What is a Printed Circuit Board Prototype?

Prototype pcbs

Not to be confused or mistaken for printed electronics, prototype printed circuit boards mechanically support and connect electric components using conductive tracks and other features etched onto a copper sheet of non-conductive substrate. These components which include capacitors, resistors, and other active devices, are all connected via soldering.

A capacitor, known to some as a condenser, is an electrical component that is generally used to store electrical energy in the electrical field. Whereas a resistor implements electrical resistance in circuit elements and are used to reduce current flow and lower the circuit’s voltage levels.

There are two methods used for prototype pcb fabrication, surface mount assembly and through hole construction. Through hole construction is the older practice, and it is when an engineer manually mounts electrical components through holes drilled on either side of the board. These leads are then soldered to the copper on the opposite side.

Surface mount technology came to popular use in the 1990s, and it is when components became mechanically redesigned to have small metal end caps that allow for the leads to be soldered directly onto the board itself. This style allows for smaller prototype printed circuit board assembly along with increased density of the circuits.

One can choose from multiple techniques to solder components onto the pcb. Usually if you are creating a high volume of circuit boards, you would use surface mount technology and bulk wave soldering or possibly even reflow ovens. But if there is no rush, high skilled technicians can manually solder incredibly tiny parts, for example 0201 packages which are 0.02 inches by 0.01 inches.

Typically, FR-4 glass epoxy is the insulating substrate engineers use to produce the majority of rigid PCBs. This is where a thin layer of copper is laminated onto one of both sides of the FR-4 panel, and then circuitry interconnections are etched on top to make the printed circuit boards. But this is only for simple circuits, as more complex circuits are produced in multiple layers.

If you are a technology aficionado, it would be a good idea to get involved in the prototype printed circuit board market due to its rising popularity. In 2012, the world market for PCBs reached $60 billion alone, boasting 1.7% real growth over 2011. Just imagine how much it has grown since then!

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