PCB industry trends that will matter in the coming years

Supply chain constraints and parts shortages have affected high-volume production in particular. Forcing customers to look for new more efficient solutions. Is it even possible to predict the evolution of the industry given all the events that have happened and will happen? Yes it is, the industry is moving with the development of more complex boards.

The current trends in the PCB industry are mainly based on three assumptions:


Miniaturization – The continuous process of shrinking enclosures and thus components allows for the development of smaller and smaller devices, leading to wearable smart devices and impressive technological marvels. However, there is a cost: more complex circuit boards can be more susceptible to damage and must be handled more carefully. Alternatively, it may be necessary to switch to more durable materials or materials with specific properties.

Demand – Now more than ever, consumers are looking for advanced technologies in shorter timeframes. The industry is running under tighter deadlines than ever and simple mistakes can have dramatic consequences for the end result.

Environment – As PCB manufacturing and assembly was previously outsourced and is now being brought back to European and wetter regions, moisture control has become an urgent issue. In contrast, the EU ban on lead-based coatings is forcing manufacturers to switch to more environmentally friendly alternatives.


PCB recycling

With the global push for sustainable business practices (circular economy), PCBs have come under the spotlight again. The problem is that while some PCBs are used in machines that can last for decades, many PCBs from these machines end up in landfills due to the requirement for biodegradability and thus faster wear and tear of the electronic components so produced.

Not so long ago, lead was questioned as a coating additive. Today, there is a debate about whether printed circuit boards with these coatings are actually harming the environment by leaching lead into waste water, given the current level of recycling and reuse of metals from electronic waste.

However, the EU's Restriction on the Use of Hazardous Substances, or RoHS, now prohibits the import or export of any electronic waste containing more than 0.1 percent by weight within the European Union.


High Density Interconnect (HDI) PCBs

High-density interconnect circuit boards, or HDI PCBs, are boards that contain a higher density of wiring per area compared to more conventional circuit boards. They are an essential part of the miniaturization effort because they can do more in less space.


General definition of HDI PCBs

·         Averages around uses wire widths of 100 μm and smaller, with minimum wire spacing of 100 μm and smaller. The HDI board uses microvia, which are holes smaller than 150 μm, and also allows the use of VIP (Via-in Pad) technology

·         Contain BGA (BGA is a type of surface mount integrated circuit housing. It is characterized by the bottom side of the circuit being covered with contacts in the shape of a rectangular grid. The grid may not be completely regular, some parts may be omitted. The individual contacts are coated with beads which, when soldered, form a conductor between the PCB and the BGA housing.

·         The smaller size makes HDI PCBs ideal for wearable devices

·         Because fewer, higher-performance materials are used to make HDI PCBs, the boards are smaller but have faster signal transmission and higher thermal resistance.

Used in everything from smartwatches to space rockets, HDI PCBs represent one of the most important trends in PCBs today due to their advanced miniaturization. However, their production requires special manufacturing processes, and miniaturized components while maintaining the same performance.


Flexi PCBs

To create advanced printed circuit boards for miniature electronic devices, and especially electronics with moving parts, a completely innovative solution was needed. A flexible printed circuit board. This either bends to the required shape during installation or connects the various moving parts without the need for wires.

By definition, it is a flexible circuit board with a circuit arrangement on a flexible foil layer. Like traditional circuit boards, they can be single-sided, double-sided, multi-layered or even a combination of rigid and flexible parts.

·         Used in everything from commercial electronics, automobiles, medical devices to sensors and satellites, flexible circuit boards are suited to withstand vibration and high temperatures. They are also much easier to assemble and test than traditional wiring harnesses.

·         The downside? Flex splices are difficult to repair, require precise storage procedures and are more complex to manufacture. The board itself is more expensive than traditional printed circuit boards.


Moisture protection (MSD)

MSD moisture sensitive devices are components that are encased in plastic and are sensitive to atmospheric moisture. Like ESD control, the threat of moisture-induced damage is one of the most pressing issues in industry today.

Moisture-related damage is often difficult to detect during the manufacturing process, and the extent of the damage is greater than many want to admit. There are several reasons why this is happening:


·         Miniaturization has defined PCB manufacturing in the 21st century. From wearables to the Internet of Things, circuit boards have become increasingly thin over time. This makes them more susceptible to moisture damage and also makes them more fragile. Electronics are now penetrating places where they couldn't work before (swimming pools, extreme environments, the human body, space, etc.). 

·         As the demand for circuit boards grows globally while under tremendous price pressure, most manufacturing capacity has been outsourced to Southeast Asia. This climate is notoriously humid and manufacturers have to take special measures to control the climate in their production environment.

·         To create today's printed circuit boards, high temperatures are required, whether in coating or soldering. If moisture is confined anywhere in the material or component, there is a risk of expansion of that moisture (outgassing) when heated and damage to the product by latent defects.

·         Additional machinery is required to remove moisture from the nearly finished PCB and to expose moisture in general. On the other hand, materials treated in this way can become more brittle.

·         With the growing demand for computer chips and the conditions required to manufacture them, experts consider moisture control during the manufacturing process to be one of the most pressing trends in today's PCB industry. Moisture-sensitive devices are closely monitored by industry leaders.


Fast PCB production

Recently, the electronics business has experienced such a tumultuous transformation that it is turning standard practices on their head. Previously, it was common for a customer to commission PCB manufacturing, order components and book a slot at an assembly company in parallel. Today, one designs a board, orders components, and either orders or modifies the design according to component availability. He starts the actual production of the boards only when he has all the components available. The complication then can be that the boards have to be produced in a much shorter time frame.

Thus, the success of the product often depends on the PCB's rapid manufacturing capabilities to reduce product delays and allow sufficient time for testing. Finding a manufacturer that can produce your circuit boards quickly is essential at every stage of your PCB manufacturing process:

·         Prototypes-Fast prototypes of standard PCBs can generally be made within 2 days. These boards are primarily intended to verify the functionality of an electronic assembly. There is usually less emphasis on the manufacturing process (e.g., type of finish), replicability or making the manufacturing process as easy as possible, and trying to achieve the lowest cost.

·         Pre-production PCBs – Beta versions for PCBs are generally produced in batches of tens to several hundred pieces. This phase can help manufacturers debug errors that will only become apparent in higher volume production. Any adjustments are aimed at making production cheaper. Typically, this involves lowering the design class of the board. The beta version should also already match the materials and technologies considered for mass production. Production of such small quantities is usually completed between 8-10 days.

·         Full PCB production – The final phase of PCB production is much larger than the prototyping and pre-production phase. Medium to high volume production typically takes place within two to three weeks, depending on batch size, production complexity and available manufacturer capacity

The large number of variables between multiple suppliers, possible language barriers, delays by customs and shipping logistics in general make fast, and above all reliable, PCB production a challenge. For companies in need of printed circuit boards, it is essential to find reliable trustworthy partners: and now more than ever, a partner who is able to provide a solution even when a sudden change or problem occurs during preparation, production or transport.


Gatema PCB

Need a reliable PCB manufacturer that can handle PCB production on a timeline you can rely on? Do you require prototypes and small batches of PCBs to test? It's no problem for us.

We are a leader in the PCB prototyping industry. We specialize in creating high quality PCBs that meet standards up to IPC 3 that are used in a variety of applications around the world. We are a Czech printed circuit board manufacturer that focuses on prototype production and can produce customized PCBs for you. Whether you need a multilayer, HDI, flex PCB, flex-rigid, hybrid, high-frequency, aluminum or specialty board, we will always find a solution to produce the ideal printed circuit for you.


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