No matter what anyone says, printed circuit boards are the backbone of modern electronics. Without the PCB, what will the components attach to? Without advancements in printed circuit board technology, products of the future would be impossible—from electric vehicles to space taxis to global high-speed internet and wireless electric homes.
It is our responsibility to be there when our customers need us—today and in the future. It is also our responsibility to function as our customers’ PCB experts as we guide them through the challenges of their future PCB needs.
With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment and review the printed circuit board technology trends that are defining the future.
HDI and Ultra HDI
With technology getting smaller and denser, the need for fine lines and spaces, microvias, and blind and buried vias is becoming prevalent in PCB designs. HDI and especially ultra HDI allow for 1-mil lines, are crucial for miniaturized devices like smartphones, tablets, and IoT (Internet of Things) technologies.
Advanced Substrate Materials
These are needed to meet the challenges of high frequency and high-power applications. Materials like ceramic-filled PTFE that offer superior electrical properties. Low loss tangent and excellent thermal conductivity will enable reduced crosstalk and better thermal management.
Embedded Passive Technology
Passive components integrated directly into PCB layers will eliminate the need for separate discrete components. By using embedded resistors, capacitors, and inductors, PCB real estate is conserved, and signal integrity is improved, making this technology beneficial for high-frequency applications.
Embedded Component Technology
ECT involves the integration of passive and active components into the substrate itself thus eliminating the need for discrete components. It eliminates the assembly footprint, enhancing thermal dissipation. This technology enables smaller form factors and improved performance and reliability.
Flex and Rigid-flex
Although it’s been around for many years, this technology is coming into its own. It is considered the fastest growing technology market segment in the industry. The advantages of more flexible materials like polyimide means these boards offer increased design freedom, reduced size, and improved reliability. The PCBs are critical for wearable devices, curved displays, and compact electronics. The demand for flex and rigid-flex technology is growing exponentially.
Advanced Signal Integrity Techniques
With the huge increase in data rates, maintaining signal integrity is more important than ever. Techniques such as controlled impedance, differential signaling, and signal conditioning mitigate the effects of noise and crosstalk, thus ensuring reliable high-speed data transmission and overall system performance.
High Temperature PCBs
Managing heat dissipation is critical today and will be more critical moving forward as devices become smaller, denser, and more powerful. PCBs designed with high-temperature applications, high Tgs, and excellent thermal conductivity are more in demand. These PCBs can withstand higher temperatures and offer better reliability and thermal management in power electronics and automotive applications.
Internet of Things (IoT) Optimized PCBs
This technology is currently evolving to meet the needs of low-cost manufacturing, wireless connectivity, and sensor integration. They enable seamless communications, sensor data acquisitions, and support for more advanced Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other wireless technologies. I predict that we will hear more about IoT in the coming months and years.
This one is obvious: As the demand for environmentally friendly electronics grows, so does the demand for green PCBs using eco-friendly materials such as bio-based resins and lead-free soldering techniques that minimize environmental impact. We already have two shops here in the U.S. that are adhering to these guidelines, and I predict there will be more to come. Look for all our shops to start heading in this direction.
Beyond technology comes the need for improved and stellar customer. Our customers demand faster and more accurate quotes, more effective and transparent communications, and better technology through cooperative and synergistic partnerships.
Our industry is undergoing remarkable transformation as indicated in these nine technology trends. From the increase in demand for flex and rigid-flex, to embedded components, to the IoT, to the incorporation of advanced materials and ecologically friendly materials, it matters in keeping up with the demands of the products of the future. While the future is certainly challenging, it is also very bright.
These are exciting times in our industry with more changes and challenges coming to us than ever before. But of one thing I am sure: We will not only rise to these challenges, we will meet them head-on and be successful.
Our industry will always be the very backbone of the electronics industry and as that industry continues to evolve, and we witness ground-breaking advancements in electronic devices, we will always be there to meet those challenges and provide them with the PCB solutions that they will need.