Rapid Changes in Technology Create Complexities for PCB Manufacturing

Written by Rush PCB Inc on . Posted in PCB Design, PCB Manufacturing

The field of advanced PCB manufacturing is in a state of constant flux, driven mainly by two factors—improvements in technology, and innovations in electronics. These are forcing complex PCB manufacturers to develop better manufacturing methods. The pace is so rapid it makes methods commonplace yesterday to become obsolete by today. Some improvements and innovations in technology and electronics that are leading to complex PCB board manufacturing are:

Reducing Thickness with Increasing Complexity

Electronics is becoming more powerful and much more complex. For instance, the latest generation of smartphones can perform feats that a few years ago would have been considered science fiction. As things get increasingly more sophisticated, manufacturers have to move towards advanced PCB technology and add more layers.

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The physical size of devices is also reducing. For instance, we now have miniature wearables, the thickness of our tablets and smartphones is constantly going down, but their accessibility and functionality is rapidly increasing. All this means more complex PCB boards, not only highly condensed, but with thinner substrates as well, to allow them to accommodate increasingly complex computing systems into the ever-decreasing packages.

With the average thickness of complex boards decreasing, manufacturers are moving towards advanced technologies such as high density interconnect or HDI to make complex PCB boards. HDI PCBs help with 3-D integration, as this is the growing design trend. Not only does this allow better miniaturization for denser boards, it also allows fitting more technology into a smaller space. In the race for miniaturization, the possibility of embedding components into HDI PCB is proving to be a promising approach.

Across the consumer spectrum, smaller footprints are the becoming the order of the day. Advantages of miniaturization include more efficiency in homes, better climate control inside homes, automobiles with higher efficiency, and so on, the list being endless. With additional refinements in HDI PCB technology, the PCB thickness will reduce further, benefitting a number of industries and goods in the process.

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Green Manufacturing and Advanced Materials

Although PCBs are a product as other components are, they are susceptible to influences from climatic, social, and political pressures. That simply means advanced PCB manufacturing needs to keep up with the advances and innovations in the market, while striving towards a cleaner and more sustainable production.

For instance, we are now at the crossroads of industry and legislation standards, which is forcing complex PCB manufacturers to undertake green manufacturing methods such as discontinuing the use of lead and other hazardous substances at all stages of manufacturing.

Although the use of the traditional fiberglass as a substrate is a relatively environmentally friendly material, higher rates of data transfer requires advanced PCB manufacturing to move to more suitable materials such as resin-coated films, vacuum-laminated films, liquid crystal polymers, and resin-coated copper. Complex PCB manufacturers will likely settle for materials that meet both social needs as well as convenience of production and business.

Use of Embedded Components

Advanced PCB technology allows embedding a variety of components. These range from passive components such as resistors and capacitors, to active components such as chips and integrated circuits. Embedding components has several advantages, chiefly producing smaller boards with increased complexities. This not only improves the system performance, but also reduces the overall manufacturing costs.

System performance increases as embedded components allow better signal integrity, and hence, reductions in the Electromagnetic Interference or EMI. The reduction in the wiring and track length that comes from embedding components tends to minimize via inductance and parasitic capacitance.

Ubiquitous Computing and Emergence of Wearables

As computers and wearables get thinner and smaller, it requires the PCB inside them to follow suit as well. Advanced PCB technology is already allows greater complexity on thinner boards, and complex PCB manufacturers are putting the concept into practice, with reducing the PCB thicknesses and increasing their functionality.

So far, consumer electronics has been a significant driver of complex PCB board manufacturing. With the emergence of wearables, we are entering a field that merits credible consumer-level products, and advanced PCB manufacturing has to be right alongside them. Yesterday’s technologies will not be adequate to emphasize the efficiency of design required for implementing wearable technologies of the future.

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Digital Technology for Medicare

Improvements in healthcare technology and digital technology for medicine include some of the greatest developments in the history of humankind. Although most of the developed world is still waiting on legislation to take advantage of the latest innovations, technology is sufficiently advanced to store patient records securely in the cloud, and perform healthcare administration by apps and smartphones.

Innovations in the medical field influence PCBs and the reverse is also true. For instance, one can affix high-definition cameras on to a complex PCB board, so much so, a patient can swallow the combination if needed. Additionally, there are other methods of introducing small cameras into different parts of the human body.

Rugged Systems

Advanced PCB manufacturing is making systems more rugged. For instance, we now have smaller PCBs that allow dash and vest cameras for various applications. Mobile accessory companies are providing ever-smaller and unobtrusive cameras for motorists, and offering connections to hubs or interfacing to smartphones to make them accessible more readily.

Conclusion

We are passing through a constantly evolving field of advanced PCB manufacturing. Improvements in technology, combined with innovations are helping to improve the manufacturing methods. Today, there are more complex PCB manufacturers than earlier, and the trends in PCB manufacturing are getting more and more sophisticated.

