Redefining Customer Service
Customer Support | Phone: 717-558-5975

Guide to Printed Circuit Boards

With nicknames like “the fourth Industrial Revolution” or “the infrastructure of the information society,” the Internet of Things, or IoT, has grown into the most significant movement since the birth of the dot-com. The effects of the IoT have become deeply woven into the framework of technology and daily life.

What many consumers may not realize is Internet of Things PCBs are at the forefront of the IoT infiltration into everyday tech and that, likewise, the IoT is playing an integral role in a shift in PCB design and manufacture. As the demand for more IoT devices rises, understanding the interconnections between IoT and Flex and HDI PCBs is increasingly crucial for PCB designers.

What Is IoT?

The Internet of Things is the crossover between the physical and the digital world brought forth by the creation of devices other than PCs that connect to IP networks. Smartphones might be the most prominent example of IoT, but more recently, the development of apps for controlling home appliances and utilities or the introduction of wearable tech and vehicles with data accessibility are proving the potential of IoT is limitless.

Consumer electronics may be the first innovations that come to mind, but the manufacturing, transportation and healthcare industries top even personal cars and electronics in their command of the IoT revolution. As such, these large-scale industries require innovative PCB design that offers flexibility and high-speed connectivity to streamline processes on a global scale.

PCB Applications Driven by IoT

 PCB enabling electronic devices

PCBs are at the center of enabling electronic devices to offer IoT capabilities found in smart home applications or mobile screens in car dashboards, but IoT is also influencing PCB design and applications to meet rising demand for new methods of using the internet, including:

  • Sensors and cameras in automobiles and home utilities to offer higher levels of efficiency, convenience and security.
  • Fitness trackers whose data can be analyzed remotely.
  • Hue-changing lightbulbs that create custom moods for different rooms, manageable from tablets or even smaller smart devices.
  • Grid layouts in shopping centers or amusement parks that monitor consumer routes to provide customized sale opportunities for both retailers and customers.

PCBs enable nearly every new idea to be made possible, whether it’s monitoring train arrival times and maintenance needs to create reliable transportation schedules or tracking real-time traffic over satellite for optimized personal GPS navigating through car dashboards. In medical devices and wearables, without the changes in PCB form design that offer flexibility to fit any shape or high density to fill small spaces with high-power capabilities, IoT would not nearly be as attainable as it is today, nor would the future of it be as promising.

The IoT Opportunity for Flex and HDI PCBs

Gone are the days when the shape and size of the computer depended on the structure of its necessary inner components. Now, the industry is all about creating an optimal IoT product that functions the same way no matter what form it takes. It has become crucial to reimagine internal circuitry to reflect this change in methodology.

 functionality and sustainability of new form aspects

For the functionality and sustainability of new form aspects, printed electronics lead the way in making sophisticated manufacturing possible. Flex PCBs and high-density interconnect (HDI) PCBs provide the design freedom, cater to high-power demands in increasingly tightening circuit board spaces, are suitable for harsh environments and constant device stress, and offer high copper tensile strength.

Flex Printed Circuit Boards and IoT Advantages

Introducing flex PCBs dramatically reduces design limitations you might find with more rigid, traditional PCBs. Not only does a flexible board structure make way for revolutionizing the forms and shapes our electronics can take but also costs and errors can be reduced, thanks to the beneficial features of flex PCBs. Some of the best attributes of flex PCBs that make them suitable for IoT-focused designs include:

