Everything You Need to Know About PCBs for Your Product Design
Not every inventor who steps into industrial and product development has a large background in engineering and design. A lot of inventors need help understanding not only just the design process of creating their idea, but also understanding the pieces, parts, and components that make up their product. Although not all products necessarily include electrical components, in the growing age and popularity in technology, almost all new product ideas carry some form of technological and electrical aspects. If your product idea is one that will include an electrical component in its design, then understanding the main parts of what will make up the electrical part of your design will be important for you in understanding how your product will work and function. A common piece in electrical components in product design is what is referred to as a ‘PCB’. A PCB is short form for a Printed Circuit Board. Keep on reading below to discover what a printed circuit board, its different types and which PCB is a good fit for your product.
What is a Printed Circuit Board?
A Printed Circuit Board is a small green board that is commonly found inside different electronic devices. It is what connects all the electrical components inside of the device. The board is typically made from fiberglass, composite epoxy and other materials that are needed to make sure the function of the electronic works. For simple electronics, the printed circuit boards used are typically just single layers, but more advanced electronics can have multiple layers.
What area are printed circuit boards commonly used for?
Printed circuit boards are most commonly found in typically house-hold electronics such as computers, TV’s, cameras, and cell phones. Other than consumer electronics, printed circuit boards can also be found used in other fields such as: Medical (Use high-density PCBs made for Pacemakers to X-rays), Industrial (high-powered industrial machinery), Lighting (LED’s) and Automotive/Aerospace industries (Use flexible printed circuit boards to withstand high-vibration environments). The board is used to power the components in the devices, as well as the whole device itself. Printed circuit boards are also used during the development process of electronics in order to make the inside of the product more simplified, rather than using scrambled wires like past electronics. With printed circuit boards, electronics can now be smaller because they don’t need to be big enough to fit all multiple wires in them to work. As different products require more electrical components in order to function, different types of printed circuit boards are used depending on what your product requires. The following section goes over the different types of printed circuit boards to help figure out which PCB is a good fit for your product.
What are the Different Types of Printed Circuit Boards?
Single layer (or single sided) printed circuit boards are those that are made of a single layer of base material or substrate. One side of the PCB is coated with a thin layer of metal such as copper (due to how well it serves as an electrical conductor), the PCB is then coated with a silk-screen in order to mark out the elements that are on the board. Single layer PCBs are very common and popularly used due to how easy they are to design and manufacture. They are usually purchased at low-cost and at high volumes. This PCB is a good fit for your product if your product is generally small and relies on simple electrical components in order to run. For example, you can find a lot of single layer PCBs in calculators, cameras, radios, printers and power supplies.
Like single layer printed circuit boards, double layer printed circuit boards are made of a base material with a thin layer of conductive metal, like copper, except that it is applied to both sides of the board. Double Layer PCB’s usually have holes drilled into them which allow for the board to connect to other circuits. Small wires are what are used to fed through those holes and each end leads are then soldered to the right component. Double layer printed circuit boards can also be surface mounted printed circuit boards, which are extremely helpful since they don’t use wires to connect, but rather leads that are soldered directly into the board, making the board become a wiring surface for different components. This is a great step up for printed circuit boards since it allows the circuit to be completed using less space which allows the board to complete more functions at higher speeds and with a lighter weight. This PCB is a good fit for your product if your product will rely on higher amounts of electricity to run. For example, double layer printed circuit boards are typically found in intermediate levels of circuits such as industrial controls, power supplies, instrumentation, LED lighting, Automotive components, and vending machines.
Multi-layer printed circuit boards are made of a series of three or more double-layered printed circuit boards. These boards are secured together with a special glue and in between pieces of insulation to ensure that heat wont melt any of the components. There are different sizes of multi-layer printed circuit boards that can go from as small as four layers to ten or twelve. Because this type of PCB has many layers, they can be made to be very thick, allowing for complex designs suitable for complicated electrical tasks. Multi-layer PCB’s are typically used in file servers, data storage, GPS technology, satellite systems, weather, and medical equipment.
Rigid PCB’s are circuit boards that are made of a solid substrate material that prevent the board from twisting. A popular example of a rigid PCB is a computer motherboard (A multilayer PCB that brings electricity from the power supply whilst allowing communication from different parts of the computer such as the CPU, GPU, and RAM). Rigid PCBs remain anywhere in which the PCB itself needs to be set so that it remains in one shape for the device’s whole lifespan. Rigid printed circuit boards can be a single layer PCB to an eight to ten-layer multi-layer PCB.
Flexible printed circuit boards are printed circuit boards made of material that can flex and move, like plastic. Flexible PCBs can come in single, double, or multilayer formats. Because these types of printed circuit boards need to be printed on flexible material, they tend to cost more in their fabrication. The biggest advantage and practical use of flexible printed circuit boards is that because they are flexible, they can be folded over edges and wrapped around corners. This PCB is a good fit for your product since electrical designers can opt to use a flexible PCB in the place of multiple rigid printed circuit boards, saving your product production by cost and weight.
Like the name suggest, flex-rigid PCBs are made of multiple layers of printed circuit boards attached to several rigid PCB layers. Rather than just using rigid or flexible PCBs, the combination of both allow for more streamlined designs, which can reduce the size of both the board and package weight. If your product will take the similar shape or have capabilities like cell phones, digital cameras, and pacemakers, this PCB is a good fit for your product.
High frequency PCBs work in different ways than the other printed circuit boards in this list do. For example, even though their construction is the same, high frequency printed circuit boards are circuit boards that are designed to transmit signals over one gigahertz. High frequency PCBs are typically made of grade glass, reinforced epoxy laminate, Teflon, and other materials. Teflon is among the most expensive materials for the PCB to be made of because of its small and stable constant.
Aluminum backed PCB are no different than the regular copper-backed PCB, except that rather than fiberglass being used, aluminum-backed PCBs use aluminum or copper substrate boards. The special feature of having an aluminum backing is that it is lined with thermally insulating material that makes it have low thermal resistance – therefore less heat is transferred from the insulating material to the backing. Once insulation is applied, a circuit layer of copper can be applied. There are many advantages over using aluminum backed printed circuit boards such as: low cost, environmentally friendly, best for dissipating heat, and the durability in its material. These advantages are perfect for devices that would require high outputs of power with tight tolerances, such as traffic lights, automotive lighting, power supplies, etc.
Why are Printed Circuit Boards Important in Product Design?
If you plan on designing, creating, or inventing a product that will rely on electricity or any type of electrical component for it to function or work, then understanding what printed circuit boards are and why they are important is crucial for your product design. It’s important when thinking about your product that you take into consideration where the electrical component is going to be located and how this will affect the overall structure of the product. Additionally, communication between yourself and the electrical designer is important in order to ensure that you, as the creator, know how your product works inside and out, especially since electrical components are not typically understood by the common consumer. Creating clear lines of communication when creating your product wont only benefit you during the prototype phase, but also overall for your final product.
Interested in who runs electrical design here at Mako Design + Invent? Check out our #MeetMako blog on our electrical designer, Navdeep!
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Article Author: MAKO Design + Invent
MAKO Design + Invent is a full-service consumer product development firm servicing both high-growth corporate manufacturers and invention startups. With a 25-person team across 3 offices (Austin, England, Toronto), MAKO has complete in-house industrial design, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering design and prototyping services. To assist our start-up inventor clients, we also have a subsidiary branch called Mako Invent that, in addition to above, helps start-ups with patenting, strategy, marketing, and sales/distribution for all consumer product categories. For our corporate clients, MAKO Design develops world-class consumer electronics designs through our industrial, mechanical, and electrical design teams.
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