PCB uses and applications - why electronics matter

Published Wednesday 25th April, 2018

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are so deeply integrated into modern life that most people barely give them a second thought, but there are so many essential - and interesting - PCB uses that it's fair to say that the world would be a very different place without them.

The invention of PCBs truly revolutionised electronics, and manufacturers are forever finding new ways to harness their capabilities to enhance our day-to-day experiences.

A brief history of PCB manufacturing

Before the introduction of PCBs, the use of electronics involved systems of complex wiring which were unreliable and bulky, not to mention limiting in their applications. However, almost 100 years ago, technology stood on the cusp of change, when Charles Ducas submitted a patent for what became known as a printed circuit board – although it wasn't until 1943 that Austrian Dr Paul Eisler started making genuinely effective ones.

We owe those pioneers a great debt, but circuit board design has come a long way since then – in fact, it's come a long way since we started trading 30 years ago, when PCBs were still analogue rather than today's high-tech digital boards.

At that time, components were hand placed and soldered onto the boards using a process known as through-hole technology: a reliable but time-consuming and expensive manufacturing process. As further advancements and enhancements where made in the industry, through-hole was soon superseded by SMT (surface mounted technology) – a holeless board that allowed for smaller components and more complex circuits – and PCB manufacturing entered a whole new realm of possibilities.

Another game-changer in PCB manufacturing came in 2006, when the introduction of lead-free production meant that we could more safely utilise PCBs in medical devices, household objects and toys.

The modern world and PCBs

These advances in electronic manufacturing technologies have led to such a diverse range of PCB uses that pretty much every area of our lives are touched by them in some - often critical - way.

From home life to health, business to entertainment, we live in a time where we're truly powered by PCBs!

Here are some key areas in which PCB manufacturing has brought about big changes to our lives:

Medical devices - Found in devices such as monitors, control systems and scanning technology, the ability to create ever denser and smaller PCBs has allowed modern medicine to explore new applications for improving treatment and prevention of disease. Boards can even be built on flexible bases to allow for easy manipulation - essential for internal use - and massive weight savings of up to 75% over solid boards.

Computing - PCBs are the basis of modern computing, with the main motherboard the most obvious, alongside RAM and additional graphics, modems and other 'cards'. Without advances in multi-layered PCBs, the smartphones we love so much would be impossibly bulky, instead of the computing powerhouses they've become.

Home appliances - Everything from your toaster and microwave oven to your alarm clock and children's toys use PCBs as their 'brain'. From the moment you wake up, to the moment you go to bed, you're interacting with this technology on some level.

Modern vehicles - Sat navs are an obvious use of PCBs in your car, but perhaps the most interesting use is in sensor technology and self-parking advancements. Flexible PCBs are most often utilised in order to withstand the high vibrations present and make this modern tech reliable and resilient for use in vehicles.

Designing PCBs for our clients' products

We take great pride in the innovations we've introduced and problems we've solved for our clients. For example, when well-known hair brand GHD found that their hair straighteners were failing, we stepped in and redesigned their circuitry to introduce a series of new safety features for an improved and more reliable product.

We've also designed PCBs for products and purposes such as:

- Industrial boiler control
- Dog hair dryers
- Tracking devices for migrating birds - the board for this was smaller than a 5 pence piece!
- Welding equipment
- Hospital tracking devices

As PCB uses and applications become more complex, we find that we're presented with evermore exciting and challenging projects to work on – and we're passionate about remaining at the forefront of this life-changing revolution in electronics.

LMFLMANatWestGoldman SachsMake Uk