(Printed circuit board)Electronic circuit boardA printed circuit board, or PCB, is used to mechanically support and electrically connect electronic components using conductive pathways, tracks or signal traces etched from copper sheets laminated onto a non-conductive substrate. It is also referred to as printed wiring board (PWB) or etched wiring board. A PCB populated with electronic components is a printed circuit assembly (PCA), also known as a printed circuit board assembly (PCBA).
PCBs are inexpensive, and can be highly reliable. They require much more layout effort and higher initial cost than either wire-wrapped or point-to-point constructed circuits, but are much cheaper and faster for high-volume production. Much of the electronics industry's PCB design, assembly, and quality control needs are set by standards that are published by the IPC organization.
HistoryThe inventor of the printed circuit was the Austrian engineer Paul Eisler (1907–1995) who, while working in England, made one circa 1936 as part of a radio set. Around 1943 the USA began to use the technology on a large scale to make rugged radios for use in World War II. After the war, in 1948, the USA released the invention for commercial use. Printed circuits did not become commonplace in consumer electronics until the mid-1950s, after the Auto-Sembly process was developed by the United States Army.
Before printed circuits (and for a while after their invention), point-to-point construction was used. For prototypes, or small production runs, wire wrap or turret board can be more efficient. Predating the printed circuit invention, and similar in spirit, was John Sargrove's 1936-1947 Electronic Circuit Making Equipment (ECME) which sprayed metal onto a Bakelite plastic board. The ECME could produce 3 radios per minute.
During World War II, the development of the anti-aircraft proximity fuse required an electronic circuit that could withstand being fired from a gun, and could be produced in quantity. The Centralab Division of Globe Union submitted a proposal which met the requirements: a ceramic plate would be screenprinted with metallic paint for conductors and carbon material for resistors, with ceramic disc capacitors and subminiature vacuum tubes soldered in place.
Originally, every electronic component had wire leads, and the PCB had holes drilled for each wire of each component. The components' leads were then passed through the holes and soldered to the PCB trace. This method of assembly is called through-hole construction. In 1949, Moe Abramson and Stanislaus F. Danko of the United States Army Signal Corps developed the Auto-Sembly process in which component leads were inserted into a copper foil interconnection pattern and dip soldered. With the development of board lamination and etching techniques, this concept evolved into the standard printed circuit board fabrication process in use today. Soldering could be done automatically by passing the board over a ripple, or wave, of molten solder in a wave-soldering machine. However, the wires and holes are wasteful since drilling holes is expensive and the protruding wires are merely cut off.
In recent years, the use of surface mount parts has gained popularity as the demand for smaller electronics packaging and greater functionality has grown.
MaterialsConducting layers are typically made of thin copper foil. Insulating layers dielectric are typically laminated together with epoxy resin prepreg. The board is typically coated with a solder mask that is green in color. Other colors that are normally available are blue and red. There are quite a few different dielectrics that can be chosen to provide different insulating values depending on the requirements of the circuit. Some of these dielectrics are polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon), FR-4, FR-1, CEM-1 or CEM-3. Well known prepreg materials used in the PCB industry are FR-2 (Phenolic cotton paper), FR-3 (Cotton paper and epoxy), FR-4 (Woven glass and epoxy), FR-5 (Woven glass and epoxy), FR-6 (Matte glass and polyester), G-10 (Woven glass and epoxy), CEM-1 (Cotton paper and epoxy), CEM-2 (Cotton paper and epoxy), CEM-3 (Woven glass and epoxy), CEM-4 (Woven glass and epoxy), CEM-5 (Woven glass and polyester). Thermal expansion is an important consideration especially with BGA and naked die technologies, and glass fiber offers the best dimensional stability.
In the US, copper foil thickness is specified in units of ounces per square foot (oz/ft2). One ounce copper foil has a weight of one oz/ft2. This works out to a thickness of 0.001344" (1.344 mils) or 0.0341mm. Some PCB manufacturers refer to one ounce copper foil as having a thickness of 35μm (or simply 35μ) or sometimes 35 micron (or microns or mic.). Two ounce would be 70μ and half ounce would be 17.5μ or thereabouts.
Typical density of a raw PCB (an average amount of traces, holes, and vias, with no components) is 2.15g / cm3.
Patterning (etching)The vast majority of printed circuit boards are made by bonding a layer of copper over the entire substrate, sometimes on both sides, (creating a "blank PCB") then removing unwanted copper after applying a temporary mask (e.g. by etching), leaving only the desired copper traces. A few PCBs are made by adding traces to the bare substrate (or a substrate with a very thin layer of copper) usually by a complex process of multiple electroplating steps. The PCB manufacturing method primarily depends on whether it is for production volume or sample/prototype quantities.
