What’s new on the board: Chemigraphic’s guide to new developments in PCB technology

John Johnston, NPI Director

As consumer demand for lighter, faster and smarter electronic products continues to increase, manufacturers and their supply chains must develop tighter and quicker processes to meet demand and still maintain quality standards. With lead times being squeezed as a consequence, NPI engineers are challenged with establishing watertight controls and processes in order to deliver products which can be both high quality and fast to market.

For EMS providers, working with PCB manufacturers to develop boards for these products has become an essential part of the development process. As well as sourcing components and materials to meet shorter timeframes, expert engineering is also vital to cope with special and thermal complexities.

This said, it’s also a very exciting time to be involved in PCB development. The growing demand of OEMs and consumers for products to live up to the standards of today’s hyper-connected world has given birth to a number of advancements in PCB technology:

Modular Interconnect Devices (MID)

MIDs are ideal for tiny lightweight devices such as hearing aids, pacemakers or medical implants.

Key features

  • These devices carry electrical/electronic functionality through product housing
  • MIDs are modular, increasing efficiency and reducing assembly times
  • They have more space for additional functionality
  • MIDs are smaller, easy to implant and aesthetically discreet

Microfluidics, Lab on a Chip (LOC)

LOCs are millimetre sized PCBs that integrate a number of laboratory functions. They are developed as a result of PCB laser/plasma micro-via ablation and silk-screen technology, and make OEM consumer products safer to use and cheaper to buy.

Key features:

  • Liquid carrying channels and electrical dams/switches are encapsulated within the PCB
  • Miniaturising chemical reactions amplifies results in order to aid more accurate analysis
  • Consumers are able to conduct medical and pharmaceutical monitoring testing at home

Planar PCBs, the next generation of PCB manufacture

The ‘Planar’ process produces glass flat PCBs (no copper track topography whatsoever), also without micro-feature constraints (track-and-gap). In addition the technology produces solid copper vias increasing PCB thermal robustness.

The majority of challenges faced by EMS providers today are around component placement, especially with the development of Surface Mount and Ball Grid Array components (BGA), and PCB flatness and topography. With Planar PCBs, which were originally developed by photocopier manufacturers to make print-head components smaller and more thermally efficient, these challenges do not apply.

Key features:

  • Planar devices look like conventional PCBs
  • The process of producing Planar PCBs using standalone automation is currently under development by a UK consortium, and is likely to be sold under licence to PCB producers

Growing organic biological circuits and components

This technology is at the cutting edge of electronics development, and will be used for medical implant, AI and supercomputing:

Key features

  • These are organic semiconductors that grow in ordered structures
  • Biological circuits are being developed by companies such as Philips Research
  • The benefits to mankind are without question

A longer version of this article was published in Components In Electronics (CIE) magazine: read the online story here.

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