Future Challenges for PCB Manufacturing

Written by Rush PCB Inc on . Posted in PCB Manufacturing

Market research into electronic market trends in electronic manufacturing indicates a promising future for the printed circuit board (PCB) market. The research expects major opportunities for PCB manufacturing industries in fields such as communication, automotive and computers. The research forecasts a global growth of the PCB market at a CAGR of 3.2% from the year 2107 to 2022, reaching an estimated $72.6 billion by 2022. The primary drivers for the growth of this market are the increasing demands for smartphones and tablets, along with increasing automation in industries, which include automotive, aerospace, and defense.

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The emerging trends will directly affect the dynamics of the PCB industry, with future PCB technologies including miniaturization and development of green PCBs. According to the forecast, standard multi-layer PCBs will lead the segment due to the growth in communication and computer industry. Within this segment, the demand for rigid flex PCBs will likely experience the highest growth, with support from the growing demand for display applications and smartphones. PCB manufacturing industries will likely cover the largest market of the communication industry. Continuous innovations in the smartphone segment will spur the growth of the PCB manufacturing industries.

Trends and Challenges

Electronics and PCB manufacturing is presently facing several challenges together with opportunities. Along with the need to control costs, the PCB manufacturing services will have to focus on finding ways of capitalizing on current trends. This may include integrating technologies outside their primary areas of expertise, while meeting demands from customers for highly efficient manufacturing processes that are also eco-friendly. The biggest trends and challenges in the electronics manufacturing industries are likely to be:

Continuing Rise in Demand for Smart Electronic Devices

Although devices such as smartphones have been around for years, the demand for smart electronic devices is rising. For instance, the Internet of Things (IoT) technology is growing more prominent and affecting everything from vehicles to microwaves. This is likely to lead to new partnership developments as manufacturers of electronic devices look for partners to help them in building and supporting the connectivity.

For the PCB manufacturing industries, this opportunity comes as a tremendous revenue potential. Although for most manufacturers the connectivity aspect is not their core expertise, the challenge they will face will be in making the scalable connected products available to the customers, by remaining flexible and adaptable to the constantly evolving demands.

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Energy-Efficiency in Electronic Products

With concerns for the environment growing paramount, manufacturing processes are developing newer methods of producing devices that consume less energy. Businesses and consumers alike are opting for energy-efficient electronics, as reducing energy consumption is effective in cutting costs. Therefore, the demand is not only for manufacturing processes that are more effective, but also for low power consumption throughout the lifespan of the device.

Green Electronics Manufacturing

Today, everyone is looking for more eco-friendly manufacturing solutions. While this includes governments, businesses, and consumers, they are also implementing various carbon caps or carbon trading plans. That means PCB manufacturing challenges will now include use of newer materials and manufacturing processes that are more energy efficient.

Enhanced Market for Technologically Improved Medical Devices

Medical devices have always benefited from improvements in technology, ranging from improved care delivery to enabling patients in managing healthcare needs at their homes. The requirements for high quality and reliability necessitates these industries inherently maintain a close relationship to PCB manufacturing. The huge demand for wearable electronics is pushing the requirement of flex PCBs to the extreme.

Steady Growth of Electronic Manufacturing Services

Although the prediction of IPC, the Association Connecting Electronic Industries, expects an overall slow growth of electronic manufacturing services (EMS), they also expect its growth to be steady.

Better Logistics for Rapid Delivery

One of the requirements of reaching the market fast is better logistics leading to rapid delivery of PCBs—both prototypes and regular production. Therefore, one of the PCB manufacturing challenges will be to explore the viability of micro logistics. These networks will ensure accelerated delivery for select customers and products.

Speed will likely be the key for PCB manufacturing. In fact, some manufacturers are coordinating enterprise-wide planning activities for rapid integrated business planning. Others are increasing investments in digitally executed manufacturing for increasing their agility.

All PCB manufacturing will require investing and improving their efficiency in logistics. To expedite the delivery of their products, PCB manufacturing industries will require using their factory floor spacing at higher efficiency to manage their space and time in a better way.

Controlling Costs with Strategic Partnerships

With contract manufacturing undergoing a massive shift, OEMs are increasingly outsourcing product design and development to their EMS partners. This is helping them control manufacturing costs, as they are able to reduce overall costs, while shifting fixed costs towards variable costs.

PCB manufacturing industries can take advantage of this situation by expanding into new lines of business and revenue opportunities. While this is opening up strategic partnerships in a massive way, the new services are also offering high margins with more design services, sub-assemblies, finished products, and or testing services. By offering more services, EMS providers are not only offering future PCB technologies, but also newer models of ODM or outsourced design manufacturing, and JDM or joint design manufacturing.

Although the strategic partnerships are proving valuable, other important considerations also exist. Both EMS and OEMs must consider evaluating current product portfolios and customers. This will not only help to align their strategies and business models, but also help them evaluate value propositions for ensuring they line up with strategic business decisions and current needs.

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Conclusion

While the above trends will influence and shape the electronics manufacturing industry in the coming years, PCB manufacturing challenges will hinge on one hand on products that are more sophisticated, better services, speed, and accuracy of delivery, while on the other, on minimizing environmental impact and cost control.

Future PCB technologies will have to face an evolving world, while positioning themselves as flexible but agile solution providers. They will need to keep pace with rapid changes while aligning themselves with the right strategic partner.