Commercial (production quantities, usually PTH)
- silk screen printing -the main commercial method.
- Photographic methods. Used when fine linewidths are required.
Hobbyist/prototype (small quantities, usually not PTH)
- Laser-printed resist: Laser-print onto paper (or wax paper), heat-transfer with a household clothes iron onto bare laminate, then etch.
- Print onto transparent film and use as photomask along with photo-sensitized boards. (i.e. pre-sensitized boards), Then etch. (Alternatively, use a film photoplotter).
- Laser resist ablation: Spray black paint onto copper clad laminate, place into CNC laser plotter. The laser raster-scans the PCB and ablates (vaporizes) the paint where no resist is wanted. Etch. (Note: laser copper ablation is rarely used and is considered experimental.)
- Use a CNC-mill with a spade-shaped (i.e. 45-degree) cutter or miniature end-mill to route away the undesired copper, leaving only the traces.
- Silk screen printing uses etch-resistant inks to protect the copper foil. Subsequent etching removes the unwanted copper. Alternatively, the ink may be conductive, printed on a blank (non-conductive) board. The latter technique is also used in the manufacture of hybrid circuits.
- Photoengraving uses a photomask and chemical etching to remove the copper foil from the substrate. The photomask is usually prepared with a photoplotter from data produced by a technician using CAM, or computer-aided manufacturing software. Laser-printed transparencies are typically employed for phototools; however, direct laser imaging techniques are being employed to replace phototools for high-resolution requirements.
- PCB milling uses a two or three-axis mechanical milling system to mill away the copper foil from the substrate. A PCB milling machine (referred to as a 'PCB Prototyper') operates in a similar way to a plotter, receiving commands from the host software that control the position of the milling head in the x, y, and (if relevant) z axis. Data to drive the Prototyper is extracted from files generated in PCB design software and stored in HPGL or Gerber file format.
The additive process is commonly used for multi-layer boards as it facilitates the plating-through of the holes (to produce conductive vias) in the circuit board.
EtchingChemical etching is done with ferric chloride, ammonium persulfate, or sometimes hydrochloric acid. For PTH (plated-through holes), additional steps of electroless deposition are done after the holes are drilled, then copper is electroplated to build up the thickness, the boards are screened, and plated with tin/lead. The tin/lead becomes the resist leaving the bare copper to be etched away.
LaminationSome PCBs have trace layers inside the PCB and are called multi-layer PCBs. These are formed by bonding together separately etched thin boards.
DrillingHoles through a PCB are typically drilled with tiny drill bits made of solid tungsten carbide. The drilling is performed by automated drilling machines with placement controlled by a drill tape or drill file. These computer-generated files are also called numerically controlled drill (NCD) files or "Excellon files". The drill file describes the location and size of each drilled hole. These holes are often filled with annular rings (hollow rivets) to create vias. Vias allow the electrical and thermal connection of conductors on opposite sides of the PCB.
Most common laminate is epoxy filled fiberglass. Drill bit wear is partly due to embedded glass, which is harder than steel. High drill speed necessary for cost effective drilling of hundreds of holes per board causes very high temperatures at the drill bit tip, and high temperatures (400-700 degrees) soften steel and decompose (oxidize) laminate filler. Copper is softer than epoxy and interior conductors may suffer damage during drilling.
When very small vias are required, drilling with mechanical bits is costly because of high rates of wear and breakage. In this case, the vias may be evaporated by lasers. Laser-drilled vias typically have an inferior surface finish inside the hole. These holes are called micro vias.
It is also possible with controlled-depth drilling, laser drilling, or by pre-drilling the individual sheets of the PCB before lamination, to produce holes that connect only some of the copper layers, rather than passing through the entire board. These holes are called blind vias when they connect an internal copper layer to an outer layer, or buried vias when they connect two or more internal copper layers and no outer layers.
The walls of the holes, for boards with 2 or more layers, are made conductive then plated with copper to form plated-through holes that electrically connect the conducting layers of the PCB. For multilayer boards, those with 4 layers or more, drilling typically produces a smear of the high temperature decomposition products of bonding agent in the laminate system. Before the holes can be plated through, this smear must be removed by a chemical de-smear process, or by plasma-etch. Removing (etching back) the smear also reveals the interior conductors as well.
