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Application and Use of PCBs
Jun 27, 2018

From smartphones to kitchen appliances, electronics play a large part in our daily routine. At the heart of each of electronics is a printed circuit board (PCB). It is the foundation of a majority of electronic products today. These components come in a vast array of configurations, allowing them to serve a variety of functions. As electronics expand and develop across industries, PCB applications continue to grow as well. Today, the use of PCBs spans just about every industry and continues to evolve into new industries and applications. PCBs are the major functional centers of most electronics in the modern world. Circuit boards connect components to one another through a series of related circuits.

Most people will recognize printed circuit boards when they see them. You'll find these small green chips at the hearts of electronics. PCBs come in an infinite number of configurations and are made with a variety of materials. Such flexibility allows PCBs to function in a variety of capacities and applications. We've explored a handful of these applications in more detail below.

Medical Devices

Electronics contributes significantly to the health-care industry, functioning as diagnostic, monitoring and treatment devices. The medical applications of these electronic devices continue to grow as electronics evolves to become more efficient and dense, leading to endless new possibilities.

At the heart of these medical devices are PCBs. PCBs within the medical industry are highly specialized in order to fit the unique constraints of medical devices. In many medical applications, a small package is needed to meet the size requirements for an implant or emergency room monitor. For this reason, medical PCBs tend to be specialty high-density interconnect PCBs, also referred to as HDI PCBs. Medical PCBs may also be made with flexible base materials, allowing PCB to flex during use, which can be essential for both internal and external medical devices.

Because of the health implications associated with them, medical PCBs are held to higher standards than most other PCB types. Repeatability and reliability are two essential qualities medical PCB suppliers must achieve, in addition to compliance with stringent medical regulations.

Medical PCB applications grow as quickly as the medical device industry itself. A few of the most common medical PCB applications include the following:

• Monitors: Personal and healthcare monitors including blood glucose monitors, heart rate and blood pressure monitors, and more.

• Scanning Technology: CT scanners and ultrasonic technology often use PCB-based electronics.

• Control Systems: The equipment controlling fluid infusion, flow rate and dispensation is electronically controlled.

• Internal Devices: Heart pacemakers and similar internal medical devices maintain patient health, run by minuscule PCBs at their centers.

• Scientific Instrumentation: Medical research uses numerous scientific instruments to study disease and test patient outcomes. These include electronic microscopes, photometers and control systems for generators and compressors, among other things.

Consumer Electronics

Consumer electronics are the devices we use daily, such as smartphones or computers. Even the newest models of refrigerators often include electronic components. Within every one of these devices is a PCB.

Due to the high volume at which these consumer electronics are manufactured, the amount of PCBs produced to control them must be equal in quantity. These high-volume PCBs have low per-unit cost, keeping the price of the final product relatively small. The challenge is maintaining the uniformity and quality of these PCBs, which is why PCB manufacturers have to comply with strict industry standards and quality-control measures to ensure that every consumer electronic functions as expected.

The applications of PCBs in consumer electronics are extensive. The following are just a few of the common uses of PCBs in consumer electronics:

• Mobile Devices: Smartphones and tablets are at the heart of our daily routine, functioning as everything from our alarm clocks to our GPS.

• Computer Electronics: Desktops and laptops both contain PCBs at their cores, as do the screens and peripheral devices associated with them.

• Recording Devices: Camcorders, digital cameras, microphones and other recording devices all rely on their internal PCBs to function.

• Entertainment Systems: Everything in your home entertainment system, from your DVD player and video-game console to your television and stereo set.

• Home Appliances: Almost every modern device runs using electronic components: Alarm clocks, microwaves, refrigerator, coffee makers, etc.

Industrial Applications

High-powered industrial applications for PCBs are common as well. These electronic components control the mechanisms used in factories and manufacturing facilities, and have to survive the harsh conditions often seen in industrial installations. This can include anything, including harsh chemicals, vibrating machinery and rough handling.

In such a fast challenging environment, industry standards is equally rigorous. Currently, thick copper PCBs (significantly thicker than standard ounce PCBs) are often seen in other applications. This kind of PCB facilitate high-current industrial applications and battery chargers.

• Industrial Equipment: Many electric drills and presses used in the manufacturing industry operate using PCB-controlled electronics.

• Measuring Equipment: Equipment used to measure and control pressure, temperature and other variables in the industrial manufacturing process.

