Use High Frequency PCB to Provide Higher-Speed Signals for Your Next Project

In this era driven by the pursuit of speed and efficiency, high-frequency technology has emerged as an indispensable component of our daily lives. Whether we’re engaging with high-speed internet, wireless communication systems, high-definition video transmissions, or smart home devices, the underlying support for these applications lies in the realm of high-frequency technology. Specifically, in the realm of electronic applications, the utilization of high frequency printed circuit boards (PCB) has proven to be paramount.

High frequency PCB is specifically designed to operate within the gigahertz (GHz) frequency range. With the ability to transmit electromagnetic waves within the range of 500MHz to 2GHz, these PCBs offer an ideal solution for handling high-speed signals with minimal distortion and signal loss. Moreover, they are engineered to minimize electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI), ensuring superior signal integrity. TechSparks is here to provide a comprehensive guide to high-frequency circuits, empowering you with the knowledge and expertise necessary for your electronic projects.

Importance of HF Circuit in Electronics Industry

Features of High Frequency Circuits

  • Low dielectric constant: The dielectric constant of a material determines its ability to store electrical energy in an electric field. Materials like Rogers, Teflon, or Arlon, despite being more expensive, are preferred choices for high frequency circuits due to their lower dielectric constant. This characteristic enables efficient energy storage and transmission.
  • High signal integrity: Signal integrity refers to the capability of a circuit system to transmit signals without distortion or loss. HF PCB prioritize signal integrity through meticulous design considerations, including appropriate material selection and circuit layout.
  • Small footprint: Through strategic layer stacking and routing techniques, high frequency PCB board can be designed with a compact form factor. This is particularly advantageous for applications with limited space, where the reduction in size is highly valued.
  • Enhanced reliability: This PCB board undergo stringent manufacturing processes and rigorous quality control due to their higher cost. This meticulous attention to detail enhances their reliability and lifespan, ensuring consistent performance even under challenging environmental conditions.

Inseparable From the Application of High-Frequency PCB

  • Telecommunications: In addition to common mobile phones, Bluetooth devices, Wi-Fi and other wireless communication systems that are common applications of PCBs, high-frequency circuit boards have also made outstanding contributions to radio frequency modules, communication base station antennas and filters. These boards enable high-speed, high-frequency, and stable data transmission, ensuring reliable communication.
  • Aerospace and national defense: The aerospace and national defense industries have stringent requirements for signal transmission safety. High frequency PCB is employed in various applications, including satellite antennas, signal processing units, radar transmitters, and intelligence collection equipment. These boards ensure high-speed and secure data transmission, vital for critical operations in these industries.
  • Medical equipment: The demand for non-contact treatment in medical settings has increased, necessitating the use of remote-controlled machinery for aseptic procedures. High-speed circuits are essential to synchronize operations with the equipment accurately. These PCBs find application in surgical instruments, life support systems, medical sensors, and other medical equipment, enabling precise and sensitive operation.
  • Automotive industry: The advent of artificial intelligence autonomous driving has revolutionized the automotive industry. Sensors, perception systems, positioning systems, planning systems, control and execution systems—all these components rely on high-speed circuits. High-frequency PCBs have played a crucial role in advancing this trend by enabling efficient data processing, communication, and real-time decision-making in autonomous vehicles.

Prepare High Frequency PCB for Your Project

Design Guidelines

  • Materials selection: Low-loss tangent and high dielectric constant materials, such as specialized laminates, are preferred.
  • Routing techniques: Proper routing techniques are employed to maintain signal integrity in high-frequency PCBs. Designers pay attention to matching the length of critical signal traces to prevent signal timing skew. They also utilize differential signaling to improve noise immunity and controlled impedance routing to maintain signal integrity and minimize reflections.
  • Ground layer design: It is essential to have a continuous and uninterrupted ground plane to prevent signal loss, minimize EMI, and provide a stable reference plane for high-frequency signals.
  • Controlled Impedance: Designers carefully consider trace spacing, trace length, dielectric thickness, board thickness, and the operating frequency to achieve the desired impedance values.
  • Decoupling techniques: Strategically place decoupling capacitors close to power supply pins to provide local energy storage and noise cancellation. Multiple capacitors of various values are often used to cover a wide frequency range and provide adequate decoupling at different frequencies.

