Five of the most popular PCB trends in 2021

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are everywhere. As people come to expect more from their electronics, it means they hold PCBs to a higher standard. Emily Newton highlights top five growing PCB trends that reflect these changes.
Five of the most popular PCB trends in 2021
Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are everywhere. That was true 10 years ago, and it’s even truer today. Technology is shifting, appearing in new areas and doing more than ever before, which in turn is reshaping the PCB manufacturing industry. Smaller, more powerful, and more feature-rich electronics require newer, better circuit boards.

PCBs are the hearts of the various gadgets that shape modern life and business. As people come to expect more from their electronics, it means they hold PCBs to a higher standard. These five growing PCB trends reflect these changes.

1. High-Density Interconnect PCBs
Perhaps the most influential factor shaping PCB trends today is the Internet of Things (IoT). The average American has more than 10 connected devices in their household, and that number is growing. As the world demands more IoT devices, high-density interconnect (HDI) PCBs are becoming the standard.

HDI PCBs offer far more wiring in one area than was previously possible. With devices getting smaller and more complex as the IoT grows, this wiring density is increasingly crucial. Businesses and consumers today want gadgets that can do more than ever at minimal size, and HDI PCBs are the answer.

Simple, low-density PCBs are becoming a thing of the past. Electronics companies need to fit more features into less space in virtually every area of technology. Before long, all PCBs may be HDI PCBs.

2. Non-Standard Form Factors
As the IoT extends into new use cases, the traditional rigid rectangular PCB is falling out of favor. When electronics have to fit into things like watches and clothes, standard form factors aren’t a viable solution. As a result, non-standard form factors, like flexible or non-geometric PCBs, are becoming increasingly popular.

Flex PCBs offer more versatility and less weight than their rigid fiberglass counterparts. While these are traditionally more expensive than stiffer options, their rising popularity has made them more affordable. The supply of films and other flexible materials is increasing with rising demand, and having more use cases leads to innovation.

Standard form factors are still suitable for larger electronics like desktop computers and video game consoles. As smaller, more unique technologies like IoT wearables gain popularity, non-standard options are, despite their name, now just as common.

3. Autoplacing
As PCBs are becoming smaller and more complex, manufacturers face a growing challenge. Placing all the necessary components and wiring in a tiny space is delicate and often time-consuming work. Autoplacing, which automates much of this process, has gained traction as a solution to this issue.

As many as 64% of avoidable PCB defects are the result of human error in manufacturing. These mistakes are understandable considering how dense and small today’s circuit boards are, and automation can help prevent them. Autoplacing gives PCB manufacturing the precision it needs to meet today’s consumer demands.

In addition to providing higher precision, autoplacing typically works faster than manual alternatives. This speed is increasingly crucial as device manufacturers have to increase output to meet rising demand.

4. Biodegradable PCBs
Most PCBs are made of materials like fiberglass, epoxy, and plastics. While these are affordable and easy to work with, they also pose a threat to the environment. As environmental issues become more prominent, more sustainable, biodegradable PCBs are growing increasingly popular.

Of the 53.6 million metric tons of electronic waste generated in 2019, just 17.4% was recycled. Electronics manufacturers can help mitigate this problem by using biodegradable materials in their PCBs. Since these eco-friendly composites will degrade naturally and safely into the environment, they relieve some of the burden from recycling systems.

Sustainability is one of the newest PCB trends to emerge, but it’s also a promising one. As more consumers demand eco-friendly products, more manufacturers will embrace these biodegradable components.

5. Expanding Wireless Functions
Another recent PCB trend the IoT has spurred is the demand for more wireless functionality. As more consumers and companies embrace the IoT, they need more devices with wireless connectivity. With so many different wireless standards in use today, that often means PCBs must be compatible with a broad range of protocols.

Today’s IoT devices typically feature Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity at the least. Electronics manufacturers that want to create more versatile gadgets may also include 4G LTE, 5G, or Zigbee compatibility. The more wireless protocols a PCB can accommodate, the more versatile it becomes.

Eventually, IoT connectivity will likely become more standardized, and this PCB trend will decline. For now, though, IoT PCBs will need to house multiple wireless technologies. As that happens, circuit boards that can’t accommodate several standards are becoming less preferable.

PCB Manufacturing Is Evolving
PCB manufacturing is a more critical industry than it has ever been. The world demands a broader range and number of devices than ever, requiring newer and more varied PCBs to drive them. As technologies like the IoT take off, PCB demands aren’t just growing upward but shifting.

These changing PCB trends reflect today’s changing consumption of technology. People want electronics that are small, high-functioning, sustainable, and compatible with other devices. PCBs are evolving to meet those needs.

About the author:
Emily Newton is a tech and industrial journalist and the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily.

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