Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are self-contained modules found in all sorts of electronic devices. They contain electronic components that are connected to form circuits by depositing, or “printing,” conduction materials in a thin layer onto a substrate’s surface, which is known as an insulating board.

Types of PCBs

There are three basic kinds of printed circuit boards based on the method of construction: single-sided, double-sided, and multi-layered. Single-sided PCBs have all the unit’s circuits printed on just one side of the insulating board. When there are too many circuits to pack onto a single side of the substrate, both sides are used, creating a double-sided PCB. For even more complex circuit boards, a substrate comprised of multiple layers of components is used with each layer separated by a layer of insulation to create a multi-layered PCB.

Types of PCB Construction Technology

PCB assemblers use either plated through-hole technology or surface-mount technology to connect a PCB’s components and circuits to one another. The older method is the plated through-hole technology in which holes are drilled through the insulating board and plated with a conducting material. Wires, called leads, are threaded through the holes and are soldered to connection pads on the other side or layer. With the more recent innovation of surface-mount technology, small protrusions shaped like the letter “L” or “J” jut from the surface of each component on the substrate, making direct contact with the printed circuits.

In plated through-hole design, friction between the sides of the holes and the layers holds the components in place, with help from gravity, until the elements are soldered. In surface-mount design, a solder paste made from solder, glue, and flux are applied immediately to hold the elements in place while the connection is secured by melting the solder in an oven. Surface-mount technology eliminates the need for drilling and the clutter of connection pads from the PCB construction process although it does require more delicate and precise placement of the various components.

There is a third type of circuit board construction technology used to make a relative of printed circuit boards known as integrated circuits — also called microchips or ICs. These units contain considerably more circuits than any type of PCB, which are produced electrochemically directly in place on the surface of a tiny silicon chip. This technology is commonly called electro-mechanical. A similar type of circuit, called a hybrid circuit, combines the technologies and resembles a PCB with the exception of certain circuits developed in place electrochemically.

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