• Power Equipment: DC-to-AC power inverters, solar power cogeneration equipment and other power control devices.

Automotive Applications

Cars increasingly rely on electronic components in the modern era. While in the past, electronic circuits were only actually applied to headlight switches and windshield wipers, modern automobiles use electronics for far more purposes.

Today's automobiles take advantage of the ever-advancing electronic circuit technology by incorporating PCBs into some new applications. PCBs working with high-frequency signals like RF, microwave or millimeter-wave frequencies are often used in sensor applications which are now common in automobiles. In fact, radar technology once relegated to military vehicles is now common in modern automobiles to help cars avoid collisions, monitor blind spots and adapt to traffic conditions when the vehicle is under cruise control.

These advanced systems bring improved safety to roads while simultaneously offering an improved driving experience, which is why they have become so popular in today's motor vehicles. The manufacturers of these systems, therefore, have to source and use an increased number of advanced high-frequency printed circuit boards and associated materials.

Just a few of the common applications of PCBs within automobiles include the following:

• Surrounding Monitors: Newer car models are often designed with substantial safety systems to help the driver monitor blind spots and more accurately judge distances. Many cars now come with full-perimeter monitor systems, using radar or cameras to measure distances and alert the driver to close-proximity objects. These systems require high-quality PCBs in order to function correctly.

• Control Systems: Car control systems, including engine management systems, fuel regulators and power supplies, use PCB-based electronics to monitor and manage resources. Some control systems even drive the car for the driver in certain situations. For example, some cars on the market today offer automatic parallel-parking functions.

• Navigation Devices: Incorporated navigation devices are now common in modern vehicles, using GPS computers to help drivers find their way through unfamiliar territory or identify the fastest route to their destination.

• Audio and Video Devices: Many cars on the market today have advanced dashboards that connect the vehicle to the radio or a passenger's phone or music device. Additionally, many family vehicles make use of passenger movie screens to occupy passengers during longer rides. All these devices are controlled using PCB-based electronics.

Within any of these automobile PCB applications, particular design concerns have to be taken into consideration. For example, the high-vibration environment of an automobile may put a large amount of strain on a standard rigid PCB. Instead of a rigid PCB, therefore, many vehicle electronics manufacturers use flexible PCBs, which are more resistant to vibration in addition to being small and lightweight. The challenge, then, is to make enough of these high-frequency, flexible PCBs to meet the needs of the large automobile industry.

Aerospace Applications

Like automotive applications, aerospace applications of PCBs require a great deal of precision and durability. Jets and rockets often go through huge amounts of turbulence in their atmospheric journeys, meaning that a normal rigid PCB may endure enough stress to become damaged in the process. To get around this, most aerospace manufacturers use flexible PCBs, which are light and small in addition to being resistant to vibration damage.

In addition to being durable, aerospace PCBs have to be extremely high-functioning and precise, manufactured for optimal function to avoid technical issues. Since electronics used in aerospace technology are so crucial to the safety of the vehicle and its crew, it is vital that they function perfectly.

Just a few of the more common aerospace applications of PCBs include the following:

• Monitoring Equipment: Instrumentation, including accelerometers, pressure sensors, microphones and torque and force sensors all use PCBs as part of their basic function. These products are used within the engines and cockpits of airplanes and rockets, both to monitor the function of the vehicle and to communicate with ground control.

• Testing Equipment: In addition to the function of an aircraft, PCBs are involved in the development and testing of air vehicles. Testing equipment that collects data during structural, vibration and flight testing procedures uses PCBs at its core. This data can then be used to develop more effective, efficient and safer aircraft.

Lighting Applications

Printed circuit boards provide a versatile base for a variety of high-output LED applications. LED lighting solutions are quickly gaining steam within a variety of industries, valued for their low power consumption, high efficiency and impressive light output. When integrated with a PCB, these LEDs gain even more versatility. PCBs facilitate expanded uses for LED lighting solutions, specifically including displays and indicators.

A few of the most common applications of PCB LEDs within the lighting industry include the following:

• The Telecommunications Industry: Telecommunications equipment often uses PCBs to control their LED indicators and displays. Within this industry, lightweight and durable PCBs tend to be favorable, primarily because of the density of machinery within the industry. Because Aluminum PCBs tend to feature improved heat transfer properties over FR4 variants, it is commonly found within telecommunications lighting applications.

