Development Trend of Manufacturing Technology in PCB Industry

The rapid pace of electronic advancements is evident in our daily lives. For instance, Apple releases a new phone model every year, showcasing the continuous innovation in the industry. In contrast, printed circuit boards have a rich history spanning over a hundred years. Despite their long existence, PCB manufacturers have consistently developed and upgraded their technology, ensuring that these boards remain relevant and indispensable.

For electronics manufacturers, staying informed about the latest PCB technology trends is crucial for strategic planning and business success. In this article, TechSparks will delve into the evolving landscape of PCB technology, discussing the advancements and trends that shape the industry.

Three PCB Manufacturing Technologies

Additive Manufacturing

With the advent of 3D printing technology, a new PCB manufacturing technology has emerged known as additive manufacturing. This innovative approach involves the layer-by-layer stacking of conductive and insulating materials on a copper-free substrate to create circuit paths and insulation layers.

One of the key advantages of this advanced printed circuit technology is the increased design freedom it offers. Additionally, the fabrication process is relatively straightforward, leading to faster prototyping turnaround times. However, it’s important to note that PCB additive manufacturing is not recommended for mass production due to its layer-by-layer stacking method. Each layer requires individual processing and curing of the material, making it time-consuming and less efficient for large-scale production. Moreover, this technology may lack the precise processing accuracy required for high-density and intricate circuit designs, making it more suitable for single- or double-layer PCB.

Subtractive Manufacturing

The subtractive process is a well-established technique used in PCB manufacturing, which involves chemical etching, photolithography, and negative fabrication methods to create the desired circuit pattern by selectively removing unwanted copper layers. This precise and efficient process is particularly suitable for mass production.

This manufacturing approach is commonly referred to as negative PCB production, as it involves the use of negative films. The process begins by applying a light-sensitive dry film onto the surface of the PCB. A negative film is then placed on top to ensure that the transparent areas align with the desired pattern. UV light is used to expose the uncovered areas of the dry film, causing polymerization. Next, a sodium carbonate solution is used to dissolve the unpolymerized portions, leaving behind the exposed dry film (development). The copper areas not covered by the dry film are then etched away using an etchant (etching). Finally, the circuit alignment is achieved by removing the polymerized dry film with a film remover.

mSAP

The semi-additive (mSAP) process combines additive and subtractive methods to achieve higher precision in circuit design by using patterned plating. This technique involves plating the copper-clad board twice, with the second plating covering the areas that do not require plating.

Firstly, a plating-friendly dry film is applied to the copper-covered substrate. A transparent pattern template is then placed on top of the dry film, where the opaque parts indicate the desired pattern. UV light is used to irradiate the dry film, causing polymerization only in the exposed areas and transferring the pattern to the dry film. The unpolymerized portions of the dry film are dissolved using a sodium carbonate solution, making the circuit pattern visible and leaving the dry film intact. Based on customer requirements, the exposed copper areas are plated, and a layer of tin is applied to protect the pattern during subsequent etching steps. A film remover is used to eliminate the polymerized dry film, revealing the unwanted copper, which is then etched away using an etching solution to obtain a circuit alignment protected by the tin layer. Finally, the tin layer is removed to complete the process.

Future Trend of PCB Industry

Automated Assembly Technology

Automated PCB assembly factory

Digital intelligence has undoubtedly emerged as a significant pcb industry trend, with renowned PCBA manufacturers like JCLPCB and PCBWay embracing this technology. As market demands evolve, there is a growing need for a large quantity of PCBA boards. Consequently, Surface Mount Technology has gained dominance, accounting for approximately 70% of the market share.

Through the traditional Through-Hole Technology, component leads are manually inserted into drilled holes on the PCB, and then soldered to the copper traces on the opposite side of the board to complete the PCB assembly process. In contrast, the SMT process leverages automated equipment to eliminate the need for drilling holes, as components are directly placed on the surface of the PCB. This includes various components such as resistors, capacitors, and integrated circuits like SOIC, TSSOP, QFP, and BGA.

High Density Interconnects and Miniaturization

The electronics industry has undoubtedly been advancing towards the trend of miniaturization. Mobile phone manufacturers, for instance, have been emphasizing the production of lighter and thinner devices as a key selling point. In line with this trend, high-density interconnection (HDI) technology has emerged as a significant development across various sectors, from aerospace to medical applications.

HDI PCB technology enables the arrangement of thinner lines and shorter spacing on circuits. This advancement in electronic technology offers numerous advantages, including compact layout designs that can accommodate more connectors, improved signal integrity, and enhanced high-speed data transmission capabilities. These characteristics play a crucial role in the future development of printed circuit board, as they address the industry’s need for smaller, more efficient, and high-performing electronic devices.

Flexible Circuit

The demand for flexible circuits in the printed circuit board industry has been experiencing significant growth. It is projected that by 2030, nearly one-third of PCBs will be of the flexible type. These circuits can be used either as standalone boards or as connectors for multiple rigid PCBs. The rise in popularity of wearable electronics is closely linked to the utilization of flexible PCB, which offers the following advantages:

  • Thinness: Flexible PCB can be manufactured to have a thickness as low as tens of microns, making them incredibly thin. This characteristic is appealing even when folding functionality is not required for the electronics.
  • Lightweight: Compared to traditional FR4 materials used in PCBs, flexible circuits employ polyimide as the substrate material. This choice results in a PCB that is as light as a piece of paper. This lightweight attribute is highly advantageous for portable electronic devices.
  • Flexibility: Flexible PCB materials come in various options, allowing for customization based on project requirements. Properties such as flame resistance, chemical corrosion resistance, and mechanical durability can be selected to ensure the PCB’s suitability for specific applications.

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