What is a PCB?

PCBs are at the heart of all electronic equipment and the platform on which electronic components are mounted to produce printed circuit board assemblies (PCB-A). But, why are they so important for all electronical products and what are they made of?

This is a flex PCB | NCAB Group
Not all PCBs are green.. A PCB can come in many different types and colours. This is a flex board.

What is a PCB or printed circuit board?

The short explanation is that a printed circuit board is composed of non-conductive materials such as fiberglass or epoxy that mechanically supports and electrically connects electronic components using conductive pathways etched or printed onto its surface. But, depending on type of circuit board it can be built in different ways. For example, a multilayer PCB has three or more conductive layers of copper separated by an insulating material. These layers connect components through tracks and pads.

An illustration of a multilayer PCB.
Illustration of a multilayer PCB.

Another example is the HDI PCB, which by IPC-2226 is defined as a printed circuit board with a higher wiring density per unit area than conventional circuit boards. They have finer lines and spaces ≤ 100 µm / 0.10mm, smaller vias (<150 µm) and capture pads <400 µm / 0.40mm, and higher connection pad density (>20 pads/cm2) than employed in conventional PCB technology. PCBs offer both mechanical support and electrical pathways for components like resistors, capacitors, and integrated circuits.

Small but very important

Printed circuit boards represent a relatively small percentage of the total value of the end product. Yet, they are essential components, and critical for the end product – a defective PCB is often very expensive to rectify. This makes quality and reliability some of the most important purchasing criteria for our customers.

PCBs form the basis of all PCB-As

The demand for printed circuit boards is primarily driven by the production of PCB assemblies (PCB-As), as they serve as the foundation upon which electronic components are mounted to create a PCB-A. The PCB is the initial component required in the assembly process, and without it, neither the PCB-A nor the final product can be manufactured. Additionally, the circuit board is the sole component to which the customer contributes value. Therefore, ensuring that the PCB is of high quality is crucial, as it can be costly to discard a PCB-A containing expensive components due to a malfunctioning printed circuit board.

Breadth and depth for customers with high standards

A glucose monitor | NCAB Group
One on the applications we make PCBs for, within the medical sector, is blood glucose monitoring, for daily diabetes management.

At first glance, printed circuit boards may appear similar, irrespective of their quality. However, beneath the surface, significant variations exist that impact the durability and functionality of the PCB throughout its life cycle. There can be a world of difference between a common PCB and a reliable PCB. It’s in the detail and the precision.

Different types of circuit boards exist to accommodate various needs and requirements in terms of functionality, flexibility, and performance. It’s important to know that each PCB design is unique; they aren’t off-the-shelf items. Instead, they are carefully built to perform a specific function that no other design can meet.

Also, depending on what industry and application the PCB will be used in – the demands for the board differs a lot. There are also different standards that needs to be followed.

A NCAB specialist is checking a PCB. | NCAB Group
Joshua Zhu, PCB Project Manager at NCAB Group China, is checking a PCB and its gerber file.

Our extensive PCB portfolio reflects this diversity, offering a wide range of products from 2L PCBs to highly advanced HDI and flex boards. Even though the circuit boards we produce differ a lot regarding functionality and areas of use, they all have one thing in common. The common denominator is that our experts oversee that the production – from design to prototyping up to volume – is working according to our processes and product specification.