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Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are the basic building blocks of most modern electronic devices. Whether it is a simple single-layer board used in a garage door opener, a six-layer board in a smart watch or a 60-layer, ultra-high density and high-speed circuit board used in supercomputers and servers, a printed circuit board is the basis on which all other electronic components are assembled to that component.
Semiconductors, connectors, resistors, diodes, capacitors and radio devices are mounted to, and “talk” to one another through the PCB.
PCB’s have mechanical and electrical attributes that make them ideal for these applications. Most PCB’s manufactured in the World are rigid, roughly 90% of the PCB’s manufactured today are rigid boards. Some PCB’s are flexible, allowing the circuits to be bent and folded into shape, or sometimes they are used where the flexible circuit will survive hundreds of thousands of flex cycles, without any break in the circuits. These flexible PCB’s comprise roughly 10% of the market. A small subset of these types of circuits are called rigid flex circuits, where one part of the board is rigid – ideal for mounting and connecting components, and one or more parts are flexible, providing the advantages of flexible circuits listed above.
A rapidly emerging PCB technology, separate from the ones above, is called printed electronics – typically very simple, very low cost, circuits that reduce electronic packaging expense to the level that electronic solutions can be developed to solve problems never considered before. They are often used in electronics for wearable applications, or disposable electronic devices – opening many opportunities for creative electrical designers.
Conventional PCB’s can be as simple as a single layer of circuitry or can go to fifty layers or more. They consist of electrical components and connectors linked via conductive circuits – usually copper, with the purpose of routing electrical signals and power within and between devices.
Although all PCBs have the same fundamental objective, they are available in a wide range of designs and configurations to meet the needs of various applications. Some of the different types available on the market include:
Single sided rigid
Double sided rigid
Single layer flexible circuits
Double sided flexible circuits
Multi-layered flexible circuits
Rigid PCBs are constructed of a rigid fiberglass substrates, making them practical and inexpensive, but inflexible. They are easier and less expensive to manufacture than their more flexible counterparts but much less versatile and hard to fit into unusual geometries or small areas.
Flexible PCBs feature relatively good bending and folding capabilities to fit into confined and oddly shaped spaces. This quality makes them highly versatile and able to be used to package smaller electronic devices. Additionally, as they are highly adaptable, the product does not have to be built to fit around the PCB’s restrictions. Compared to rigid PCBs, they can offer greater resistance to heat.
Rigid-flex PCBs combine the most attractive qualities of both rigid and flexible PCBs. Unlike the other two types of circuit boards, these PCBs contain all of the electronic interconnectivity buried within the board, thereby reducing the board’s weight and overall size. They are an excellent choice when ultra-light packaging is a key requirement. Additionally, they are more durable and reliable while retaining great strength and flexibility.