The Future PCB Industry Trends And Best Applications
2022 PCB Industry Trends
The modern PCB industry always maintains progress and growth. Whether it's in the shape of the PCB itself or the accessories attached directly to the board, consumers are continuously pushing for new and different PCBs and functions.
There's also plenty of room to grow in the manufacturing process itself as increased PCB complexity introduces new challenges for manufacturing companies. That's why most predictions for the printed circuit board's future focus strongly on the following areas.
1. Circuit Board Cameras
Board cameras, alternatively called circuit board cameras, are cameras that are mounted directly onto a circuit board. These circuit board cameras consist of a lens, aperture, and image sensor and are designed to take both digital pictures and videos. In all, the cameras are around the size of a quarter and can be mounted on any size PCB. This means these cameras are small enough to slip into just about any electronic device.
Since their introduction, circuit board cameras have developed quickly, with photo and video imaging and durability being the primary areas of improvement. Now, these small cameras can take high-resolution images and video with ease. In the next few years, the PCB cameras industry is expected to develop even further, creating powerful solutions for both industry and consumer electronics.
Due to their size, circuit board cameras have several applications across a variety of industries:
• Consumer Electronics
• Medical Instruments
• Surveillance Technology
These industries are only a few examples of how circuit board cameras can be used and how trends may continue into the future. As it stands, the circuit board camera industry is moving more toward customizable circuit board cameras that are both high-quality and durable.
Improved day and night and low light capabilities are also under development to help improve both medical and surveillance imaging purposes.
2. 3D Printing
3D printing technology is probably one of the most exciting technological innovations in recent years. From 3D-printed organs to firearms and ammo, 3D printing has accomplished some incredible things in a variety of industries. The PCB industry is no different.
3D printing has proved integral to one of the big PCB innovations in recent years: 3D PE. 3D-printed electronics, or 3D PEs, are positioned to revolutionize the way electrical systems are designed in the future. These systems create 3D circuits by printing a substrate item layer by layer and then adding a liquid ink on top of it that contains electronic functionalities. Surface-mount technologies can then be added to create the final system. The result is a circuit that can take any shape imaginable.
3D PE can potentially provide immense technical and manufacturing benefits for both circuit manufacturing companies and their clients — especially when compared to traditional 2D PCBs.
These advantages include:
• Novel Designs
• Improved Efficiency
• Environmentally Friendly
Because of these benefits, 3D PE production has advanced quickly and is moving towards high-volume mass production. While 3D PE applications are relatively limited at present, keeping mostly to gauges, antennas, and sensors, a significant amount of research is going into expanding the manufacturing capabilities of 3D PEs.
This includes developing the types of surfaces they can be printed on, the types of SMDs that can be added to them, and the manufacturing tools that can be used to print them.
Many industry leaders expect the 3D PE industry to expand quickly as manufacturing companies and consumer industries discover new methods and applications for 3D PE technology.
3. PCB auto-placers
PCB industry today includes an auto-router in the design. This PCB component routes electronic functions throughout a board to model the characteristics of the PCB layout, therefore making the automation process much easier.
However, auto-routers are difficult to create and set up, taking a large amount of time and labor. Because of this difficulty, time saved through automation is lost in the setup process. For this reason, many manufacturers and PCB designers are looking into auto-placers as an alternative.
auto-placers make the automation process much faster by attempting to integrate mechanical and electrical CAD systems, simplifying the manufacturing process. As of today, automatic placement tools haven't achieved acceptance in the PCB manufacturing industry at large.
The constraints dictating the operation of auto-placers don't necessarily have anything to do with the board design, but rather with the product design. This can mean significantly overhead for designers, as they have to account for much more than the PCB design.
While auto-placers can speed up manufacturing processes substantially over auto-routers, this will depend primarily on optimizing the auto-placer constraint management. This is where new technology must come into play.
The PCB design industry is on the rise recently and with it the idea of integrated CAD systems. Because auto-placers rely on both electrical and mechanical design aspects, an integrated electrical and mechanical CAD system that applies constraints in both realms is necessary to make auto-placers more efficient.
With the move toward these design software choices, auto-placers are slowly becoming the more effective alternative to auto-routers. This switch from auto-routers to auto-placers is expected to bring real benefits to the PCB design process.
4. Flexible PCBs
The PCB industry is already a fast-growing industry, with some studies estimating that the market will grow from $63.5 billion in 2016 to $73.8 billion in 2021. However, the fastest-growing segment of the PCB industry is flexible PCBs - projected to grow to $15.2 billion by 2020 and $27 billion by 2022.
