It’s already a cliché, but technology is improving rapidly. And for many companies it is difficult to catch up. However, it’s not just the average Joe who’s struggling to keep up with the massive introduction of new technology on the market. Manufacturers of these devices must be on the alert to ensure they can accommodate, design, and manufacture the printed circuit boards (PCBs) required for new technologies.
One technology that is pushing these manufacturers and designs to their limits is the Internet of Things (IoT). Many companies and businesses have slowly integrated IoT-enabled devices and applications into their businesses, although 53% of them find it a challenge. And due to this massive driving force, the production of smart IoT devices in the market has increased significantly.
It is interesting to know the impact of the IoT on PCB manufacturing.
Understand Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a technological movement that aims to connect and network devices, devices and potentially all objects in order to optimize operations, processes, maintenance or to offer new functions or services. This is crucial for companies like Nortech Systems, as they primarily manufacture complex, high-tech devices. These devices often include a wireless connectivity solution and are used in many different industries. Built-in connectivity allows IoT-enabled devices to talk to each other, giving manufacturers the ability to develop and offer new features, functionalities, and services.
IoT is increasingly penetrating business, industrial and consumer spaces. You may even experience it every day when you work in a smart building or in a smart office. You may also have a smart home solution in your house and therefore have already seen how IoT works. Connected objects and devices and the services they provide offer businesses and consumers greater convenience, security and efficiency in their daily activities.
IoT in relation to PCB design and manufacturing
So how is the IoT impacting PCB design and manufacturing? The IoT is influencing PCB design as it requires wireless communication capabilities to be embedded in the myriad of smart objects coming to market. And adding RF technology components to a product imposes strict design rules on the entire system, including the PCB. It also requires specific testing and validation processes at the end of the manufacturing process.
Whether it’s an industrial sensor, a wearable device, or a location tracker, adding a chip or chips dedicated to wireless connectivity poses several challenges for the product design team:
- integration: more components that fit into a (generally) compact form factor
- HF design: Designing a product with embedded RF communications requires adhering to very strict design rules to maximize radio performance, avoid interference (with other components or systems) and comply with any applicable regulations or standards related to RF pollution, power transmission, etc fulfill.
This also affects the PCB routing:
A first aspect to consider in RF signal routing is impedance matching. In fact, a circuit without impedance matching not only generates significant power losses, but also dangerous signal reflections along the circuit board traces. Since most systems and RF modules have an impedance of 50 Ω, the traces of an RF PCB should preferably have the same characteristic impedance. The two types of traces commonly used on printed circuit boards are microstrip, in which traces are placed on the outer layers of the circuit board (usually above a ground plane), and stripline, in which each trace is sandwiched between two ground planes.
Another important factor affecting routing is the choice of construction, that is, the number and type of layers that make up the printed circuit board. RF PCBs usually consist of 2 or 4 layers, but in some cases they can reach 8 layers. A 4-layer PCB makes routing much easier by allowing more space for components and the ability to create both ground and power planes.
The PCB designer must also ensure that RF signals are properly isolated to avoid unwanted coupling with other signals. The common practice is to use a solid (uninterrupted) ground plane placed immediately below the top layer where components and transmission lines are placed.
In addition to PCB routing, the design team must pay special attention to shielding to avoid interference between the RF circuitry and the baseband section.
Then there are special requirements for the PCB and complete product assembly processes, without forgetting the testing processes, which will most likely require RF testers on the line.
So what is the impact of the IoT on PCB manufacturing and design? Since most Internet of Things PCBs are often populated with modules, sensors and other integrated circuits, this pushes PCB designers and manufacturers to develop more compact designs. Manufacturers turning their products into IoT devices are generally unwilling to sacrifice the form factor of their devices.
Additionally, due to the wireless/RF nature of IoT devices, the IoT imposes strict PCB design and manufacturing rules on the engineering team. And with a broader perspective, we can say that the IoT is driving PCB design technology and practices to innovate to ensure that all IoT products that come to market perform optimally in a crowded RF environment.