The circuit board has been with us for a very long time at this point. It’s tempting to think that because they so closely resemble the generations that came before, today’s circuit boards are not all that different from what they once were.
However, from the materials available to heat resistance, from transfer rates to size, circuit boards have evolved a great deal over time. They also continue to change as our demands do. Not sure what that change might look like as we move forward? Let’s take a few minutes to explore some of the most important current and emerging trends in circuit board design.
One of the most notable trends today is the spike in demand for medical devices. These run the gamut from hospital and medical clinic equipment like ventilators to devices used by EMTs and paramedics and those designed for consumer use. Circuit board design for medical devices must meet stringent requirements in terms of safety, reliability, heat resistance, and more.
From medical devices to fitness trackers, there’s a massive shift toward wearable devices. These must contend with a broad range of stressors that other devices do not face, although mobile devices, such as smartphones, come close in some cases. These factors range from dramatically decreased footprints to how to safely discharge heat and even water resistance in some cases.
Today’s low-profile electronics demand something more than massive mast antennas, and designers have offered up embedded antennas right in the circuit board. Of course, this requires some advanced materials and unique design considerations to ensure full functionality. They play a role in Wi-Fi enabled devices, IoT devices, and much more.
Another important trend is the shift away from lead-containing laminates. Lead has played a role in circuit board design for decades, but it appears to be slowly falling by the wayside. Why, though? It’s largely to do with the higher heat levels that some of today’s devices must contend with, which would reduce lead to a toxic puddle at the bottom of the device. New lead-free laminate materials are being introduced to cope with those high heat levels and maintain their structural integrity at all times (not to mention eliminating those toxic fumes).
Just as circuit board designs must contend with higher heat levels than ever before, they are also being designed for higher and higher power levels (which also affects heat, of course). Most of these boards are above 48 volts, and they can be found in a wide range of applications. Many of them harness solar power, while others are intended for use within electric vehicles. IoT devices, battery-powered devices, and those with additional components – all of these are high-power applications.
The Growing Role of IoT Devices
As touched on above, IoT devices are having a profound impact on circuit board design. One interesting trend here is that the PCB industry is expanding. In the past, it was largely focused on consumer electronics. Today, that is still the case, but there is a growing focus on serving industrial needs because this is where the vast majority of IoT devices can be found. While Alexa, Siri, Ring doorbells and the like are all being integrated into homes, the real demand is within the manufacturing and industrial sector where entire production lines are now integrating internet connectivity and being networked together.
Not only does this mean that there is an increasing demand for circuit board design and manufacturing, but that PCB designers face some unique challenges. One of those is the change in what “protection” and “security” mean. Previously, it was really all about protecting the circuit board against environmental changes. Today, though, it is becoming more about prevention against tampering.
Flex and Rigid Flex
Previously, both flex and rigid-flex boards were relatively rare in the PCB world. Today, that’s increasingly not the case. That’s due to a couple of the trends that we have already discussed. One of those is the rise of medical devices – ideally suited for flexible circuit boards. However, flex boards are also well-suited for consumer electronics, for use in a range of different sensors connected to IoT devices, and even medical implants.
On the other hand, rigid-flex boards combine the benefits of both flexible circuit board design and rigid boards. The result is a board that “plays well with others,” which makes these well-suited for use as sub-boards and for creating additional layers.
Waste is a growing problem. This is particularly true of e-waste. Finding ways to deal with the growing mountain of disposed-of electronics is a challenge, but one option is to use biodegradable circuit boards. Biodegradable PCBs offer some light at the end of the tunnel and a way to start greening up the industry. While workable circuit board designs using biodegradable materials are still some way off, they are coming. It will require the design of new substrates, as well as a shift away from chemical-based etching processes in many cases.
A Full-Service PCB Manufacturer
From IoT devices to wearables to future-looking technology, Advanced Circuits delivers critical capabilities. With over 30 years of experience, our team helps bring circuit board designs to life on any scale. We understand that each client’s needs are different, and we’re happy to produce everything from a single prototype to massive production runs. We work with clients in the defense industry, IoT, automotive technology, and virtually every other sector, as well.
Advanced Circuits: Your Go-to PCB Manufacturing & Assembly Resource
Whether you need end-to-end assistance, or just want to create a test board to explore your designs, we can help. With the best turnaround time in the industry; weekend turns; same day turns and more, it’s no wonder our clients keep choosing Advanced Circuits for everything from prototype PCBs to large PCBs runs. Contact us today for an instant quote or to learn more about our capabilities.