Flex PCBs and the Internet of Things (IOT)

Written by Rush PCB Inc on . Posted in PCB, PCB Manufacturing

The term Internet of Things (IoT) is an umbrella term that covers a broad range of technologies, applications, and use cases enabled by connecting objects and devices via an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Underneath this umbrella of IoT technology fall a variety of terms such as the Internet of Everything, the IoT for home, the Internet of Medical Things, Industry 4.0, the Internet of Services, the IoT for security and defense, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). IoT itself comprises a huge variety of diverse, technology stacks, such as the wireless IoT network and communication protocols, standards, and much more.

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Typically, three big trends in electronics have converged to make the IoT technology possible. Chief among them are the wireless networking technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 4G LTE, replacing wired connectivity as viable alternatives. Second are special devices that extend connectivity to compact devices such as smartphones and smartwatches. The third factor is the evolution of printed circuits providing flexible and High-Density Interconnect PCBs, enabling the manufacturing of miniature and sophisticated wearable IoT devices such as medical implants, hearing aids, fitness trackers, and heads-up displays for augmented reality.

The above trends not only enabled the IoT technology, but also drove up the demand for IoT board manufacturing, especially the Flex and HDI PCBs. Today, these types of IoT PCBs play a pivotal role in the advancement of IoT technology.

Opportunities for Flex PCBs in the IoT

With the increasing spread of IoT technology, expect tens of billions of new devices to connect to the IP networks. A major number of these IoT devices will need PCBs that fit into very tight spaces while working to high specifications. According to research by Gartner, the number of IoT devices connecting to the Internet will cross 25 billion by the year 2020.
This presents a huge opportunity for OEMs making IoT devices such as wearables, especially as these put unparalleled demands on PCBs. For instance, the circuit board inside a device tracking fitness has to withstand different dynamic stresses such as frequent flexing. Only flexible and HDI PCBs are capable of handling such stress without failure.

The Flexible Approach

While the convergence of the mechanical and electrical design gives us devices with eye-catching curves and contours, it actually leaves the irregularly shaped structures with little space to run wire bundles behind them for incorporating a sensor. However, a flex circuit has no problem in fitting perfectly within the limited space, as it can conform to the curved surface.
Designers commonly use flexible circuits in confined spaces and fold it around corners to form a tighter packaging. Most places where traditional solutions will not meet design constraints, flexible PCBs are the alternative path forward. For IoT devices such as wearable electronics in a shirt, it is easier to sew in flex circuits rather than run a bunch of wires along with their sensors, which can make the shirt a bulky item.

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IoT for Health

Designers and OEMs consider flexible technologies and miniaturization as one of the seven technology building blocks necessary for creating wearable electronic products. Wearable electronic products can be worn within the body, on the body, or close to the body. In all cases, flexible interconnect technology along with miniature components are now essential to the wearable electronics market.

The form, fit, cost, and function of the IoT devices drive the choice between a printed circuit and a printed electronics technology. By combining the material and design, designers can select from among flexible, rigid, and stretchable PCB solutions. Printed circuit technologies primarily consist of rigid, flexible, and rigid-flex circuits. They are fabricated with conventional methods such as etching copper sheets and laminations on dielectric materials. More recently, every-layer interconnect connection along with high-density interconnect PCBs are providing the higher functionality that advanced smart connected wearable devices demand.

Other advancements in IoT for health involve printed electronics technology. This uses printing methods such as ink-jet printing, gravure, and screen-printing for creating interconnects on different substrates. The electrical circuit pattern deposited onto the substrate is typically made of materials such as conductive inks and pastes. Use of printed electronics is bringing down the expenses incurred in processing and materials, but the complexity in design and performance is higher as compared to that involved with flexible circuits.

Custom PCB Design

IoT board manufacturing with custom PCB manufacturing has several applications as flexible circuit technologies offer improved electrical performance, reduced weight and volume, improved interconnect reliability, and larger design freedom. All these advantages appeal to the IoT for business, IoT for home, IoT for security and defense, and IoT for space applications. Of these, the driving application for flexible PCBs is the consumer electronics, specifically the mobile and handheld IoT devices that benefit the most from the increased functional density, enlarged user comfort, and the reduction in form factors that these technologies have to offer.

In the same way, IoT for security and defense, including IoT for space also find appealing the increase in electrical performance, reduced volume and weight, increased design freedom, and improved interconnect reliability that flexible technologies offer.
Custom PCB design helps to integrate seamlessly the flexible PCB into the IoT devices that users carry along, or wear on or inside their bodies. Acceptance depends on the electronics being comfortable and unnoticeable to the user. OEMs tend to improve the user comfort in one of two ways—extreme miniaturization of the device reducing its presence, or transforming the flat rigid circuit into a 3-dimensional conformable shape. The second approach follows the random shape of the body part onto which the IoT device is integrated.

Conclusion

Although flex PCBs are not new to the field of electronics, IoT technology is benefitting hugely from flexible concepts as creativity and engineering along with custom PCB design are helping to create miniature IoT devices with greater functionality and reliability, while offering greater wearing comfort.