By nature of your role on a team that designs and manufactures printed circuit boards, there’s a lot you need to know about PCB design, from rules of thumb to design for manufacturability to the fabrication process, and more. But how much do you really know about PCBs and how they’re used? Here are a few fun facts and statistics about PCB design that you can use to impress your peers, your seniors, and your design team.
1. They’re Older than You Think. You may already know the name of the man who patented the first printed circuit board. It was Paul Eisler, an Austrian inventor who obtained the patent in 1943, at the height of WWII. But what you may not know is that the PCB’s origins predate Eisler by over 40 years. The first “printed wire” was patented in the early 1900s. Then the idea of creating an electrical path directly on an insulated surface was proposed by Charles Ducas in 1925. Eisler then combined these ideas to make the first working PCBs.
Paul Eisler with the first radio set using a printed circuit chassis and aerial coil. (Photo: Maurice Hubert, Multitech UK)
2. The Design Process Used to be Manual. Before PCB design software was introduced, printed circuit boards were designed using clear Mylar sheets, up to four times bigger than the circuit board itself, on which designers would create a transparent photomask of the proposed design. First they would lay out pin pads, and then add traces using adhesive tape. For common design elements, they would often use rub-on dry transfers, to save time.
(a) Putting a "stick-on" pattern on a PC-board layout; (b) and (c) applying tape for long circuit path and short path distances. (Bishop Graphics, Inc.)
3. Budgeting Begins with Design. For any new product, around 70-80% of production costs come from decisions made during the design phase. This is particularly true of PCBs. Engineers often seem to work in a vacuum. They create their ideal version of a device, but they’re often the last to know when the real world parameters for that device change. So when factors such as material costs or availability lead to material and parts selections that are impractical for the end application, the PCB needs to go back to be redesigned, at significant additional time and cost. It’s important to understand that design requirements at the earliest stages can be malleable. Taking that into consideration, engineers can then communicate more effectively during the design phase with sourcing, quality control, product marketing, and other stakeholders, in order to ensure that the right materials are selected for the given application, and all parts are readily and cheaply available for production. By improving the lines of communication during the design phase, engineers can significantly reduce production costs and speed up time to market.
4. PCBs Are Big Business. You already know that printed circuit boards are part of every aspect of our lives. But just how big is the PCB market? Well, in 1995, a little over 50 years after their introduction, they became a $7.1 billion industry for the first time. Just 5 years later in 2000, they became an over $10 billion industry, and since 2012 have reached over $60 billion worldwide. Not surprising considering that the entire electronic world runs on them!
5. Most Popular PCB Design Software. It should come as no surprise that Altium products consistently end up on expert lists of the most popular PCB design products currently on the market. Some of the other software platforms that generally make those lists include EAGLE and OrCAD.
6. The Future of PCB Design. As much as we can’t live without PCBs, some of the materials used in them aren’t necessarily the most environmentally friendly. If not used properly and disposed of safely, the chemicals used for etching can pollute the local water supply. The PCBs themselves end up in landfills when the devices they’re in are discarded. And considering how often the average consumer replaces their electronics, this leaves a lot of PCBs sitting around. They don’t decompose, either, and can pollute the soil around them. So what’s the solution? Well, scientists are currently developing biodegradable PCBs that would break down after they’re discarded, rather than taking up space and harming the environment.
These are just a few behind the scenes facts and statistics about the world of PCB design. The more you know about the industry, its history, and its future, the better equipped you’ll be to make the best choices, select the best parts, and design the best circuit boards in the present! What are some fun facts and stats that you know about PCB design? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author
David currently serves as a Sr. Technical Marketing Engineer at Altium and is responsible for managing the development of technical marketing materials for all Altium products. He also works closely with our marketing, sales, and customer support teams to define product strategies including branding, positioning, and messaging. David brings over 15 years of experience in the EDA industry to our team, and he holds an MBA from Colorado State University and a B.S. in Electronics Engineering from Devry Technical Institute.More Content by David Marrakchi