What are PCBs used for?

So what is a PCB?

Printed circuits boards, also known as PCBs, are the circuit boards used in most electronic devices. The boards both physically and mechanically support the device alongside connecting the electronic components. PCBs are typically made from non-substrate materials with layers of copper circuitry. These layers can range from a single layer to double or even up to fifty or more layers, meaning there is a wide range of PCBs to choose from. 

There are several overall types of PCB boards, each designed to give you the best quality for your product. Below are some of the most commonly used:

What are PCBs used for?

PCBs are almost everywhere, in more or less every electronic device you use on a daily basis, such as microwaves, mobile phones, computers and televisions.

But how do the different boards available differ and what are they used for?

1. Single-sided PCBs

Single-sided PCBs are made with only one layer of conducting material on one side of the board and another side is used for incorporating different electronic components. The base material of a single-sided PCB is coated with a thin layer of metal, usually copper due to its ability to function well as an electrical conductor. 

The PCB design of single-sided boards are relatively simple and thus make them straight forward to manufacture efficiently and in large quantities. Whilst their design and manufacturing may be simple they can still be used in many complex electronic devices, such as:

  • Calculators
  • Radio and stereo equipment
  • Printers 

2. Double-sided PCBs

Double-sided, or double-layered PCBs have a base material with a thin layer of conductive metal applied to both sides of the board, instead of just one. Double-sided boards allow for closer routing traces as they can alternate between the top and bottom layers using vias, this can be very useful in many electronic products as the circuits on one side of the board can be connected to the other with the help of holes drilled onto the board. 

Double-sided PCBs are used in devices or applications that require an intermediate level or circuit complexity such as:

  • LED lighting
  • Vending machines
  • Industrial controls 

3. Multi-layer PCBs:

Multi-layer PCBs are circuit boards with more than two layers, often more than three. They can come in a variety of sizes from four layers up to twelve or more. These layers are laminated together under high temperatures and pressure, ensuring that no air is trapped between the layers and that the specialised glue used to secure the boards together are properly melted and cured. 

Multi-layer PCBs have several benefits compared to single or double-sided PCBs as they are smaller but also have a higher assembly density, alongside increased flexibility. Multi-layer PCBs are commonly used in these electronic devices:

  • Computers
  • GPS Technology
  • Satellite systems 

4. Rigid PCBs

Rigid PCBs are a form of circuit board which is solid and inflexible and cannot be bent or flexed due to the solid substrate material this board is made from.

Rigid PCBs are one of the most popular in the industry as they are used in devices and applications where there is a need for the PCB to be created in a certain shape and remain that way throughout its lifespan. Whilst some PCBs are only single-sided, double-sided or multilayered, Rigid PCBs can take any of these forms depending on the requirements needed. However, once they have been manufactured they cannot be modified or changed. 

Rigid PCBs are used in many day to day products that we rely on for work, communication and our health such as:

  • GPS equipment
  • Mobile phones and tablet
  • X-rays or heart monitors

5. Flexible PCBs

Unlike Rigid PCBs, flexible PCBs are made of material that can move or flex, typically electronic devices are mounted onto flexible plastic substrates. Flex PCBs are usually thin, lightweight and can work exceptionally well in small spaces and in contoured shapes, which can be a challenge for other printed circuit boards. Flexible PCBs use less material, less packaging and the costs for replacements tend to be lower, making them a cost-effective option.

Flexible PCBs are commonly found in:

  • Computer hard drives
  • Automotive electronic such as anti-lock braking systems or airbag controllers
  • Smartphones

6. Rigid-Flex PCBs

A Rigid-Flex PCB is a hybrid circuit board combining elements of both flexible circuit boards and rigid circuit boards, with an end result of a board that is able to be folded or continuously flexed. The flexible layers of a Rigid-Flex PCB are buried within the board and penetrate through the rigid sections of the PCB. 

Rigid-Flex PCBs are usually thinner than other boards as it allows for a more streamlined design, reducing the overall board size and package weight, meaning it’s a great option for any thin or light packaging needs your products may have.

Rigid-flex PCBs can therefore be found in products where space or weight are a concern such as:

  • Pacemakers
  • Digital cameras
  • Smartphones 

If you are unsure what PCB is needed for your product, or you’re unclear about where to start, get in touch with one of our friendly team on 01462 417400 or fill in a quote form here.

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