Ubiquitous Internet of Things Devices Will Mean More Work in the PCB Design Industry

Created: April 14, 2017
Updated: July 27, 2021

What do iPhones and iRobot have in common? Come on, the ‘i’ is too obvious. They both involve us surrounding ourselves with computers. While I think the future will certainly involve lots of computers, I doubt most of them will be quite as nice and shiny. They also hopefully won’t try to kill us.

The ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT) is giving birth to a world where everything will have a computer inside of it. In a world full of PCBs, the PCB will be queen, a very busy queen. The modern PCB design engineer will have to design a world full of PCBs, ubiquitously meaning standardize and diversify designs, and employ new design techniques to cut manufacturing costs.

IoT Pattern

In order to make this a reality, you’ll have to put in a lot more hours

A World of PCBs

The Internet of Things wants to put a microcomputer and sensors in everything, from forks to trashcans. This might make you want to throw both ideas into a theoretical dumpster, but the dumpster might already be filled up with terrible IoT pattern ideas. Regardless of what you think about the actual products, the market for IoT devices is exploding. Every device will need a PCB, and each PCB will need a device.

I hope you enjoy your job, we’re going to need you to do it for a while. A 2016 report estimates there will be 34 billion connected devices by 2020, compared to 10 million in 2015. That means in the next 3 years, tens of billions of devices will be manufactured, each with a PCB. For this to become an ubiquitously meaning standardized and diversified designs reality, we expect there to be a massive increase in demand for PCB designers. Adding in the time that will be invested into increasing design complexity into the equation, you might have to clock some overtime.

IoT with symbols on a dinner plate

Just imagine, you could be eating dinner with the Internet of Things

IoT PCB Standardization and Diversification

Not only will all these devices need PCBs, but these boards will need to be standardized. Standardizing IoT PCBs will reduce workload, ensure quality, and retain sanity. You will also have to be ready to diversify your designs to catch all those IoT devices with strict requirements.

Now, I’ve never met an engineer who liked standards, aside from those who enforced them. You want to do your design your way, but without standardization, your life could become a living hell. If it’s already a living hell, it will become a hotter hell. IoT device manufacturers are going to be knocking down your door for PCB designs.

Remember, another 34 billion devices by 2020. You will need a good set of standards to help you design efficiently and effectively. Developing industry standards will be a headache. That headache will be nothing compared to the migraine of developing hundreds of unique PCBs that could have been amalgamated into a few standard designs.

Most IoT devices use similar functions and can be served with a modular PCB design. It will be up to you and your colleagues to develop these modular designs and standardize them.

The other side of the standardization coin is diversity. While many IoT PCBs can be streamlined to fit a wide variety of applications, there will still be some outliers. Watch-type devices, for example, have very specific form factors and flex requirements.

Each watch manufacturer will want their PCB to match their exact watch face. Specific form factors mean it will be difficult to reuse designs, even in a category as narrow as watches. Even as you work to standardize IoT PCBs, you will still need to be ready to diversify your designs.

Robot gesturing to stop

Please don’t design this yet, the world isn’t ready

How Much Will It All Cost?

Just like the I, Robots’ unquenchable thirst for blood, it’s unlikely our thirst for IoT devices will be satiated anytime soon. For IoT devices to become ubiquitous, they will also need to be inexpensive. Everyone wants a smart fork, but no one wants to pay $100 for it. The PCBs inside IoT devices may make up a large portion of their price. In order to meet cost requirements, you will need to use every new penny-pinching design technique available to you.

In order for billions of devices to be sold, billions of PCBs will have to be manufactured. When you’re manufacturing PCBs on that scale, design techniques that cost a few cents more matter. If you can reduce your board by 2 layers, you just saved a lot of money. If you can use complex techniques to reduce board area, you just saved a lot of money.

PCBs that are fun to fabricate are often less fun to design. Trust me, though, the extra ubiquitous work it takes to design a manufacturing-friendly PCB is worth it. No IoT startup will buy your PCBs if they’re too expensive.

At the end of the day, you can only do so much. You’re not Will Smith after all. You should choose great PCB design software to help you face the IoT revolution. Excellent software should have up-to-date features that help you tackle the next generation of PCB design challenges. CircuitStudio® has a wide variety of functions to help you tackle the next generation of PCB design.

Need someone to talk to about the overwhelming amount of PCBs to be designed? Talk to an expert at Altium.

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