Exposed conductor plating and coatingPCBs are plated with solder, tin, or gold over nickel as a resist for etching away the unneeded underlying copper. Matte solder is usually fused to provide a better bonding surface or stripped to bare copper. Treatments, such as benzimidazolethiol, prevent surface oxidation of bare copper. The places to which components will be mounted are typically plated, because untreated bare copper oxidizes quickly, and therefore is not readily solderable. Traditionally, any exposed copper was coated with solder by hot air solder levelling (HASL). This solder was a tin-lead alloy, however new solder compounds are now used to achieve compliance with the RoHS directive in the EU and US, which restricts the use of lead. One of these lead-free compounds is SN100CL, made up of 99.3% tin, 0.7% copper, 0.05% nickel, and a nominal of 60ppm germanium.
It is important to use solder compatible with both the PCB and the parts used. An example is Ball Grid Array (BGA) using tin-lead solder balls for connections losing their balls on bare copper traces or using lead-free solder paste.
Other platings used are OSP (organic surface protectant), immersion silver (IAg), immersion tin, electroless nickel with immersion gold coating (ENIG), and direct gold (over nickel). Edge connectors, placed along one edge of some boards, are often nickel plated then gold plated. Another coating consideration is rapid diffusion of coating metal into Tin solder. Tin forms intermetallics such as Cu5Sn6 and Ag3Cu that dissolve into the Tin liquidus or solidus(@50C), stripping surface coating and/or leaving voids.
Electrochemical migration (ECM) is the growth of conductive metal filaments on or in a printed circuit board (PCB) under the influence of a DC voltage bias. Silver, zinc, and aluminum are known to grow whiskers under the influence of an electric field. Silver also grows conducting surface paths in the presence of halide and other ions, making it a poor choice for electronics use. Tin will grow "whiskers" due to tension in the plated surface. Tin-Lead or Solder plating also grows whiskers, only reduced by the percentage Tin replaced. Reflow to melt solder or tin plate to relieve surface stress lowers whisker incidence. Another coating issue is tin pest, the transformation of tin to a powdery allotrope at low temperature.
Solder resistAreas that should not be soldered may be covered with a polymer solder resist (solder mask) coating. The solder resist prevents solder from bridging between conductors and creating short circuits. Solder resist also provides some protection from the environment. Solder resist is typically 20-30 microns thick.
Screen printingLine art and text may be printed onto the outer surfaces of a PCB by screen printing. When space permits, the screen print text can indicate component designators, switch setting requirements, test points, and other features helpful in assembling, testing, and servicing the circuit board.
Screen print is also known as the silk screen, or, in one sided PCBs, the red print.
Lately some digital printing solutions have been developed to substitute the traditional screen printing process. This technology allows printing variable data onto the PCB, including serialization and barcode information for traceability purposes.
TestUnpopulated boards may be subjected to a bare-board test where each circuit connection (as defined in a netlist) is verified as correct on the finished board. For high-volume production, a Bed of nails tester, a fixture or a Rigid needle adapter is used to make contact with copper lands or holes on one or both sides of the board to facilitate testing. A computer will instruct the electrical test unit to apply a small voltage to each contact point on the bed-of-nails as required, and verify that such voltage appears at other appropriate contact points. A "short" on a board would be a connection where there should not be one; an "open" is between two points that should be connected but are not. For small- or medium-volume boards, flying probe and flying-grid testers use moving test heads to make contact with the copper/silver/gold/solder lands or holes to verify the electrical connectivity of the board under test.
Printed circuit assemblyAfter the printed circuit board (PCB) is completed, electronic components must be attached to form a functional printed circuit assembly, or PCA (sometimes called a "printed circuit board assembly" PCBA). In through-hole construction, component leads are inserted in holes. In surface-mount construction, the components are placed on pads or lands on the outer surfaces of the PCB. In both kinds of construction, component leads are electrically and mechanically fixed to the board with a molten metal solder.
There are a variety of soldering techniques used to attach components to a PCB. High volume production is usually done with machine placement and bulk wave soldering or reflow ovens, but skilled technicians are able to solder very tiny parts (for instance 0201 packages which are 0.02 in. by 0.01 in.) by hand under a microscope, using tweezers and a fine tip soldering iron for small volume prototypes. Some parts are impossible to solder by hand, such as ball grid array (BGA) packages.
Often, through-hole and surface-mount construction must be combined in a single assembly because some required components are available only in surface-mount packages, while others are available only in through-hole packages. Another reason to use both methods is that through-hole mounting can provide needed strength for components likely to endure physical stress, while components that are expected to go untouched will take up less space using surface-mount techniques.
After the board has been populated it may be tested in a variety of ways:
- While the power is off, visual inspection, automated optical inspection. JEDEC guidelines for PCB component placement, soldering, and inspection are commonly used to maintain quality control in this stage of PCB manufacturing.
- While the power is on, in-circuit test, where physical measurements (i.e. voltage, frequency) can be done.