  • Smaller size: The bulk of rigid PCBs limits design freedoms but also tends to require more space within the product. By occupying a reduced volume, flex PCBs allow components like microphones, satellites and batteries to all fit in a small package without disrupting performance capabilities. Thin parts also permit flex PCBs to support denser circuitry.
  • Lighter weight: With the lower space occupancy also comes weight savings of up to 95 percent. The option for lightweight internal components makes IoT devices much more versatile for all sorts of uses and environments, such as delicate surgical equipment or wearable hearing aids.
  • Greater resistance: Flex PCB materials offer an improved level of durability, increasing their resistance to stress caused by impacts or vibrations. In industrial settings where the use of IoT PCBs is expanding, flex PCBs can stand up to harsher conditions. Similarly, with devices like fitness trackers, flex PCBs can resist errors caused by regular movement, body heat or humidity.
  • Clearer wiring routes: Flex PCBs simplify wiring methods with their elimination of mechanical connectors. When imagining, for example, how the complexity of mechanics underneath the hood of a car can be improved for IoT functions, this simplified wiring becomes a valuable asset.

The flexible materials flex PCBs use as circuit connectors open up a world of possibilities for mobile devices and movable parts, making them an incredible tool for a wide range of IoT endeavors. If flexible printed circuit board novelties are on the horizon for you and your company, make sure to contact MCL for answers about the best flexible PCB materials for your industry and manufacturing quotes.

To accommodate smaller spaces made possible by flex PCBs, HDI PCBs are here to offer the highest board density for optimal circuit performance.

High-Density Interconnect PCBs and IoT Benefits

As a frontrunner for the small-packaged designs we see in personal electronics today, high-density interconnect (HDI) PCBs are an indispensable tool. Designers and manufacturers alike need to consider the benefits of these boards, including their speed and reliability, when facing the big picture of the IoT head-on. Some of the most optimal aspects of HDI PCBs in light of IoT include:

  • Reduced size and weight. HDI PCBs are known for their dense component placement. They are characterized by tinier trace widths and superior wiring density, thanks to stacked microvias and other features that help save board space. Smaller boards mean a greater number of uses, making them ideal for use with the ever-changing strategies of the IoT.
  • Cleaner circuit route. HDI boards grant versatile routing options thanks to blind or buried vias and microvias that smooth dense parts of the circuit. Additionally, designers can replace through-holes with microvias, which, along with the shorter distances between components, improves signal integrity. Top performance in small spaces makes HDI PCBs crucial for IoT optimization.
  • Improved cost-effectiveness. Higher energy-efficiency and a reduced need for layering lead to a product that is more cost-effective to both implement and produce. The smaller size also permits the use of fewer materials to create a functional board.

The most frequent use for HDI boards involved the benefit of their miniature size advantages and the reliability they offer for creating smart IoT devices. The density of their circuits can mean you will want to only trust a highly experienced supplier with your HDI PCBs because of the need for extra-delicate care in their manufacture.

Whatever your use for high-density interconnect PCBs may be, you can learn more about MCL’s quick quote services to find the printed circuit boards to suit your needs.

IoT Potential of Combining Flex and HDI Methods

Industry leaders focus on combining flex and HDI strategies to create the most efficient and appealing designs. Some of the benefits of these methods include high copper tensile strength, the creation of electronics that are suitable for harsh environments, improved signal quality and a reduction of thermal stress.

IoT allows for circuit boards in smaller spaces

IoT requires the ability to adapt smaller devices to various uses, so the size freedom of both flex and HDI PCBs is essential. In configuring the best PCB for your next IoT design, remember to brush up on the range of IoT PCB design requirements to ensure the best performance.

PCB Design Requirements for the Internet of Things

IoT forces designers to ask questions they’ve never before had to face. Rather than thinking about how consumers interact with electronics, it’s becoming more and more standard to evaluate how they interact with traditionally tech-less items. In this way, the approaches to PCB design are changing, and with increasing demand for household products to become IoT devices, the importance to minimize reliability and assembly errors is more critical than ever.

The Changes in the IoT PCB Design Process

The process of creating IoT-optimized products begins with evaluating new form possibilities and from there transitioning into the phases of choosing PCB materials and layouts. Throughout the product design flow, the requirements for assembly into a completed product need to be considered.

