Printed Circuit Boards for Beginners

Right now you’re probably sitting in front of a machine called a personal computer. You certainly know how to operate this machine and make it perform a variety of functions. If it breaks down, you may even be able to troubleshoot the problem and make a few repairs. But what else do you know about your computer? Do you know how it works?

If you’re like most people, you have no idea how the machine you spend a huge amount of time working with, works at all. The same holds true for your cell phone, or television. Did you know that printed circuit boards (PCB) are the technological bricks and mortar holding together much of the technology we rely on every day?

PCBs are those flat, green pieces with lots of metal lines on them that are found on the inside of a computer or phone. Usually constructed from fiberglass or ceramics, they are used to provide a foundation for, and conductive pathways through an electronic product.

In layman’s terms, all the components in your cell phone need to be both physically and electronically connected to each other. Those metal lines on the green board are conductive pathways, usually copper, which are placed on the board via a process very similar to silk screening.

Because electronic components can’t just be stuffed into the phone, they need a solid foundation on which to sit, and that’s where the PCB comes in. The PCB is a strong base for all the parts and conductive pathways connecting them to sit.

While the earliest PCBs were used in radios in the late 1930’s, they truly came of age during World War 2 when they were used in the fuses of anti aircraft shells. After the war, this technology was released back into the civilian world where their low cost and high strength made them very attractive for use in consumer electronics.

PCB manufacturing is an ever evolving process, but most recent innovations have come in the way that components are placed on the boards themselves. New surface mounting techniques allow circuits to be placed on the boards, rather than being placed into holes on the boards. The elimination of drilling makes for huge savings in the manufacturing process.

Of course these are just the bare facts about PCBs, but now you know a little more about the technology that makes up the fabric of modern life.

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