What are the most important PCB industry trends that matter in 2022?

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Release time: 2022-08-09 09:43:09

In the wake of the pandemic, there has never been a greater demand for printed circuit boards. With supply chains crunched, the PCB industry at large has been forced to reconcile with producing the most advanced circuit boards with the tightest restrictions on what can be accomplished.

But beyond this, many trends are often overlooked that are shaping the industry in dramatic and unprecedented ways. By understanding these trends, companies can make more reasonable assertions about what they need their products to do, how they can achieve it, and what precautions they should take before signing off on an expensive PCB production campaign.

Current PCB industry trends stem primarily from three sources:

Miniaturization – The push towards smaller devices have led to wearable smart devices and impressive technological marvels. Yet with this comes a cost: printed circuit boards are more susceptible to damage and must be handled with greater care.

Demand – Now more than ever, consumers are looking for advanced technology on shorter timelines. The industry is running on sharper deadlines than ever, and simple mistakes can have dramatic consequences to the bottom line.

Environment – As PCB manufacturing and assembly has been outsourced to humid regions, moisture control has become a pressing issue. Separately, the EU’s ban on lead finishes have forced manufacturers to pivot towards more environmentally friendly alternatives.

The need for advanced printed circuit boards is at an all-time high, and demand is only increasing. Read more about the most important PCB trends in the industry below.


Biodegradable PCBs

With the push towards sustainable business practices globally, PCBs have come under the same scrutiny faced by other businesses around the globe. While some printed circuit boards are used in machines that can last decades, many PCBs eventually make their way to landfills.

The composition of PCB finishes have recently been brought into question due to the presence of lead in many PCBs. There is debate as to whether printed circuit boards with these finishes actually cause harm to the environment, with lead seeping into wastewater. However, the EU’s Restriction on the Use of Hazardous Substances, or RoHS, now makes it illegal to import or export any electronic waste containing more than 1000 parts per million of lead across the European Union.

Lead hot air solder leveling, or HASL, used to be one of only two ways that printed circuit boards could be finished. Now, dozens of options are available with affordable prices, good handling sensitivity, and long-lasting shelf life.

High Density Interconnect (HDI) PCBs

A high-density interconnect printed circuit board, or HDI PCB, is a circuit board that contains a higher wiring density per area compared to a more conventional circuit board. They are an essential part of the drive towards miniaturization, as they do more in less space.

By definition, HDI PCBS:

Average around 120-160 pins per square inch.

Have a higher connection pad density

Have finer spaces between lines

Use multiple layers connected through microvias

The smaller size of HDI PCBs makes them ideal for wearable devices. Because they use a smaller amount of materials with a higher performance power, they cost less to manufacture, have faster signal transmission, and have a higher heat resistance.

Used in everything from smart watches to rocket ships, HDI PCBs constitute one of the most important PCB industry trends today thanks to packing a big punch for its small size. However, they require special manufacturing techniques to produce.

Flex PCBs

To create more advanced circuit boards in smaller packages, a solution was required that could fit unconventional packaging. Enter the flexible printed circuit board: a printed circuit board that can bend to fit in spaces that a rigid PCB cannot.

By definition, the flex PCB is an arrangement of circuitry on a flexible film layer. Like traditional PCBs, they may be single-sided, double-sided, multi-layer, or even a hybrid of rigid and flexible materials.

Used in everything from commercial electronics, cars, medical devices, and satellites, flex PCBs are uniquely suited to handle vibrations and high temperature ranges. The drawback? Flex PCBs are difficult to repair, require precise storage procedures, and are more expensive to produce than traditional printed circuit boards.

Moisture Sensitive Devices (MSDs)

Moisture sensitive devices are components that are packaged within plastic that are sensitive to atmospheric humidity. Like ESD control in the past, the threat of moisture-related damage is one of the more pressing issues in the industry today.

Moisture-related damage is often difficult to detect during the manufacturing process, and the scale is larger than many want to believe. There are several reasons why this is happening:

Miniaturization has defined printed circuit board manufacturing in the 21st century. From wearable devices to the Internet of Things, printed circuit boards have grown increasingly thinner over time. This gives them a greater sensitivity to moisture-related damage, as well as making them more fragile.

Higher temperatures are required during the solder reflow process to create today’s printed circuit boards. Rapid moisture expansion and mismatched materials contribute greatly to this, particularly in ball grid array and chip-scale packages.

Extra machinery is required to remove moisture from packages after baking them and track them for moisture control.

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