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The role of PCB design in the IOT

Published Thursday 28th June, 2018

We've talked in past articles about how PCBs are the brains of almost every electronic device we use, and an extension of that is the crucial role PCB design has in the ever-expanding IoT (Internet of Things) – the term used to describe the worldwide interconnected nature of internet-enabled tech.

With everything from medical devices to wearables that are internet-enabled and remotely controllable, it’s the job of PCB designers to invent innovative circuit boards capable of standing up to the demands for ever smaller, lighter and more robust electronics. The future most definitely is now.

What makes the perfect IoT ready PCB?

There are a number of critical factors that PCB designers must take into account when developing circuit boards for the IoT:

1. Temperature response - As PCBs become smaller and electronics more powerful, it's crucial to develop boards that are capable of withstanding the exponential increase in temperature relative to their size.

2. Reliability and quality - It may seem obvious, but as the demands for PCBs to be smaller, lighter, more flexible and stronger increase, it’s even more important that virtual prototyping is used during the PCB design process. Simulation can test so many 'what-if' scenarios and provide countless opportunities to catch issues and improve features before the board is ever built.

3. The IoT security challenge - It's already a formidable task to keep larger more powerful tech like PCs and tablets secure but as millions of smaller devices connect to the IoT, it becomes even harder to develop software-only security systems. PCB designers must now look at ways to implement hardware-based security for the first time, in order to protect the projected 20+ billion devices that will connect to the IoT by 2020.

4. Size and flexibility - As our ability to build ever smaller PCBs improves and they’re used in ways that we could never have imagined even a decade ago, the requirement for them to be flexible and adaptive increases. It’s now essential that light, strong and flexible boards are capable of mounting everything from batteries and microphones to digital signal processors, while maintaining their effectiveness in harsh environments.

PCBs saving the planet

PCB designers have long looked to build circuit boards with materials that lessen the impact on the environment, and the role they have in the IoT is also positive in this respect.

For example, the Hive Active Heating system that allows you to control your home thermostat from your smartphone gives you the power to heat your home in a smart way. Being able to adjust the temperature of your home in response to your busy life and current environmental conditions saves money and wasted energy - and it won’t be too long before this type of system becomes standardised. In fact, it'll soon be the norm to control all aspects of our home remotely, which can only give us increased flexibility and energy savings.

The IoT is here to stay and offers electronics manufacturers the opportunity to expand into areas never before dreamt of, and it's our pleasure to be a part of this exciting time for PCB design.

LMFLMANatWestGoldman Sachs