Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) are boards that connect electronic components and are used in day to day life for a huge range of products and consumer devices, some of which you will use regularly without a second thought.
End applications for PCBs can range from smartphones, microwaves, TVs all the way through to medical and military equipment used in the field. There really is a huge scope for the application of PCBs, however, some end user applications are more common than others.
What are the most common uses for PCBs?
PCBs are found in almost every electronic appliance and can be used for a wide scope of products, due to the number of types of PCBs that can now be created, such as single sided, double sided, flexible etc. That being said, there are more frequent, or common, requests we, and the industry, receive for PCBs, these include:
Another huge industry for PCBs is medical appliances and devices. PCBs used for medical technology often have very strict standards they must adhere to to ensure they are reliable and have a long life span. These standards are called ISO 13485, these standards control how the PCB is manufactured, tested and assembled. It’s crucial that all PCBs for medical devices follow these standards and are manufactured and assembled with the utmost precision for a long life span.
When you’re visiting your local GP or hospital, even the most basic appointment where you are having your blood pressure taken from a monitor, this equipment will all be driven by PCBs. Medical devices using PCBs can be broadly broken down into three areas;
- Monitors: such as heart, blood or glucose level monitors
- Imaging devices: such as CT, CAT and ultrasound scanners
- Implantable devices: such as pacemakers o a responsive neurostimulator device
There are countless PCBs needed for the medical industry with it playing a big role in the advancement of modern technology, and therefore the advancement of medicine.
Lighting, such as LED, is an extremely popular lighting technology which can be used in your home, or equally for offices and within industries such as the medical and automotive industry. PCBs within LEDs play an important role, as they transfer the heat away from the bulb. An LEDs lifespan can be affected by high temperatures therefore the PCBs play an important role transferring this heat away to give a longer life span.
LED lighting is particularly useful in medical lighting for this reason, as the LEDs provide good lighting, but don’t give off any heat, meaning they are ideal to be used in emergency situations or within surgery.
As we find ourselves in an energy crisis, LED lighting is also helpful for both residential and commercial properties as they are more energy efficient, and more cost effective so are a preferred option and a common product.
ABL Circuits have created a range of PCBs to be used in lighting such as for buildings, such as the exterior of Lancaster Castle, Swansea Arena, the Tower of Light in Manchester, alongside the infamous Moorfields Eye Hospital, among others.
Where would we be without these? These are the gadgets you use daily without often realising the technology behind them. PCB uses are vast here, with all smartphones, tablets, TV’s, computers, speakers, games consoles, there are a number of printed circuit boards used to help keep these up and running. Similarly your home appliances: the majority of your home and kitchen appliances will also be run by printed circuit boards, including your microwaves, washing machine and refrigerators
However, these products also go further than your usual day-to-day devices. For example, ABL Circuits has previously worked with some of the UKs largest airports to produce PCBs to be used in passport scanners for travellers.
The use and need for PCBs in consumer electronics is one of the most demanding. and not due to slow down anytime soon.
PCBs power a lot of equipment in the manufacturing world and need to be able to withstand some extreme conditions, such as high temperatures and vibrations. Due to this, PCBs found in industrial equipment can also be thicker in size, this is because they often need to be made from thicker, more durable metals and thermal resistant materials. PCBs can be found in electric drills, solar power generators and more.
The automotive industry is one that in recent years, throughout the pandemic, has seen a huge change in supply in demand, with demand pausing during the peak of the pandemic, and bouncing back very rapidly as we came out the other side. For this reason, PCBs for the automotive industry are also in very high demand, but the current chip shortage is affecting manufacturer supply.
Find out how we think the global semi-conductor shortage can be overcome on our blog.
PCBs are needed within the automotive industry for vital components for vehicles to function, such as sensors, control systems, fuel regulators, and of course sat navs and radios. Often PCBs for vehicles are designed and manufactured to be rigid-flex boards so they can withstand the vibrations that may occur. ABL Circuits have a wealth of experience working within the automotive industry, including currently working with the world’s second largest producer of automatic lubrication systems.
PCBs are used widely in the aerospace industry, and likely in unexpected places you may not think of. ABL Circuits has worked with several companies to produce PCBs for aerospace equipment such as seat belts and no smoking lights – all these small things that are instrumental to your journey, and your safety, are powered by PCBs. Additionally, PCBs are needed to physically help planes fly and for their safety equipment, such as instrument control, warning panels and emergency exit lights, something ABL Circuits has experience in creating.
Going further than just your commercial flight, PCBs are also needed in space shuttles or for satellite or radio systems. Suffice to say, these PCBs will be exposed to some extreme conditions in their life span, therefore they must be designed and manufactured to be able to withstand extremely high vibrations and temperatures.
A number of ships, submarines and vessels rely on PCBs for navigation and communication systems. Additionally, they are used to run systems that manage the running of the vessels, such as engine or power, ABL Circuits have helped to produce exactly this, creating PCBs to be used for control systems on the North Sea Oil Rig.
Similar to PCBs used in Aerospace and for military equipment, they need to be able to withstand harsh environments and their functioning is vital for the safety of crew and passengers.
ABL Circuits has experience working with PCBs for security equipment, which includes a wide variety of products, such as smoke alarms, fire alarms and sensors in your home, or within offices and buildings, will all be run using PCBs, alongside any security cameras. These PCBs are not exposed to the harsher condition like medical or military products, however, their long life span is still of the utmost importance to ensure the safety of individuals.
PCBs are essential for the functioning of all smartphones, and ABL Circuits have helped create PCBs for 5G functionality. Additionally, PCBs are used to power the telecom towers, to help smartphones receive the signals they need to operate. PCBs are also used in internet equipment such as routers and modems to ensure your broadband is working effectively.
Military and defence applications
Similar to medical equipment, military products have strict standards PCBs must adhere to in order to withstand the harsh environments they are exposed to. PCBs are used within warships and aircrafts, something ABL Circuits has worked on supplying, in communication systems and detection systems, such as radar detection.
How will changes in technology affect PCB applications?
The technology in manufacturing PCBs is ever changing. To ensure the highest quality PCBs are being produced, technology is constantly changing and adapting.
As consumer demand moves more towards smaller technology, as well as technology in other industries such as manufacturing and medical, there is a need to ensure PCBs are smaller in size, but have the same high quality connectivity. Flexible and flex-rigid PCBs will grow in demand as technology such as wearable technology becomes more popular.
Manufacturers aiming to move towards more sustainable production will need to adapt the materials they are using for PCB production. Such as lead-free solder, fibreglass, or even newer adapted materials for connectivity such as resin-coated copper. Providing these materials are sufficiently tested for connectivity, this should not affect the functioning of PCBs within their applications, but will make a big difference to the environment in the long term.
As technology advances and popularity for 3D applications grows, such as 3D printing, the PCB industry must shift with this to creating boards for 3D printed electronics. This is done by printing a substrate item layer by layer alongside a liquid ink on top, followed by any surface mount technologies. 3D printed electronics can provide a huge amount of benefits compared to 2D, such as improved efficiency and are more environmentally friendly, due to there being no limitation on what material is used for the substrate layer therefore manufacturers can use recyclable materials. 3D printed electronics are designed to change the way electric systems are designed for the future, this is because the circuits are printed on top of an existing shape, meaning the manufacturing techniques allow the circuits to take new shapes that wasn’t feasible previously with traditional PCB manufacturing. Due to this, the popularity of 3D printed electronics is likely to grow and the industry will see new product features and optimisations from these boards due to their ability to be shaped to fit any circuit carrier. This technology, in the future, will allow us to see more advanced products produced from printed circuit boards.
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