Top PCB trends and challenges - Embedded.com

Top PCB trends and challenges

As the industry embraces cutting-edge technologies, production costs rise as manufacturers partner with tech service providers to leverage their facilities and stay ahead of the curve. This article takes a dive into the top PCB trends and the challenges they present.

The use of printed circuit boards (PCBs), especially in consumer electronics, continues to grow. To a large extent, the growth is propelled by modern electronic consumer demands for miniaturized and highly performing devices like smartphones and wearables. In some sectors like military and medical, advanced functionality and capability are the leading industry demands. Such demands can be achieved by applying and discovering new materials, parts, and production techniques.

In turn, the PCB industry continues to face opportunities and challenges in the technology age. The economic benefits of minimizing production costs continue to be a priority for most fabricators. However, as the industry embraces cutting-edge technologies, production costs rise as manufacturers partner with tech service providers to leverage their facilities and stay ahead of the curve.

While it is hard to project the exact trends that will drive the future of the PCB industry, businesses with clear visions can significantly influence the next-gen of electronics by acknowledging impending challenges and creating solutions to solve them. The best way of determining the future is by examining the existing landscape. Therefore, let us turn our attention to the top industry trends that will undoubtedly shape the future of the electronic industry.        

High-Density Interconnect (HDI)

The HDI manufacturing technique was invented due to the high demand for miniaturized devices with high performance, especially regarding routing traces. HDI facilitates the placement of fewer layers on a board and boosts super speed signal transmission speeds. 

However, HDI technology encounters problems with producing traces, in that you may end up routing more traces on a smaller region, introducing further problems like noise. Therefore, researchers should strive to solve these HDI challenges for the technology to thrive.

The Need for Energy-Efficient Electronics

Environmental concerns are vital not just during the production process but throughout the lifecycle of the electronics. Minimizing energy consumption is a revolutionary way of reducing costs, making companies and consumers go for low-energy consuming gadgets. Electronic manufacturers must embrace green production processes while at the same time making gadgets that middle-income earners can afford. 

The trend towards energy-efficient electronics has led to high demand for related technologies, like voltage supervisor ICs. It is projected that increasing energy consumption worldwide will make consumers embrace energy conservation measures, like using low-energy consumption devices.

Forging Strategic Partnerships to Minimize Production Costs

A study conducted by PricewaterCoopers (PwC) established that contract production is undergoing significant transformation. As Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) gradually contract out product design and development to Electronics Manufacturing Service (EMS) companies, they minimize overall expenditure and turn fixed costs into variable costs, a significant aspect of regulating production costs.  

This trend presents potential opportunities for EMS companies to enable them to venture into new business lines and expand their revenues. Most PCB manufacturers are considering integrating services that generate more profits. From a designer’s perspective, they are considering providing more design services for sub-assemblies and end-products. From a quality perspective, they are expanding their quality testing services. Generally, the more services they provide, the more they venture into mutual design PCB manufacturing (JDM) and outsourced design manufacturing (ODM). 

While forging strategic partnerships is economically beneficial, you must consider some factors to enjoy those benefits. EMS and OEMs must evaluate their existing customer and product portfolios, align their strategies with business models well, and assess value propositions to ensure they align with consumer demands and management decisions.    

High Power (+48V) PCBs

Currently, there is a high inclination towards higher power boards. Higher power PCBs are circuits that can supply more than 48V and above. High voltage levels are particularly needed in solar panels and electric cars. These two applications require a high energy supply for maximum performance.

The Need for Green PCB Manufacturing

Going green is not only meant for hippies and disgruntled Xers currently. As the world continues to feel the impact of global warming, consumers, governments, and non-governmental organizations are putting more pressure on manufacturers to shift to green production methods. Besides, environmental agencies across the world are implementing carbon trading strategies, pushing green manufacturing further.   

With grand plans underway to propel research in green manufacturing, manufacturers who will be ISO certified will see a lot of interest, even in regions that are not at the lower limit of the production cost scale.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT is a multi-tiered design that calls for quick communication between layers and components. This technology is widely applied in running intelligent homes and workplaces and in remote monitoring and control. The main manufacturing issue for IoT printed circuit boards is achieving different standards and regulations that define their production.

Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) Components

The application of the COTS technique is considered to bring regulation and reliability to the parts used in essential space-based arrangements. Traditionally, electronic parts applied in space production undergo stringent scrutiny from various government agencies and quality inspection units. Nevertheless, the commercialization of this sector may minimize the regulation of space-based components. 

The Demand for Smart Devices Continues to Increase

Smart electronics, such as smartphones and wearables, are in high demand right now. Though gadgets like smartphones have been in existence for several years, their ability to connect with smart homes, offices, and self-driving vehicles is a new trend. This trend will accelerate strategic partnerships between PCB manufacturers and cutting-edge tech service providers to streamline the creation of smart device PCBs. 

For technology service providers, this trend opens more revenue creation streams. However, PCB manufacturers are faced with the challenge of obtaining secure, scalable, and connected devices into the market, considering that the connectivity concept is not their area of specialization.

PCB manufacturers must be flexible and adaptable to be ahead of the curve in the ever-changing electronic demands. They can benefit from these changing consumer trends by embracing operational changes and developing an opportunistic mindset among their workers. Researchers believe that innovation can prevent a descending trend in sales in developed product categories like computers and TVs. 

Conclusion

We have discussed the top PCB trends that will considerably shape the electronic industry in 2021 and beyond. These trends will continue the evolution of printed circuit board manufacturing technology. The future of the circuit board industry is luminous and will be shaped by product performance and miniaturization. Additionally, being environmentally conscious and regulating production expenses will play a big role in shaping the future of this industry. 


Linda Liu is the overseas marketing manager for MKTPCB, a leading PCB manufacturer that offers high-quality PCB products and services. Since 2012, she has established “first-of-its-kind” industry-changing and transformational businesses initiatives that increased revenue growth, brand exposure and market expansion for MKTPCB. Linda graduated from Western University with a bachelors degree in marketing.

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