is change. Change is sometimes monumental and sometimes subtle, but every situation inevitably changes. Looking back at the history of PCB design and manufacturing, it is clear that the PCB world has continuously evolved. A glance towards the horizon suggests that new trends will continue to emerge.
It can be difficult to predict which trends will predominantly shape the PCB industry in the future. However, individuals with clear foresight have the opportunity to significantly impact the next generation of electronics products, provided they recognize upcoming challenges and successfully prepare solutions to meet them. Usually, the best clues for what the future holds technologically can be discovered via a thorough examination of the current landscape. Therefore, let’s discuss PCB industry trends that have taken root and will continue to affect PCB manufacturing for the foreseeable future.
PCB Industry Trends
The pervasiveness of PCBs in our daily lives has continued to expand. To a high degree, this growth has been driven by consumer demands for smarter products that monitor or control more of the common activities in which we engage as well as industry demands. For example, in aerospace, medical devices, automotive and commercial electronics, industry demands include enhanced functionality and capability. These demands have been met by the utilization and development of new materials, components and manufacturing technology. To keep pace with the projected trends below, PCB manufacturing processes and equipment must continually evolve.
Trend 1: High Density Interconnect
High density interconnect (HDI) was developed in response to the demand for smaller and smaller products with greater capability, especially in terms of routing traces. This capability that allows for fewer layers in the PCB stackup and promotes high-speed signal transmission. HDI manufacturing faces challenges with fabricating traces such that a greater number of traces may be routed within a smaller area, which introduces issues like noise and interference. Extensions of this concept, every layer interconnect (ELIC) and any layer interconnect (ALIC) should also see continued growth over the coming years.
Trend 2: High Power Boards (48V and higher)
There is a significant thrust towards higher power PCBs. This includes boards with up to 48V supplies. These voltage levels are in response to the growth in solar energy, where panels typically operate at 24V or 48V, and electric vehicles (EVs) where voltages may be in the hundreds. These high power boards require PCBs to mount larger components like battery packs while being able to deal with interference issues effectively.
Trend 3: Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a multi-tiered design strategy that requires fast communication (typically wireless) between layers and elements. This is the key technology behind smart homes and offices and remote monitoring and control. The primary manufacturing challenge for IoT PCBs is meeting various standards and regulations that govern their development.
Trend 4: Flex PCBs
Flex and rigid-flex PCBs are rapidly gaining market share in PCB development. In fact, it is predicted that by the mid-2020’s, one-third of all PCBs manufactured will be flex. The advantages of flex boards include increased capability, smaller size, higher reliability and more material options. However, before selecting your materials, you should be aware of the critical attributes that impact flex board manufacturing.
Trend 5: Commercial-Off-The-Shelf Components
Another trend that is taking hold is the use of Commercial-Off-The-Shelf or COTS components. The use of COTS components is thought to be able to bring some standardization and reliability to the components used in critical space-based systems. Traditionally, components used in space manufacturing have been heavily scrutinized; however, the commercialization of the industry may lead to reduced regulation of components.
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Trend 6: Component Supply Chain Control
The increased use of electronics has also galvanized the need for improved security. The primary focus is the elimination of counterfeit components from the supply chain. This is especially important for critical systems manufacturing. Advanced technologies are continually being utilized to improve capabilities that address this issue, including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) simulations during PCB assembly.
The list above represents foreseeable PCB industry trends that will significantly impact electronics systems and products available for consumers and other end-users in the near future. These trends will drive the continued evolution of PCB manufacturing technology for years to come.
The horizon for the PCB industry is bright and the future promises to be more exciting in terms of product functionality and device capabilities. However, realizing these aspirations requires the continued evolution of processes, techniques and equipment by the PCB manufacturing industry. There is no board manufacturer better positioned to engage these challenges than Tempo Automation, the leading PCB prototype and low volume turnkey manufacturer in the industry. Tempo is committed to employing cutting-edge software and hardware to ensure that your design objectives are satisfied.
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And to help you get started on the best path, 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.