- While the power is on, functional test, just checking if the PCB does what it had been designed for.
In boundary scan testing, test circuits integrated into various ICs on the board form temporary connections between the PCB traces to test that the ICs are mounted correctly. Boundary scan testing requires that all the ICs to be tested use a standard test configuration procedure, the most common one being the Joint Test Action Group (JTAG) standard.
When boards fail the test, technicians may desolder and replace failed components, a task known as rework.
Protection and packagingPCBs intended for extreme environments often have a conformal coating, which is applied by dipping or spraying after the components have been soldered. The coat prevents corrosion and leakage currents or shorting due to condensation. The earliest conformal coats were wax; modern conformal coats are usually dips of dilute solutions of silicone rubber, polyurethane, acrylic, or epoxy. Another technique for applying a conformal coating is for plastic to be sputtered onto the PCB in a vacuum chamber. The chief disadvantage of conformal coatings is that servicing of the board is rendered extremely difficult.
Many assembled PCBs are static sensitive, and therefore must be placed in antistatic bags during transport. When handling these boards, the user must be grounded (earthed). Improper handling techniques might transmit an accumulated static charge through the board, damaging or destroying components. Even bare boards are sometimes static sensitive. Traces have become so fine that it's quite possible to blow an etch off the board (or change its characteristics) with a static charge. This is especially true on non-traditional PCBs such as MCMs and microwave PCBs.
- Schematic capture or schematic entry is done through an EDA tool.
- Card dimensions and template are decided based on required circuitry and case of the PCB. Determine the fixed components and heat sinks if required.
- Deciding stack layers of the PCB. 4 to 12 layers or more depending on design complexity. Ground plane and Power plane are decided. Signal planes where signals are routed are in top layer as well as internal layers.
- Line impedance determination using dielectric layer thickness, routing copper thickness and trace-width. Trace separation also taken into account in case of differential signals. Microstrip, stripline or dual stripline can be used to route signals.
- Placement of the components. Thermal considerations and geometry are taken into account. Vias and lands are marked.
- Routing the signal trace. For optimal EMI performance high frequency signals are routed in internal layers between power or ground planes as power plane behaves as ground for AC.
- Gerber File generation for manufacturing.
Safety certification (US)Safety Standard UL 796 covers component safety requirements for printed wiring boards for use as components in devices or appliances. Testing analyzes characteristics such as flammability, maximum operating temperature, electrical tracking, heat deflection, and direct support of live electrical parts.
The boards may use organic or inorganic base materials in a single or multilayer, rigid or flexible form. Circuitry construction may include etched, die stamped, precut, flush press, additive, and plated conductor techniques. Printed-component parts may be used.
The suitability of the pattern parameters, temperature and maximum solder limits shall be determined in accordance with the applicable end-product construction and requirements.
"Cordwood" constructionwire-ended components in applications where space was at a premium (such as missile guidance and telemetry systems) and in high-speed computers, where short traces were important. In "cordwood" construction, axial-leaded components were mounted between two parallel planes. The components were either soldered together with jumper wire, or they were connected to other components by thin nickel ribbon welded at right angles onto the component leads. To avoid shorting together different interconnection layers, thin insulating cards were placed between them. Perforations or holes in the cards allowed component leads to project through to the next interconnection layer. One disadvantage of this system was that special nickel leaded components had to be used to allow the interconnecting welds to be made. Some versions of cordwood construction used single sided PCBs as the interconnection method (as pictured). This meant that normal leaded components could be used. Another disadvantage of this system is that components located in the interior are difficult to replace.
Before the advent of integrated circuits, this method allowed the highest possible component packing density; because of this, it was used by a number of computer vendors including Control Data Corporation. The cordwood method of construction now appears to have fallen into disuse, probably because high packing densities can be more easily achieved using surface mount techniques and integrated circuits.
Multiwire boardsMultiwire is a patented technique of interconnection which uses machine-routed insulated wires embedded in a non-conducting matrix (often plastic resin). It was used during the 1980s and 1990s. (Kollmorgen Technologies Corp., U.S. Patent 4,175,816) Multiwire is still available in 2010 through Hitachi. There are other competitive discrete wiring technologies that have been developed (Jumatech ).
Since it was quite easy to stack interconnections (wires) inside the embedding matrix, the approach allowed designers to forget completely about the routing of wires (usually a time-consuming operation of PCB design): Anywhere the designer needs a connection, the machine will draw a wire in straight line from one location/pin to another. This led to very short design times (no complex algorithms to use even for high density designs) as well as reduced crosstalk (which is worse when wires run parallel to each other—which almost never happens in Multiwire), though the cost is too high to compete with cheaper PCB technologies when large quantities are needed.