History of Printed Circuit Boards

Overview: Upon closer examination of the electronic products in our lives, it becomes apparent that the devices we use are becoming increasingly compact while simultaneously boasting more advanced functionalities. Computers screens, once bulky and cumbersome, can now be as thin as a coin. The progression towards miniaturization has been made possible through the advancements in printed circuit board (PCB) technology. Below is a comparison chart between an older version of a computer PCB and a modern HDI PCB.
Advanced High Density Circuit Board

Modern computers now contain millions of transistors or more on a single motherboard. This high-density, miniature manufacturing approach has become the industry standard, solidifying the position of PCB in the electronics manufacturing industry. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the PCB development process, please watch the following video.

The Electronics Industry Before the Birth of PCB

Like many other great inventions, the printed circuit board did not emerge out of thin air, but was built upon the foundations of progress throughout history. Let us cast our gaze back to 140 years ago, a time before the circuit board was even conceived.

From 1880 to 1900, the power system gradually extended from urban to rural areas, and traditional fuel sources such as coal, wood, and oil were gradually replaced by electricity, which then found its way into people’s homes. This period was marked by many electromagnetism and motor-related inventions that influenced the development of printed circuit boards and contributed to their continued significance in the electronics manufacturing industry.

  • Edison invented the light bulb in 1879 and is known as the world’s greatest inventor;
  • Nikola Tesla invented the motor and AC power supply in 1888 and 1895, respectively;
  • Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876;
  • Kodak invented the first camera in 1884;
  • Herman Hollerith invented the tabulating machine in 1890 and would go on to create IBM;

Although PCB did not originate during this era, they greatly benefited from it. Without the manufacturing advancements of the Gilded Age and the proliferation of electricity, printed circuit boards would not exist in their current form.

The History and Evolution of PCB

Printed circuit boards were initially developed in the early 20th century but required the widespread use of electricity to become popular. With continuous advancements in PCB manufacturing technology, semiconductor packaging is now widely used in PCBA factories, resulting in lower costs, increased efficiency, and more suitable electronic products. In 2014, the global PCB bare board market surpassed US$60.2 billion and is expected to reach US$79 billion by 2024.

Origins of PCB

In 1903, Albert Hanson applied for a British patent for a device consisting of a flat foil conductor on a multilayer insulation board. This patent described the concept of electrical connections through perforations, marking the first time humans created electrical connections in this way.

In 1925, Charles Ducasse patented “Method of Adding Conductive Ink to Insulating Materials.” While this patent did not realize the electrical connection between the circuit and the components, it laid the foundation for producing printed circuit boards.

First Circuit Board

In 1943, Paul Eisler produced the world’s first simple Rigid PCB, which replaced traditional wire-based electrical connections. This PCB design involved etching circuits on copper foil bonded to a glass-reinforced non-conductive substrate.

The US military was the first to apply PCB technology, as the PCB invented by Eisler was affirmed by the military and used in military radios during World War II. The United States and the United Kingdom collaborated to develop circuit boards, and the technology was used in military weapons during the war. The US military designed double-sided circuits with through-hole plating and copper-coated vias to carry electrical signals across the board. Additionally, they used zinc plates with corrosion-resistant coatings to prevent moisture and increase PCB utilization. The utilization of printed circuit boards increased significantly with the introduction of transistors, improving circuit reliability.

Popularity of PCB

The United States officially recognized PCB technology in 1956, and the US Army published the first patent for the “circuit assembly process.” PCB manufacturers have since developed various assembly techniques to secure electronics and make electrical connections between components with copper traces.

In 1963, Hazeltine Corporation patented plated through-hole technology, allowing electronic components to be closely arranged on the PCB board without worrying about cross-connections.

Evolutionary of PCB

In the 1970s, the introduction of integrated circuits (ICs) revolutionized printed circuit boards, allowing millions of transistors to be found on a single motherboard. With the increase in conductor layers in the PCB stack-up, the board size became smaller while the function became more powerful, increasing the difficulty of PCB soldering. To address this, PCB manufacturers introduced solder masks made of thin polymer materials, reducing bridge formation between adjacent pins or discrete components. The photopolymer coating is applied to the circuit and imaged in a dry and exposed environment, and is now considered a standard PCB manufacturing process.

PCB Dominating the Electronics Industry

The introduction of surface mount technology (SMT) in the 1980s revolutionized the automated assembly production process in PCBA factories. SMT assembly technology not only significantly improved the performance of circuit boards but also reduced power consumption. Compared to traditional through-hole technology, the cost of SMT assembly dropped significantly.

With the changing consumption patterns in the 1980s, many household devices such as TVs, computers, game consoles, and headphones appeared. The widespread use of these household appliances greatly propelled the development of electronic components, and the demand for SMD components (If you are not clear about the concept of SMD and SMT, you can read the article “SMD vs SMT”) and integrated circuits reached an unprecedented height. These electronic components provide more powerful functions for PCBA, making the PCB industry an indispensable part of electronic consumer products.

Future Trends of Printed Circuit Boards

The PCB exhibition of 2021 highlighted the increasing prevalence of artificial intelligence, leading to the development of health monitoring and implantable devices for everyday life. In addition, advancements in CCTV and fire alarm safety equipment rely on tiny high-density PCB. On the other hand, aerospace, telecommunications, and military equipment have become more demanding on PCBs to achieve safer and more powerful performance, with more complex PCB boards required for advanced applications.

Furthermore, the electronics manufacturing industry generates significant waste, making it crucial for the technological development of PCBs to keep up with other industries. For example, the artificial intelligence industry has benefited from the qualitative leap of PCBs, enabling the creation of vacuum cleaners and sweeping robots.

High-performance flexible PCB is necessary for the hottest metaverse concept in 2022. Moreover, the conversion of PCBs to source files may be the only way to reduce the number of components in circuit designs in the future.

PCBs have evolved over time to keep up with the changing trends. Turnkey PCB assembly service, for instance, reduces the time cost of manufacturing, assembly, and procurement for customers. The sale and purchase of products can be achieved through final mechanical assembly. The PCB industry will continue to make progress in similar areas in the future.

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What does SMT stand for in electronics?

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What are SMD components?

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