Industrial Electronics

Current and future trends in PCB manufacturing

05 December 2022
Source: uflypro/Adobe stock

New advances in the printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturing business have evolved alongside contemporary technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G. The PCB market in 2023 is expected to approach $75 billion worldwide.

Technologies driving the PCB manufacturing industry

The 5G network has increased the speed of communication significantly. Mobile customers and their related gadgets are now able to access these networks at speeds of up to 20 Gbps, which is markedly faster than 4G and fixed-line internet. Low latency and higher connectivity reach are the hallmarks of 5G wireless. 5G uses high-frequency transmissions, which necessitates the design of complicated mixed-signal PCBs.

Similarly, many different industries are benefitting from the IoT, such as healthcare, industrial automation and wearable gadgets. An IoT approach is based on layers of high-speed connectivity (e.g., wireless). Home and workplace networks may now be monitored and controlled wirelessly from afar thanks to this new technology. There are several rules and requirements that must be met while developing PCBs for the IoT. For example, instead of using a wire to connect an IoT device to the internet, you may utilize a network connection. Faster PCB fabrication is possible with this technology.

AI and machine learning (ML) have also made inroads into fields such as PCB assembly and manufacturing. Products with AI are driving the PCB market and influencing PCB manufacturing quality. PCB quality concerns may now be addressed by AI in a way that wasn't previously feasible. PCBs have been automated to some extent; however, it is difficult to guarantee that all of the products remain intact without human interaction.

How is the PCB manufacturing industry fulfilling demands?

PCB designers are incorporating new technologies into their designs to meet the needs of 5G applications. For example, the modified semi-additive process (MSAP) technique is being used by PCB makers instead of the traditional subtractive etching approach in order to obtain high circuit density with low signal loss. A thin copper layer is applied to the laminate wherever photoresist is not present in this technique. Further etching removes the copper between the conductors. In this case, photolithography is employed to achieve high-precision etching with little loss in signal strength.

Similarly, advanced automated optical inspection (AOI) systems are utilized in the PCB manufacturing process for 5G designs to discover possible flaws by measuring the conductors on the top and bottom of the signal lines. The conductors can have both surface mountable and through-hole assembly. False alarms and production line delays are both reduced because of the increased precision of AOI defect detection. Real defects can be addressed using automated optical shaping (AOS) systems by means of AI. It is possible to examine the efficiency of a manufacturing line with the help of a consolidated AOI system.

Using AI, operators may be alerted to possible difficulties and flaws before they become problems. Even while this kind of system has been around for a while in other sectors, it is still rather uncommon in the electronics sector today. Defects such as broken solder joints or missing components can be detected with this technology. ML can also help discover previously unknown flaws. Another critical PCB manufacturing step is soldering, which is especially important for tiny electrical components like microcontrollers. A high-temperature nozzle on a soldering machine is used to solder electrical components to the board. PCB manufacture will be severely impacted if any components are broken during this procedure. Therefore, AI-assisted soldering machines are anticipated to solve such problems.

Moreover, smart sensors for predictive maintenance are already being used by several sectors. In order to reduce downtime, predictive maintenance uses sophisticated technologies, such as computers and sensors, to gather data throughout the operation of industrial equipment in order to forecast when a malfunction will occur. Sensors installed in manufacturing plants can interact with centralized management software to notify managers of potential faults before they occur. AI is used to examine data from previous failures and to decide what efforts should be made to avoid future losses.

[Browse suppliers and manufacturers of PCBs on GlobalSpec.com.]

Future trends

The architecture of electrical systems is being revolutionized by 3D-printed electronics. This additive manufacturing technology uses layer-by-layer printing of a substrate to create a 3D circuit. Prototypes may be made quickly using 3D printing, which has a very fast turnaround time. PCBs that are small, accurate and adaptable are in demand for use in smartwatches and other consumer wearables. PCB specialists have been driven to look for alternatives because to the semiconductor industry's reliance on silicon. As a result of the environmental impact of non-degradable electronic trash, designers are looking toward organic or biodegradable PCBs as alternatives to the current ones.

Conclusion

The speed of PCB design and development must accelerate in light of current developments. Debugging costs can be reduced by spending appropriate time to develop, construct and assemble a product. To meet the demands of new PCB developments, PCB designers and manufacturers will need to develop a more active supply chain and flexible production process.

To contact the author of this article, email engineering360editors@globalspec.com


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