Manufacturing Process

  1. Substrate preparation: The process begins with the preparation of the substrate material. The chosen substrate is carefully cut into the desired dimensions and thoroughly cleaned to remove any contaminants. Afterward, it is laminated with copper foil to provide a conductive surface.
  2. Copper Plating: A layer of copper cladding is applied to the substrate to establish the conductive traces. This involves the lamination of a thin layer of copper onto the substrate, creating a uniform and adherent copper surface.
  3. Drilling: Once the copper cladding is in place, the high frequency PCB undergoes drilling to create holes for component mounting and vias, which establish connections between different layers of the board.
  4. Plating: After drilling, the board undergoes a plating process. This involves adding a conductive layer to the inner layers of the board and the drilled vias.
  5. Etching: The next step is etching, which involves selectively removing unwanted copper from the board. A chemical etchant is used to dissolve the excess copper, leaving behind only the desired copper traces that form the high frequency circuitry.
  6. Soldermask and Silkscreen: Soldermask is applied to cover the copper traces, except for the contact pads and vias, preventing unintentional solder bridging during assembly. Silkscreen printing adds component labels, reference designators, and other identifying information to the board, aiding in assembly and troubleshooting.

Surface Finishes

In the surface finishes process of high frequency PCB, electroless nickel immersion gold (ENIG), electroless nickel electroless palladium immersion gold (ENEPIG), and immersion silver are common options. These treatments are utilized to protect and enhance the performance of the circuit. Below is a comparison table highlighting the differences among them:

AspectImmersion SilverENEPIGENIG
Insertion LossLowLowLow
Dielectric LossLowLowLow
Corrosion ResistanceModerateHighModerate
Surface FlatnessGoodGoodGood
SolderabilityGoodGoodGood
Environmental SensitivityHighModerateModerate
CostModerateHighModerate
ReliabilityModerateHighModerate

Important Parameters in High Frequency Circuit Boards

As highlighted earlier, designing and manufacturing high frequency PCB involves certain distinct considerations. The primary requirement revolves around achieving lower values of Dk and Df. Additionally, impedance characteristics play a crucial role, necessitating meticulous attention to ensure smooth and accurate testing of these properties. By addressing these critical aspects, can deliver optimal performance and meet the stringent demands of high-speed electronic applications.

Parameter Test Process

  1. Material Procurement: Source materials from trusted suppliers who meet quality standards. Select materials based on project requirements and supplier specifications.
  2. Material Characterization: The PCB manufacturer’s R&D team conducts comprehensive testing on the materials to confirm their characteristic parameters, such as Dk and Df.
  3. Design Simulation: Utilize advanced design simulation software to create a virtual model of the PCB during the prototyping phase. Perform parameter fitting and optimization to meet the desired electrical performance. Iteratively update the design as necessary.
  4. Prototype Fabrication: Fabricate a small batch of prototype PCBs based on the optimized design. Test and evaluate their performance to validate the design’s functionality and adherence to specifications.
  5. Mass Production: Once the prototype passes the testing phase, proceed with mass production. Conduct either random inspections or full inspections during the production process to ensure the quality and consistency of the high frequency PCB board.
High-frequency PCB parameter test process

Dk/Df test

To ensure the signal integrity requirements of diverse applications are met, an effective high frequency PCB design goes beyond analyzing the material’s Dk and Df. It also entails testing the S-parameters and Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR) impedance of the PCB. This involves intricate technical aspects such as instrument calibration, fixture extraction, de-embedding (AFR), and transmission line simulation testing.

Qualified high frequency PCB manufacturers offer comprehensive solutions utilizing vector network analyzers, material testing software, and corresponding test fixtures. These solutions encompass transmission line simulation, impedance measurement, Delta-L loss testing, and Dk/Df parameter extraction. As depicted in the diagram below, at the company I work for, constantly develop new test scenarios and tools in response to customer demands, ensuring cutting-edge capabilities in PCB production.

Summarize

In this article, TechSparks has provided an in-depth exploration of high-frequency printed circuit boards, shedding light on their numerous advantages in electronic applications. However, it is important to acknowledge the challenges associated with their implementation, including higher costs and the intricacies involved in design and manufacturing processes. By understanding these factors, engineers and designers can make informed decisions and leverage the full potential of their projects.

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