Printed circuit boards (PCBs) provide the mechanical foundations for modern electronics.

These small and seemingly unassuming devices are deceptively complex, playing an integral role in electronic circuits found in almost every modern device — from smart cars and watches to industrial robotics.

Many of today’s digital innovations would not be possible without PCBs. And as technology develops, allowing manufacturers to create smaller and more intricate boards, this is an area of electronics manufacturing that knows no bounds.

So, what actually is a PCB, how are these devices made and why are they so crucial to the future of electronics?

What is a PCB?

A PCB is made from layers of conductive and non-conductive materials, providing the board base to support the metal circuits connecting different electronic device components.

There are a few different types of PCBs. The most popular are single, double or multi-layered, with multi-layered being the most advanced.

A single-sided PCB is a simple, cost-effective option made from just one layer of conductive material on one side of the board, with the other used to incorporate electonic components. Alternatively, a double-layered PCB can have conductive materials on both sides, allowing for more complex designs and circuits.

Multi-layer PCBs are formed using a ‘sandwich model’, consisting of at least three layers of conductive material, such as copper foil. These PCBs comprise several layers of double-sided circuit boards laminated together under high pressure. Multi-layer PCBs are generally preferred for more intricate electronics, offering better functionality for more complex applications.

Electronic boards can come in many shapes and sizes depending on their use. Without them, the electrical components in our devices — such as the screen and buttons in a mobile phone — could not communicate with each other and would therefore be unusable. Plus, PCBs help to keep devices cool, as their metal layers deflect heat away from components to reduce the likelihood of overheating.

What does PCB assembly involve?

When discussing PCBs, PCB assembly (PCBA) often crops up. But what is the difference between PCB and PCBA?

Simply put, a PCB is a bare circuit board, and a PCBA is a circuit board with all its electronic components soldered and installed.

PCBAs can be mass-produced and adapted relatively easily, supporting the rapid development of digital devices across a wide range of industries and use cases.

The job of a circuit board assembler is to attach components to a board according to an appropriate PCB design for the product. Electronic parts are connected to the board using a couple of methods: through-hole and surface-mount.

Through-hole mounting involves fitting component leads into holes drilled into a bare PCB’s surface. This tried-and-tested method is reliable for circuits exposed to harsher environments, providing a robust connection between layers.

On the other hand, surface-mounting is a more modern process used to secure components directly onto the PCB with melted solder. Although surface-mount technology has risen in popularity due to its speed and cost-effectiveness, both methods are suitable for different applications and products.

The end-product is durable, safe and economical, providing the backbone of almost all electronics. And with technological capabilities constantly evolving, the future of PCB manufacturing looks bright…

What lies ahead for PCB manufacturing?

As PCBs become an increasingly integral part of everyday life, electronics manufacturing services (EMS) have their work cut out to keep up with demand.

The global consumer electronics market is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.51% annually between 2022 and 2027. This growth is partly due to the miniaturisation of electrical components and PCBs, facilitating a new generation of ‘smart’ products connected to the internet of things (IoT): the global network of devices connected to the internet via sensors and other technology.

Whilst technology advances at an unprecedented rate, so must PCBs — and the manufacturers that create them. Meeting customer demand for innovation is vital, but so is ensuring quality, accuracy and intrinsic safety. So, EMS providers must be prepared to deal with the complex mechanical, logistical and legislative requirements of developing modern circuit boards.

At EC Electronics, high-quality PCBA has been at the heart of our manufacturing operations for almost 40 years. Our state-of-the-art facilities in the UK and Europe are equipped with the latest machines to encompass both surface-mount and through-hole assemblies, allowing us to deliver everything from PCB prototype and assembly to large-scale manufacturing of multi-technology PCBs.

We have embraced automation to optimise product inspection, and our fully trained operators are skilled in assembling a selection of complex boards to the highest industry standards. As a result, we can offer a bespoke service for our customers — from blue chip companies to up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

Are you looking to partner with a trusted, forward-thinking EMS provider for your next electronics project? Discover our PCBA services and contact our friendly team of experts at +44 (0)1256 461894 or to learn how we can help.