One of the most industry-rattling aspects of IoT is the crossover between the mechanical and the electronic, between the product itself and its PCB form. Collaboration between PCB designers, mechanical designers and electrical engineers throughout the entire design process is becoming a much more relevant topic, drifting from previous assembly line-emulating procedures.

IoT PCB Design Tips and Recommendations

When designing a PCB ideal for IoT, you will find a few key design areas to pay special close attention to. Here are some of these areas along with tips on making your PCB as flawless as possible for IoT use:

  • Size requirements. Small devices are only getting smaller. PCB designers no longer have extra board layout space in their strategic placement of tracks, vias and components. Now, proper functionality and flexibility in tiny areas are only made possible through HDI and rigid-flex boards. And with these smaller forms, it is more crucial than ever to make sure all IoT product designers are on the same page from the very beginning of the design stage.
  • Product fitting. In addition to the size of your PCB, you’ll want to do enough virtual prototyping to make sure you can easily incorporate the shape of your design into the IoT form it’s intended for. Circuits in IoT often will need to fit around non-traditional materials for best functionality, and you may find yourself opting for a mesh or plastic component in your designs that you did not expect.
  • Adapting for the human body. Another set of qualities that will require thorough simulation tests to optimize are the mechanics that may be affected by human body temperature, moisture and constant movement. Naturally, this is only if the intended final IoT product is wearable or comes in contact with human skin. Pay close attention to thermal effects and aim for a design that will enable sufficient cooling when necessary.
  • Power consumption. IoT requires a focus on extended battery life and power integrity wherever possible, as these devices are in constant communication with their networks. Energy usage needs to be kept to a strict budget within the individual circuit blocks on your PCB to help the product as a whole remain in a suitable range of power consumption. The key is to plan power consumption precisely and follow up your plans with thorough testing of the various task cycles of your PCB, including sending and standby power states.

Circuit Boards Energy Consumption

  • Reliability standards. Industry norms for the trustworthiness of electronic devices are consistently advancing. Flexible circuit boards, for example, have various “dos and don’ts” associated with ensuring they are reliable enough not to crack in the midst of changing stresses and environments. Consumers want to make sure their devices are operational and will stay accurate over long periods of time. With the pressure designers feel to create products that withstand a myriad of potential conditions, many turn to simulation software to test out their designs.
  • Wireless connectivity. The internet is in the name of IoT, and being able to access it is a core requirement for any IoT PCB. Collecting and sending data about surroundings will require installing the right wireless modules and RF circuit components. To choose the right parts, you’ll want to remember to keep power consumption, network range and speeds, and any security needs in mind.

With proper communication with other designers of the product and careful testing, you may spend a lot of time in the trenches before finalizing your design. However, with the high demands for IoT and their essential functions, you won’t regret ensuring your PCBs’ durability and reliability in various changing circumstances.

The Future of PCB Design for the IoT

There are questions about whether PCB design for IoT will become more individualized or more standardized with the growth and expansion of the industry. While every IoT device has its unique characteristics, there are common requirements that hint at perhaps a higher trend toward mixing and matching many of the same design protocols over and over again.

IoT offers the PCB industry a myriad of new challenges and endeavors, and right now we are only seeing the beginning of how the two will continue to interact, blurring lines between electrical and mechanical, and creating even smaller high-performing minicomputers over time. Demand is predicted to continue to rise, and these devices may lead us into an indefinite future of tech-filled power and innovation.

Be an Industry Leader With MCL

At Millennium Circuits Limited, we strive to print the best PCB every time and help our customers reach their potential. From extending the reach of IoT by providing top-quality flex PCBs to offering highest performance with our HDI boards, you can always trust that we put our best foot forward for you.

Trust our customer service team to provide industry-leading options to help you soar above competitors, surpass expectations and do it all by meeting your budget. Contact us today to get started on your next IoT-optimized project.

PCB Glossary

  • Resist

    Coating material used to mask or to protect selected areas of a pattern from the action of an etchant, solder, or plating. Also called soldermask or mask.