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Printed Circuit Boards

A printed circuit board, or PCB, is an integral element in most electronic devices. These small, intricately shaped pieces of plastic and metal enable electronics to function by routing signals between components. Though most people use a wide variety of electronic devices in their everyday lives, few have an understanding of how they are built.

A circuit board is an electrical assembly that uses copper conductors to create connections between components. These connections are made using a pattern of etched holes, or vias, through which components are soldered to the board. The physical layout of the components and the electrical circuitry on a PCB is determined by the blueprint that is created using industry Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. Creating the circuit board blueprints is a complex process that requires a great deal of expertise and precision.

Before the invention of the PCB, electrical and electronic circuits were wired point-to-point on a chassis, which was typically a sheet metal frame or pan, or on a piece of plywood, depending on the application. The chassis was then wrapped with insulation and the components were wired to it using jumper wires, crimp connector lugs, or screw terminals on a wire connector. This method is extremely time consuming and labor intensive, making it difficult to build high-quality, reliable products.

Printed circuit boards are more efficient and faster to assemble than their point-to-point counterparts. They also provide mechanical support for the electronic components so that they do not break off the chassis or get inadvertently repositioned during assembly, which would interrupt the circuit’s functionality.

An Introduction to Printed Circuit Boards

The first step in the printed circuit board manufacturing process is the development of the library CAD parts that will be used for the project. These will include schematic symbols, simulation models, and footprints for displaying the components’ connectivity on the circuit board. The schematic tools will then send this data to the layout tools to create a logical representation of the circuitry.

After the circuit board design is complete, it must be inspected to ensure that it meets the manufacturer’s specifications. Then, the layers of the PCB will be fused and laminated together using a mechanical press. During this process, the top and bottom of the PCB are sandwiched between metal clamps to ensure that the layers do not separate during the lamination process.

There are different types of printing circuit boards available, ranging from two-layer to multi-layer. The two-layer board features conductive copper on both sides that are referred to as the external layers; multi layer boards feature additional internal layers of either conductive copper or insulating copper. The most common type of PCB is the double-sided board, which has components mounted on both sides of the substrate.

The final steps in the printed circuit board manufacturing process involve metallizing the holes to conduct electricity and applying a protective coating, such as epoxy resin. Afterward, the circuit board will be cut into smaller panels using an automated drilling machine that is capable of finding the position of the tiny holes in the inner core through a computer-controlled system. These positioning holes are necessary to avoid tearing the copper foil on the outer edges of the board during punching.

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