Although most people may have heard the term “printed circuit board,” many people do not know what they are, how they are used or why they are so important. These are the most basic facts to know.
What Are PCBs?
Used in most electronic products, PCBs provide support and connect the often-tiny electronic components that power or run electronic products/devices; in essence, they create electronic circuits. Some of the most basic components found on PCBs include:
- Capacitors (store energy)
- Resistors (protect devices from excessive energy flows)
- Integrated circuits
- Diodes (make sure energy flows in one direction only)
- CHIP Holders
How PCBs have been made has included hand-created designs but, most recently, they involve computer-developed models (which allow for on-screen testing before the use of actual components). Models have included copper tracked plastic with glass reinforcement; the tracks replace wiring and connect components through the use of holes on the board. The board, in essence, provides a map for the placement of electronic components atop the board.
You may also run into terms like printed wiring board (PWB), a board with no electronic components but, rather, just copper connections. If electronic components are added, the terms printed circuit assembly (PCA) or PCB assembly (PCBA) are sometimes used. You may even see circuit card assembly (CCA) for completed boards. The important thing to remember is that PCB is used interchangeably and is accurate to use in most cases.
How PCB Technology is changing
Although PCBs may still be created using time-consuming, error-prone tools like breadboards, most PCBs today are created/tested using computer software like Crocodile Technology (Yenka Electronics). This process allows circuits to be tested both to look for operational errors and to cut down on the use of materials and time.
PCBs may be considered the heart of electronic devices and their parts must function exactly as diagrammed or expected. If one component malfunctions, the whole circuitry may be affected and, ultimately, the whole device powered/directed by the PCB. Because of its reliability, most PCB designs, production, and function are computer directed.