PCB Design and the Trend Toward More Functions on Chips than Circuit Boards

pcb design services black and blue PCB showing a quad flat pack chip

Printed circuit boards (PCBs), and Integrated Circuit chips are the foundation of our modern world. Printed circuit boards are so common in today's world that many people don't understand their purpose and design. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the PCB and their function to connect components within electronic items. As technology advances and new innovations are introduced, the PCB industry continues to grow.

There is a difference between a chip and a PCB

A PCB is a plate of fiberglass with copper traces that connect components. A chip is an electronic circuit made up of a small, flat piece of semiconductor material (usually silicon). The chip is placed in a housing. This is usually a small black box with pin connectors. The chip is usually smaller than a PCB, but more complex with a particular function. As part of a multi-function device, chips might be placed on a single PCB. Apple, for example, has a more advanced chip manufacturing process and is putting more functions into their chips as they move away Intel.

What are your thoughts on the subject of PCBs? You might not believe many of the myths surrounding these complex circuit boards unless you are a designer or an assembler. PCB design can be quite complex, but it is not too difficult if you are interested. We've put together a list of common misconceptions regarding PCB design to help you distinguish fact from fiction.

  • Myth 1 - All boards have the same design rules

The components and composition of PCBs are very similar. A typical board will have between two and four layers, each with a different thickness and copper weight. The foundational layers are a substrate, copper and solder mask. Silkscreen printing PCBs is done for both informational and functional purposes. Printed circuit boards may not be the same design.

Board's primary functions are the basis of both the fabrication process and assembly. The design of PCBs is unique. You can think of it as a technical art form that involves putting together various pieces. All designs will not be successful if they are assembled according to the same rules and settings.

  • Myth 2: Component Placement Doesn't Matter Much

Component placement is another common misconception about PCB design. While not all design rules are applicable to particular PCBs, careful consideration of component placement is crucial to circuit performance. PCB designers cannot place components anywhere on a board and can't group like parts together to save space. Designers must also consider heat and potential overload. Chips become more sophisticated and have more functions. This means that there is less room for customization and repair. Chips will be reliable and durable, hopefully.

For clarity, consider a printed circuit board as a three-dimensional model. Designers should consider both the physical height and their dimensions when designing components. For quality assembly, each PCB component must be placed in a particular location. This is necessary to ensure a functional electrical system that doesn't overheats and reduces power consumption. Without this, technology today would continue to fail.

  • Myth 3 - Printed Circuit Boards are Not Eco-Friendly

While there is some truth to the Eco-Friendly problem, there are ways to reduce the environmental impact. It is possible that you have heard that PCB manufacturing, design, assembly, and manufacture are not sustainable. The EPA states that the five processes responsible for printing circuit board manufacturing wastes are: surface preparation, cleaning, catalyst application and electroless plating, pattern printing and masking and electroplating and etching. These include airborne particulates and spent plating baths. Most electronic devices are not designed to last forever so it is important to reduce or recycle waste. It is possible to be tech-savvy and still use products made by careless companies. Electronic sustainability is about using non-toxic materials for fabrication and/or materials that can be recycled.

The EPA's working definition of waste minimization dates back to at least 1990. It consists of source reduction, which prevents the creation of waste at its origin, and recycling. From an environmental perspective, source reduction is preferred to recycling. According to the EPA, treatment of hazardous waste can be considered an approach to waste minimization in some states but not others.

Engineers will continue to work towards biodegradable boards as a future goal. A greener manufacturing process is also possible.

Apple claims that they are working towards sourcing all the resources necessary to create an iPhone from renewable and recyclable sources. Apple reports that the company recently switched to using 100% recycled gold for plating the main logic board as well as the wire in the rear and front cameras. Apple uses only 100% recycled rare earth elements for all magnets, 100% recycled Tungsten in the Taptic Engine and 100% recycled Tin in the solder for the main logic board/battery management unit.

The ubiquitous and more popular PCB design is still an integral part our tech industry, from key fobs to electric blanket controllers. It doesn't matter if you are a designer or user, it is wise to have more information about the topic before choosing a device that runs faster from your computer.

911EDA provides PCB design services using Altium, Allegro, PADs, and OrCAD.