What You Need to Know About Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs)

Circuit boards are the foundation of most electronics and technology used worldwide. The early 1900s saw the development of the first printed circuit boards (PCBs), which simplified and reduced the costs of circuit board assembly. PCBs are thin boards made of insulated material. They feature a metal coating on one or both sides with electrical pathways etched into it, allowing electricity to pass through the various components soldered to the board.

Below we will provide basic information about printed circuit boards and the function they serve. We will consider how they work, some of their advantages, the different types of PCBs available, and highlight comparisons between PCBs and PCBAs.

Freedom CAD specializes in PCB design and layout services, utilizing high-end software programs supported by leading edge hardware. Our experienced staff is always eager to meet any design challenge and provide the best possible PCB solutions for our clients.

What Do Printed Circuit Boards Do?

PCBs allow the assembly of electrical or data circuits into a functional piece of hardware. They provide the necessary mechanical support and electrical connections via conductive pathways – tracks or signal traces etched into the metal surface of the board. Without them, a broad range of electronic devices would not exist.

Common PCB applications may include, but are not limited to:

  • Computers and printers
  • Televisions and stereos
  • Musical instruments, amplifiers, and synthesizers
  • Digital clocks and signage
  • Appliances
  • Mobile devices

In truth, the full list of applications is nearly endless. PCBs support a vast range of products and technology in nearly every conceivable industry.

Advantages of PCBs

PCBs provide myriad advantages over traditional circuit boards, making them the go-to solution for most electronics manufacturers. PCBs provide the following benefits:

  • Save space and time through the elimination of bulky wire and components and their connections.
  • Remain fixed in place regardless of the movement of the board.
  • Eliminate loose connections and short circuits by connecting through copper tracks rather than connected components.
  • Decrease electronic noise by using shorter pathways, which leads to lower radiation and pickup of electromagnetic waves.
  • Increased scalability allows for their use in a broad range of applications, including large production runs.
  • Produced more rapidly and at a lower cost, because they are easily and efficiently mass-produced.

The Different Types of Circuit Boards

Many types of printed circuit boards are produced. The characteristics of each best suit various applications. These types include:

  • Single-layer: Single layer printed circuit boards feature copper coating on only one side of a single layer of the base material and are finished with a thin layer of solder mask. Commonly used in calculators, cameras, radio and stereo equipment, SSDs, printers, and power supplies.
  • Double-layer: The primary difference between this type of PCB and single-layer PCBs is the copper and finish is present on both sides of the base material. Holes drilled through the board allow for circuits to pass from one side of the board to the other. These tend to be used for industrial controls, power supplies, instrumentation, HVAC systems, LED lighting, auto dashboards, amplifiers, and vending machines.
  • Multi-layer: Three or more double-layered PCBs are joined together to create multi-layer PCBs with holes drilled to allow circuits to pass from one to another throughout the assembly. The largest ever assembled was 50 layers. File servers, data storage devices, GPS technology, satellite systems, weather analysis, and medical equipment typically use multi-layer PCBs.
  • Rigid: A rigid PCB uses a solid base material that prevents it from twisting. They remain in their rigid state throughout the lifespan of the electronic equipment and can come in single, double, or multi-layered configurations.
  • Flexible: In contrast to rigid PCBs, flexible PCBs allow the board to twist and bend to suit the specific requirements of the application. Flexible PCBs may also be found in single, double, or multi-layered configurations.
  • Rigid-Flex: These PCBs combine the attributes of both rigid and flexible boards in order to serve specific design needs. In areas where space or weight are a challenge, such as cell phones, digital cameras, automobiles, or pacemakers, these are the PCB of choice.

PCB vs. PCBA

Printed circuit board plus assembly (PCBA) passes an unpopulated PCB through the processes of plated through hole (PTH) and surface mounted technology (SMT) assembly. Included in these processes are:

  • Placement and soldering of components to a blank PCB
  • Solder paste printing
  • Hand, wave, and reflow soldering
  • QC inspections

A PCB is essentially an unfinished or un-assembled printed circuit board made up of its base material, metal coating, etched conductive pathways, and patterns while a PCBA includes assembly, finishing, and testing. In contrast to a blank PCB, a PCBA can undergo:

  • Power off visual or automated optical inspection
  • Power off inspection using analog signature analysis
  • Power on circuit testing
  • Power on functionality testing

Choose Freedom CAD for PCB Design & Layout

Freedom CAD focuses on PCB design and layout—and we are experts at what we do. Our staff of more than 50 designers and engineers provides a wide range of PCB design and layout services. The services we offer include:

  • Signal Integrity Analysis

Increased signal speeds have produced a need for higher level signal integrity. Using SI simulation throughout the design process, Freedom CAD helps reduce the need for debugging and chasing down the source of bit errors. This is a time-consuming and costly undertaking, but we will streamline the process to fit the specific needs of your project and make it as cost-effective as possible.

  • PCB Data Conversion

The translation and data conversion services we provide utilize some of the industry’s most advanced tools. Our trademark DART™ translation software intelligently migrates complete PCB data, schematics, and constraints and performs validation and verification functions to ensure that the translation retains the integrity of the original.

  • Manufacturing Services

Freedom CAD provides a complete turnkey manufacturing process from prototyping to full production. We have created strategic partnerships throughout the industry to offer the highest standards of production quality and best match to meet the demands of your specific technology and industry applications. We provide you with faster time-to-market solutions while freeing up your internal resources.

  • Contractor Placement

We lead the industry in supplying engineering contractors, consultants, and an in-house service bureau to meet all your electronic design automation requirements. Our technical consultants are forward thinking and reliable, helping us to maintain our reputation as an industry leader.

We serve a broad range of industries with various applications, making us a top solution-based resource for PCB designs. For more than 15 years in the industry, we have served individuals and companies in sectors, such as:

  • Telecommunications
  • Computer technology
  • Memory storage
  • Semiconductor
  • Healthcare and medical
  • Automotive
  • Broadcasting
  • Military
  • Aerospace
  • Consumer electronics
  • IoT

Freedom CAD also holds a range of certifications that drive quality and guarantee us as a qualified PCB design service provider. We are ISO 9001:2015 certified and ITAR registered.

Printed circuit boards are the backbone of electronics and technology. As performance demands increase, the need for qualified PCB designers with solution-based, forward thinking experience becomes critical. Freedom CAD provides this type of industry leading PCB design service.

Contact us or request a quote to learn more about Freedom CAD and how we provide you with the right solutions to meet your needs.