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Printed Circuit Boards Their History and Their Future

Printed circuit boards are the backbone of almost any electrical component, computer device, and even many industrial machines. A printed circuit board is simply a group of circuits laid in a particular pattern onto a conducting material. Contact fingers switch individual contacts on and off, and these circuit boards and their contacts are used in everything from the computer mouse to the most sophisticated missile guidance systems. Here’s where they came from and how they are made.

Where Did the Idea Come From?

It might surprise you to know that the very first circuit boards were actually developed in the mid-19th century. At the time, metal rods would be mounted onto a wooden base and then used to connect electrical components. Over time, these rods were replaced with smaller and smaller types of wire and terminals made from screws. PCB assembly methods eventually began using metal instead of wooden bases. The problem with these designs was size: PCB fabrication took too long and the resulting product was so large as to become more of a liability than a benefit.

First Real Innovation

The first really important innovation in PCB assembly happened in 1925 when a man in America developed a way of creating an electrical path that could be printed with electrically conductive ink directly onto an insulating material. This is the first time that the method of PCB fabrication and assembly was officially referred to as “printing.” This was eventually followed up by developments in PCB assembly that allowed the circuits to be laid onto a copper foil that had been bonded to a base that did not conduct electricity.

What Types of PCB Boards Are There?

PCB boards can be almost as simple or as complicated as required. There are three major types in use today including single-sided, double-sided, and multilayered printed circuit boards. For simpler circuit needs, single-sided boards are used. If more components are needed then can easily fit on the single-sided board, it’s possible to use a double-sided board. In this case, PCB assembly requires drilling holes through the board in order to make the connections between the two sides. The multilayer board has, as the name implies, layers of printed circuits. Each layer is separated by insulation and is connected to the layer below it through holes that are drilled in each board.

What Does it Take to Make One?

PCB assembly has to be done in a sterile environment where dust and other contaminants can be kept off the board. These days, computer systems help board designers to make a prototype assembly by designing the pattern on the board in the most efficient manner. Modern manufacturing capabilities now allow us to make PCBs with space as small as only one millimeter between the different connecting pads. Temperature is also a serious consideration in circuit board assembly. While heat is needed in PCB assembly, that heat cannot go up by more than 1 or 2°C in a second lest the different components deform.

How Long Does PCB Assembly Take?

Today, it takes only a few moments to produce a prototype. This can be done once the board designers have designed the circuit, and once a prototype is approved the modern automated line can perform PCB assembly faster and with more consistent quality than using 50 hand soldering operators simultaneously.

What’s Next?

Since those early circuit boards that used metal rods and large pieces of wood, circuit boards have only gotten smaller, faster, and more densely packed. Our ability to miniaturize electronics grows every year, and we can expect advancements in robotics and electronics to soon allow for 3D plastic boards as well as smaller printed circuit boards. Theoretically, experts estimate that our circuit boards could eventually be as small as one nanometer in size. After that, who knows?

The printed circuit board is the support for all but the most simple electrical products, and we rely on them in nearly every field of manufacturing and industry. PCB assembly services are fast, reliable, and constantly working to keep up with the latest advances in technology.

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