For any electronics product, printed circuit board (PCB) forms the basic foundation for interconnecting and packaging. PCBs are used to mechanically support and electrically connect electronic components using conductive pathways, tracks or signal traces etched from copper sheets laminated on a non-conductive substrate (source: Wikipedia). PCBs are also referred to as printed wiring boards (PWBs), or etched wiring boards, which have evolved over the years from uncomplicated single- and double-sided plated-through-hole (PTH) to become multi-layered PCBs.
The fortunes of the PCB industry depend on the health of IT, telecom, automobile, electronic gaming and consumer electronics. Due to the rapid growth of the electronics industry worldwide, the global PCB market has witnessed a remarkable growth over the last two decades.
What’s the market like?
Japan and Asia-Pacific collectively contribute a major share to the global PCB market. Amongst Asian countries, India and China are central to the growth of the PCB industry, thanks to the rapid expansion of electronic manufacturing bases. This growth is triggered by the shifting of production activities and facilities of key multinational players in these countries.
The demand from automotive electronics segment drives a positive outlook for the PCB market over the next few years. As electronic components account for a fair portion of the overall value of materials consumed in cars’ production, the stage seems to be well set for robust growth in the PCB market in near future. “Without PCB, we can not expect any electronic circuit. Since a PCB provides physical support as well as interconnections between different electronic components, there exist great opportunities as well as very good growth in this field worldwide,” says Shavinder Singla, deputy engineer in PCB Lab at Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), Mohali.
K. Krithiga, technical lead at CADD Center, adds, “For electricals and electronics engineering (EEE) and electronics communication engineering (EC) students, this is a good field to start their career. What they have studied during their engineering course, they should apply to circuit design and PCB design. Initially, engineering graduates can enter into this field as a circuit designer or a board designer.”
PCB designers are key persons in research and development (R&D), electronics production units as well as in the PCB industry. A PCB designer’s job comes with a lot of responsibilities. “Nowadays it’s not only about making interconnections between electronic components but also understanding the functioning of the circuit. It is often observed that a circuit which functions well when assembled over a bread board may or may not function properly over a poorly designed PCB layout. Depending upon the complexity of the circuit or PCB it may take two to three days for system engineers to locate and rectify the problems,” Singla says.
There can be numerous reasons for such kind of failures; PCB design and fabrication being one of them. “If a PCB is not designed or fabricated as per the circuit requirements, the circuit may not function at all, or function partially. Generally, circuit designers overlook the PCB design/fabrication part so as to reduce the product’s time-to-market or to compensate for the delay. Sometimes PCB designers or fabricators are not allowed to devote sufficient time as intended,” Singla explains.
According to Vikas Kohli, senior architect, Cadence Design Systems India, “New computing, network, and telecommunication products have ine-radicably altered the PCB design landscape. A recent report titled ‘Design Trends and EDA Tool Usage—Asia Pacific,’ highlights consumer electronics, telecom/data communications and industrial control/medical electronics as dominant industries in the region. The PCB design section report shows that over 50 per cent of designs have less than 50 integrated circuits (ICs) on a board. In fact, 20 per cent of designs have less than four ICs on the board. The pin-count of these devices has increased, so has the complexity of the logical interconnects. In this case, a smaller number of larger components means a larger number of design headaches.”
“One design discipline greatly affected by this change is schematic design capture. To keep pace with shrinking market windows in light of all this complexity, designers have to capture designs faster than ever before. And to meet profitability goals they have to design it right the first time,” Kohli adds.