• The Automotive Industry: PCB LED displays are commonly found in the automotive industry, specifically on dashboard indicators, in headlights, brake lights and advanced panel displays. This industry particularly favors PCB LEDs for their low manufacturing cost and impressive durability, which improve the value and longevity of the vehicle.

• The Computer Technology Industry: PCB-based LEDs are becoming increasingly common within the computer technology industry, commonly found in desktop and laptop displays and indicators. Because of the heat-sensitive nature of computer technology, aluminum-based PCBs are particularly favored for LED lighting applications within computers.

• The Medical Industry: Lighting tools are of immense importance in medical applications, specifically in surgical and emergency applications, where great lighting can help improve a physician's visibility. Within these applications, LED tends to be the lighting method of choice for its power and small size. PCBs are often used as the base for these applications, specifically aluminum PCBs, which last longer and offer better heat-transfer capabilities than other PCB types. This way, PCB LEDs guarantee long-lasting medical equipment that can repeatedly be used in a variety of medical settings.

• Residential and Storefront Applications: In addition to the uses listed above, PCB LEDs are finding increased popularity within homes and businesses in the form of signage and displays. Smart LED lighting is a cheap way for homeowners to light their homes efficiently, while customizable LED displays can direct business to storefronts.

While useful in a variety of applications, LEDs tend to be temperature-sensitive, with the longevity of a LED bulb decreasing as the average temperature of the light fixture increases. While many conventional PCBs offer excellent functionality, not all are suited for LED applications. When paired with a LED, some PCBs may not transfer heat quickly enough to provide a stable temperature environment for the LED to work at maximum efficiency. To function best within a lighting application, PCBs designed for LEDs have to be designed to maximize heat transfer ability.

To this end, aluminum-backed PCBs are the perfect solution. The majority of high-lumen-output LED applications use aluminum-backed PCBs, primarily for the higher levels of thermal heat transfer aluminum PCBs can achieve. This way, the PCB doesn't need an additional heat sink in the design, though others could be added to improve the heat transfer ability of the PCB even further. Incorporating the heat sink into the PCB base itself, however, allows for more compact designs at lower costs to the manufacturer and the end user.

Other Applications

PCB-based products are used in hundreds of applications across several industries beyond those listed above. A few examples include the following:

• Firearm Applications: Both military and civilian gun manufacturers often use PCBs in their testing equipment. Manufacturers will often use such equipment to ensure the safety and functionality of explosives, guns and ammunition before putting these products on the market. Some of the equipment used includes penetration shock recorders and impact testing equipment.

• Marine Applications: Both underwater and sailing applications are common places to find PCBs. PCBs often control the navigation, engine management and power distribution systems used on sailing vessels. The fluctuating amounts of pressure and vibration result in a variety of considerations designers have to make to guarantee proper, continuous function.

• Security Applications: Security systems in and around homes and businesses make use of PCBs to coordinate the various components and signals used to detect the presence of an intruder. Smoke, fire and burglar alarms all use PCBs, as do electronic door locks and motion sensors.

• Broadcasting and Telecommunications Applications: As stated previously, PCB-based LED lighting displays are common in the telecommunications and broadcasting industry. PCBs are applied in a variety of other functions within this industry as well. High-frequency amplifiers and filtering appliances commonly use PCBs, as do booster stations, receivers, frequency boards, mixing decks and microphones.

The applications of PCBs extend far beyond those listed, as broad and varied as the market itself. Wherever electronics is applied in the modern world, you can be sure to find applications for PCBs of all types.

Find a Manufacturer for Your PCB Application

PCBs are flexible and adaptable solutions for many applications across a range of industries. Qualified and experienced manufacturer can create a cost-effective and easily manufacturable PCB solution for any application. If you're looking for a quality PCB solutions provider, PCBCart can help.

We provide premier PCB solutions to businesses across the world. We work with our customers to create PCBs that exceed their expectations, meeting every requirement while providing comprehensive expertise, unrivaled quality assurance and cost-effective production processes. When you choose to work with PCBCart, you are partnering with a provider that is dedicated to your satisfaction and the highest quality-assurance standards. Our PC board manufacturing and assembly services follow IPC Class 3, RoHS and ISO 9001:2008-certification standards, and continue to seek out the latest certifications to ensure that we are providing the best services possible. Our primary goal is to help you save time and money so you can stop worrying about PCB production and focus on PCB designs and product development.

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