If you work in the electronics industry, or even just happen to be interested in electronics design, then you will no doubt be familiar with printed circuit boards, or PCBs as they are more usually known. PCBs appear in just about every piece of electronics fashioned today, and are also becoming easier and cheaper to design and build thanks to technologies like 3D printing, and CAD software.
At present, industry leading software like the suites from the leading provider Altium are used by electronics designers and engineers to create sophisticated schematics that are used in automated PCB production. But how long have PCBs been used as standard in our electronics, and how did their use begin?
Before PCBs, point to point construction was used in electronics, and this was unwieldy and required a lot of replacement and maintenance. It made electronics harder to build and design, as well as harder to take care of when you owned them. The development of the first PCB was in 1936, and the invention is credited to an Australian called Paul Eisler. Eisler was working in the UK at the time, and created the first PCB as a component for a radio that he was designing.
The invention was not released for commercial use at first as it was used in fuses created by the US military in World War II. However, once the war had ended and the technology was made available for private use, it very quickly was adopted.
The Mid 20th Century
In the 1950’s, PCB technology started to be used as standard in a wide range of industries, including the automotive industry. The post war era saw a huge increase in demand for electronics for domestic use, and so engineers and designers raced to refine their PCBs and create newer and better ways to implement them. During this period hole technology was used, which was a decent solution at the time but was proven inefficient for manufacturing and maintenance. By the 1980’s, this technology had been replaced with approaches that use small surface mount parts in many designs, leading to lower build costs and more efficient production, though it had some downsides when it came to maintaining existing complex boards.
The Internet Age
The most significant advancement in terms of PCBs after the 80s was the introduction of computer aided design as standard in the industry. CAD programs has existed before this, but as computer use became more mainstream and the internet came into professional use, it became far easier for advanced circuit boards to be designed in a virtual way, and then created using automated processes. In the future, it is possible that 3D printing for PCBs will become the norm, too, and there may even be AI that can be used for some parts of the process of creating schematic designs.
As you can see, the PCB was probably one of the most important inventions of the 20th century, and one that will be likely to remain important well into the future!