The Future of the PCB Industry

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The Future of the PCB Industry

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 07:12
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The printed circuit board (PCB) industry supports many different types of products. The components go into nearly any modern electronic product imaginable. Most PCB manufacturers reside in Asian countries, such as China. Recent global health concerns have impacted the production of electrical components and delayed shipments. 

In the United States, less than 500 firms make PCBs and employ only 21,000 people. By contrast, China sees annual growth of about 8.5% in the PCB industry and employs around 700,000 citizens. Asia typically makes the items faster and cheaper than other parts of the world.

However, technology advances at such a rapid pace, and it's hard to keep up at times. In one survey, about 42% of Americans felt new discoveries improved their lives. It's hard to say what the next big innovation might be. Because of global and scientific changes, there are a number of factors impacting the PCB industry over the next few years. 

Where the Industry Is Heading

One significant change in recent years is increasing multiplicity. Instead of making many different products to complete one task, people want a single product solving several functions at once. This concept is seen in things such as pressure cookers also serving as slow cookers and air fryers. You can also consider smart home systems helping you search the internet, set the burglar alarm and monitor your lights. 

The cost of living in China is on the rise, which means wages will eventually increase as well. The cost of manufacturing in the region may impact the price of PCBs and force buyers to turn to other markets to maintain profit margins. A recent article pointed to the rising costs and threats China faces in the coming months. 

Trade wars, a slowing economy and the rising cost of everyday items are all impacting inflation. However, employees have little recourse to seek higher wages, so it's hard to say if costs will truly go up on PCBs or hold steady. Increased tariffs will likely result in higher prices regardless.

At the same time, 3D printers are more commonplace and affordable than in the past. 3D printers help lower prototyping time by 63%, keeping work in-house. Some smaller companies now have the option to make their own PCBs on the spot using this technology, cutting out the need for a foreign manufacturer.

How to Utilize PCBs

PCBs are thin and small boards made of insulating material. There are many different uses for the product. Companies can customize boards to meet the specific needs of nearly any industry you can imagine. In a world where more and more people work from home and businesses seek out lower contact ways of serving customers, technology becomes even more critical in offering solutions to a futuristic world. 

Medical Devices

One area where PCBs are common is in medical devices. Diagnostic tools require highly specialized pathways and multiple PCBs to operate efficiently. Not only do the devices often need to be small, but they must interconnect with other circuit boards and send information back and forth at lightning speed.

Reliability is a must for medical evaluations. You'll find PCBs in: 

·      Monitors: Blood sugar and blood pressure devices.

·      Scanners: CAT and ultrasound machines.

·      Internal medical devices: Pacemakers and brain stimulation apparatuses. 

When it comes to medical appliances, accuracy may be more important than cost. Companies creating PCBs without glitches will likely do much better than those with lower quality control standards. 

Consumer Electronics

Almost any electronic device today uses a PCB in some way. Smartphones, smartwatches, smart speakers, televisions and kitchen appliances all utilize circuit boards to take programming and function properly. 

Popular products equal high volume production. The PCBs must be able to withstand rapid turnaround. A 3D printer isn't yet fast enough to take on massive manufacturing for brands such as Apple. In the future, 3D printers may be able to equal factories and produce items more rapidly. For now, however, they simply aren't up to the task. 

Manufacturing Applications

There are many ways PCBs work for manufacturing. Think about how computers can automate factories. They track machines and pinpoint a fault in the system, repairing it before a breakdown. They count how fast the line moves and if production is on target. Companies utilize computers and thus PCBs to analyze quality, speed and even inventory. It's impossible to track all the ways electronics appear in manufacturing. 

How PCBs Changed the World

Albert Hanson invented the first PCB in the early 1900s. Over the years, PCBs were used by the US Army and in various consumer products. It wasn't until the 1970s that the integrated circuit became part of the overall design. Since then, the size of boards shrank smaller and smaller while the amount of data contained on each grew larger.

Without PCBs, the world wouldn't have access to teleconferences, home computers and many devices hooking up to the Internet of Things. Think back to the world 70 years ago. People would have never dreamed of the creations we regularly use today. The future of PCBs is difficult to predict because we often can't even imagine what may come next, beyond typical gadget improvements.

While production will likely become more customized and 3D printing will change where we get our circuit boards, mass manufacturing will probably always have a place in the equation as companies produce enough products to meet consumer demand.