Between wearable electronics, flexible displays, and medical applications, flexible technology is pushing the industry increasingly toward flexible and flex-rigid PCBs. Flexible PCB technology is already outpacing rigid PCBs in terms of sales growth, meaning the future is looking bright.
5. Biodegradable PCBs
Electronic waste, AKA e-waste, is one of the biggest environmental concerns of the modern era. This type of waste includes electronic items like computers, laptops, TVs, smartphones, and household appliances, many of which contain parts that are neither biodegradable nor environmentally friendly. While e-scrapping has become popular in recent years, e-waste continues to be a problem as people try to find ways to get rid of old electronics.
The PCB industry is a large part of this issue. Some PCB materials don't degrade very well and often end up in landfills, polluting the surrounding soil. This issue is compounded by the fact that the chemicals used during the PCB manufacturing process are often harmful to the environment if not properly disposed of.
Considering how many electronics the average consumer goes through over the course of a decade, along with the industry trend toward short-lived electrical products, this can mean a lot of thrown-out PCBs bringing harm to the environment.
There are many proposed solutions to this problem, from mass junking to organized e-waste collection services. Some players are even supporting the idea of extracting precious metals from e-waste, like palladium, silver, gold, gallium, and tantalum, to reuse them by smelting and refining them. This, in turn, would reduce the pressure on mining companies to produce vast amounts of metal for the electronics industry.
When it comes to PCBs specifically, some scientists propose we attack the pollution problem by changing PCB manufacturing processes. This would mean switching out traditional substrates with more environmentally-friendly alternatives. Biodegradable substrates are currently under close examination, as are alternatives that don't require harmful etching chemicals to finish the assembly process.
Both would help reduce the environmental impact of the PCB industry overall and could potentially contribute to reducing the costs of assembly and manufacturing.
Top PCB Applications in 2022
1. Medical Devices
The healthcare sector is using growing numbers of PCB industry as technologies advance, revealing new capabilities. PCBs play a role in devices used for diagnostics, monitoring, treatment, and more.
Special attention must be paid to ensuring reliability when producing medical PCBs because proper functioning can be critical to patient health. In many cases, PCBs must also meet strict standards for sanitation, especially those used for implants. Circuit boards used for implants and many other applications, such as emergency room monitors, must also be relatively small.
Because of this, many medical PCBs are high-density interconnect, or HDI.
PCBs are used for medical devices such as:
Medical imaging systems: CT, CAT, and ultrasonic scanners often use PCBs, as do the computers that compile and analyze these images.
Monitors: Heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose monitors and more depend on electronic components to obtain accurate readings.
Infusion pumps: Infusion pumps, such as insulin and patient-controlled analgesia pumps, deliver precise amounts of fluid to a patient. PCBs help ensure these products function reliably and accurately.
Internal devices: Pacemakers and other devices that are used internally require small PCBs to function.
The medical sector is continually coming up with more uses for electronics. As technology improves and smaller, denser, more reliable boards become possible, the PCB industry will play an increasingly important role in healthcare.
Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are an increasingly popular lighting technology used for residential and commercial lighting and across numerous industries including the automotive, medical, and computer technology sectors. LEDs are favored for their energy efficiency, long life, and compactness.
One role that PCBs play in LED applications is the transfer of heat away from the bulb. High temperatures decrease the average life of LEDs. Because of this, PCBs used for LEDs are typically made with aluminum, which can transfer heat better than other metals.
This eliminates the need for an additional heat sink to a design and means it can be more compact.
You can find LED PCBs in:
Residential lighting: LED lighting, including smart bulbs, helps homeowners light their property more efficiently.
Storefront lighting: Businesses can use LEDs for signage and to light their stores.
Automotive displays: Dashboard indicators, headlights, brake lights and more may use LED PCBs.
Computer displays: LED PCBs power many indicators and displays on laptop and desktop computers.
Medical lighting: LEDs provide bright light and give off little heat, making them ideal for medical applications, especially those related to surgery and emergency medicine.
LEDs are becoming increasingly common in a variety of applications, meaning PCBs will likely continue to play a more prominent role in lighting.
3. Consumer Electronics
Smartphones, computers, and many other consumer products that people use daily rely on the PCB industry. As we add electronics to more of our products, PCBs become a bigger part of our daily lives.
Manufacturers are producing smaller and smaller smartphones and laptops that still have many advanced capabilities, which require small PCBs with a high volume of connections. PCBs used for consumer electronics also need to be relatively low-cost to keep the price of the final product low.
Manufacturers also want reliable boards, because they need their products to function as expected to stay in business.
A huge range of consumer products use PCBs including:
Communications devices: Smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, radios, and other communications products require PCBs to function.
