Printed Wiring Board vs Printed Circuit Board

Electronics is a vast industry that encompasses a wide range of components and processes. However, it can be quite challenging for newcomers or enthusiasts to navigate due to the prevalent use of lengthy technical terms and excessive acronyms. These acronyms often consist of just three words, such as PCB (Printed Circuit Board), SMT (Surface Mount Technology), THT (Through-Hole Technology), and DIP (Dual In-Line Package). It can feel overwhelming and discouraging for those who are new to the industry or simply interested in learning more. To address these issues, it becomes essential to familiarize oneself with the necessary terminology related to PCB.

This article from TechSparks aims to introduce you to the term “PWB” (Printed Wiring Board). Although this term has fallen out of common usage and is now only employed by a limited number of people in specific countries, we believe it is valuable to gain knowledge about it. Let’s start exploring what’s the difference between PWB and PCB!

printed wiring board
Table of Contents

PWB vs PCB

What is a printed wiring board (PWB)

Looking back at the history of PCB, we can see that prior to their existence, circuit connections inside electronic devices relied on point-to-point or hand wiring. This approach lacked a standardized platform for organizing circuits, and to understand the limitations of this method, one can search for the image “Indian street wire connections” on Google. To overcome the drawbacks of such circuit connections, the exploration and utilization of PWB technology began in the 1930s.

PWB, which stands for printed wiring board, is a type of epoxy glass substrate that undergoes an etching process to remove portions of the copper, forming a conductive circuit. When using a PWB board, electronic components with specific functions are installed on its circuit, resulting in the formation of a PWA (printed wiring assembly). This concept aligns with the understanding of PCB and PCBA, both denoting assembled circuit boards.

What is a printed circuit board (PCB)

The term PCB stands for printed circuit board, which accurately describes the substrate used to support and interconnect electronic components. With the changes in printing technology, manufacturers continue to upgrade manufacturing processes, materials and design methods, in the 1950s, printed circuit board gradually replaced printed wiring board and is widely accepted and used. Unlike the PWB, PCB more accurately reflects the working principle of circuit and means that the board not only contains circuit traces but also incorporates electronic components and other electrical connections.

In modern electronics, PCB is the more commonly used term, but it doesn’t imply that PWB is incorrect. The preference for one term over the other is often a matter of convention and habit. In many cases, the terms PCB and PWB can be used interchangeably. However, there may be slight variations in specific regions and industries. For instance, the electronics industry predominantly uses PCB, while the aerospace sector may lean towards the PWB, possibly due to its association with wiring processes and technologies.

Advanced reading: What does PCB stand for in electronics?

Terms with similar relationship to PCB and PWB

As mentioned earlier, the electronics industry often utilizes similar word abbreviations, leading to confusion among people. In addition to PCB and PWB, here are some other concepts that are easy to mix up:

  • PCB and PCBA: PCB typically refers to the bare board or PWB printed wiring board. On the other hand, PCBA stands for printed circuit board assembly. PCBA involves installing electronic components onto the bare board using technologies like SMT and THT, resulting in an assembled PCB.
  • IC and PC: IC stands for integrated circuit, commonly known as a chip. Some individuals who are new to the field might mistakenly confuse IC with PCB. In reality, an IC is a component that is mounted on a PCB. It contains numerous internal components, such as transistors, and can be understood as a miniaturized PCB. On the other hand, PC is often used to refer to a personal computer. In the context of the PCB industry, it signifies the printed circuit, which represents the metal alignment on the circuit board providing electrical connections for the electronic components.
  • SMD and SMT: SMD represents surface mount device, which refers to a physical component. SMT, on the other hand, stands for surface mount technology, which is a non-physical patching technology. In simple terms, SMD components are mounted on the surface of the PCB using SMT assembly, resulting in a PCBA board.
  • BGA and PGA: Both BGA and PGA pertain to chip packaging forms. BGA stands for ball grid array, where the bottom of the chip has a series of small spherical solder balls for connection to solder joints on the PCB. PGA, on the other hand, refers to pin grid array, featuring a series of pins on the bottom of the chip for connection to sockets or pins.
  • DFM and DFT: DFM stands for design for manufacturing, which emphasizes considering the subsequent production and manufacturing processes during circuit design to ensure efficient and viable manufacturing. DFT, on the other hand, stands for design for testability, which involves considering testing and troubleshooting requirements during the circuit design phase to enhance the product’s testability and reliability.

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