Printed circuit boards are a major part of everyday life; these silent, small pieces of technology are in every electronic device we own and help power the products we use each day. In a world so reliant on technology, it’s safe to say that printed circuit boards are the foundation of our digital landscape.
While PCBs have been around for quite some time, like all technology, PCBs continue to go through their own evolutionary changes. From advances in PCB board design to innovative features in the boards themselves, the future of printed circuit boards ensure these small green cards continue to power our technological needs. Here’s what you should know about the future or printed circuit boards:
Further Development of Board Cameras
PCB board cameras are tiny cameras that are mounted directly onto the PCB. PCB cameras consist of an image sensor, aperture, and light sensor, and are capable of taking both pictures and videos. Each camera is around the size of a quarter, and can easily take high resolution images. In the future, we can expect these miniature, mountable cameras to be even more fleshed out.
These cameras are installed in the vast majority of modern smartphones; notice how over time, the abilities of these cameras are growing. Newer models are able to produce clearer photos than ever. However, it’s not just about consumer electronics; they also will continue to play a more prominent role in surveillance technology and medical equipment.
Discarded consumer electronics pose a huge issue to the health and long-term sustainability of our Earth. Many consumer electronics discarded in the Western world end up in oceans around Asia, contributing to massive wastelands across land and sea. Each year, 20 million tons of electronic waste is discarded improperly and end up in landfills.
The biggest risk that electronics pose is that they are chock full of chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Lead, cadmium, and mercury are just a few chemicals that impact natural habitats and eventually humans. And because devices are smaller than ever, recycling tiny, complex parts isn’t a priority.
Today’s PCBs are made using non biodegradable fire resistant plastics. Currently, scientists at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are working on the design of a fully functional printed circuit board that is biodegradable; when it comes into contact with water, the board will disintegrate. These circuit boards are developed using biocomposites that come from natural cellulose fibers that derive from wheat gluten and banana stems.
3D Printed PCBs
Three-dimensional printing is a big deal today, and has penetrated a variety of industries. The fact is, 3D electronics are poised to revolutionize the future of electronics. In the future, we can expect more PCBs to be designed with 3D printing. Essentially, this offers a wealth of manufacturing and technical benefits. With 3D printing, circuits are able to overlay existing shapes, and therefore can be shaped to fit any circuit—a highly complicated feat with traditional PCB printing.
They would also be able to combine mechanical and optical functions, making it possible to create novel designs and push new optimizations and product features. Manufacturing will also be much more efficient and waste less materials. And because there will be a higher level of automation, there’s also less of a risk for human error during manual processes.
Flexible PCBs comprise the fastest-growing segment of the PCB industry. This niche is expected to grow to $15.2 billion by 2020. Flexible PCBs are exactly as they sound; they are flexible printed circuit boards that can handle bends. Because of their flexibility, they can fit into the more awkward 3D spaces and tend to be designed thin and light. Medical applications and wearable technology are two spaces where flexible PCBs are in high demand.
Flexible PCBs can also handle added pressure; for instance, smart sports helmets with sensors contain PCBs that can withstand shock and vibration. On the other hand, LED lighting also requires a higher level of flexibility so that the consumer can bend the LED strip as needed. Currently, flexible PCBs have a higher manufacturing cost due to their complexity, but in the future, we can expect production costs to come down.