Computers: Computers for both personal and business feature PCBs.
Entertainment systems: Entertainment-related products such as televisions, stereos, and video game consoles all rely on PCBs.
Home appliances: Many home appliances also have electronic components and PCBs including refrigerators, microwaves, and coffee makers.
The PCB industry products in consumer products are certainly not slowing down. The proportion of Americans who own a smartphone is now 77 percent and growing.
Many devices that weren’t electronic before are now also gaining advanced electronic functionality and becoming part of the Internet of Things (IoT).
4. Industrial Equipment
The PCB industry’s applications vary widely. Electronic components power much of the equipment in manufacturing and distribution centers as well as other types of industrial facilities.
The PCBs used in the industrial sector often need to be especially high-powered and durable enough to withstand the harsh conditions that exist in industrial facilities.
PCBs may need to be resistant to rough handling, vibrating machinery, extreme temperatures, or harsh chemicals. To meet this need for durability, industrial PCBs may be made with durable metals or thermal-resistant materials and be thicker than other kinds of PCBs.
Industrial PCB assembly services may include thru-hole technology to increase durability.
Some of the industrial applications for PCBs include:
Manufacturing equipment: PCB-based electronics power electric drills and presses used in manufacturing.
Power Equipment: The components that power many types of industrial equipment use PCBs. This power equipment includes DC-to-AC power inverters, solar power cogeneration equipment, and more.
Measuring equipment: PCBs are often power equipment that measures and controls pressure, temperature, and other factors.
As robotics, industrial IoT tech, and other types of advanced technology become more common, new uses for PCBs are arising in the industrial sector.
5. Automotive Components
Automotive manufacturers are using growing numbers of electronic components in their vehicles. In earlier times, PCBs were only used for things like windshield wipers and headlight switches, but today they enable many advanced features that make driving safer and easier.
Depending on what part of the car a PCB is used for, it may need to be able to withstand extreme temperatures or vibrations. It’s also critical that they perform reliably if involved in a safety feature of the car.
Because of these challenges, manufacturers may use high-temperature laminates, aluminum or copper substrates, or thru-hole-mounted components. They also use flex-rigid PCBs because of their ability to withstand vibrations.
Today, you can find PCBs in automotive components such as:
Entertainment and navigation systems: Stereos and systems that integrate navigation and entertainment rely on PCBs.
Control systems: Many systems that control the basic functions of the car rely on electronics powered by PCBs. These include engine management systems and fuel regulators.
Sensors: As cars become more advanced, manufacturers are incorporating more and more sensors. These sensors can monitor blind spots and warn drivers of nearby objects. PCBs are also necessary for the systems that enable cars to automatically parallel park.
These sensors are part of what enables cars to be self-driving. Fully autonomous vehicles are expected to become common in the future which is why a large number of printed circuit boards are used.
6. Security Devices
Many aspects of security systems, whether for homes, businesses, or government buildings, rely on the PCB industry. They play a role in our safety and security more often than many people realize.
The ideal type of PCB depends on its specific application, but all PCBs used for safety and security applications need to be reliable because these products must operate as expected at all times to be effective. Some security devices may be used outdoors and should use PCBs that can withstand outdoor environments.
Some security PCBs include:
Security cameras: Security cameras, whether used indoors or outdoors, rely on PCBs, as does the equipment used to monitor security footage.
Smoke detectors: Smoke detectors as well as other similar devices, such as carbon monoxide detectors, need reliable PCBs to function.
Electronic door locks: Modern electronic door locks also incorporate PCBs.
Motion sensors and burglar alarms: Security sensors that detect motion rely on PCBs as well.
PCBs play an essential role in many different types of security equipment, especially as more of these types of products are gaining the ability to connect to the Internet.
7. Telecommunications Equipment
PCBs are a critical part of the telecommunications industry. They’re necessary for consumer devices such as smartphones but also for the infrastructure that enables those devices to work.
The telecom sector uses a wide variety of types of PCBs because of the many different types of equipment used in the industry. Some equipment is kept in stable indoor environments, while some infrastructure must withstand outdoor environments that include storms and extreme temperatures.
Telecom equipment such as the following requires PCBs:
Telecom towers: Cell towers receive and transmit signals from cell phones and require PCBs that can withstand outdoor environments.
Office communications equipment: Much of the communication equipment you might find in an office requires PCBs, including phone switching systems, modems, routers, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) devices.
LED displays and indicators: Telecom equipment often includes LED displays and indicators, which utilize PCBs.
The telecom industry is constantly evolving, and so are the telecom PCBs it uses. As we generate and transfer more data, powerful PCBs will become even more important for communications.