It’s already a cliché, but technology is rapidly improving. And for many businesses, it’s hard to catch up. However, it’s not just the average Joe that’s having difficulty keeping up with the massive introductions of new technology on the market. The manufacturers of these devices must be on their toes to ensure that they can accommodate, design, and manufacture the printed circuit devices (PCBs) that new technologies demand.
One technology pushing these manufacturers and designs to the limits is the Internet of Things (IoT). Many companies and enterprises have slowly incorporated IoT-enabled devices and appliances into their businesses, even if 53% of them find it challenging. And because of this massive driving force, the production of smart IoT devices on the market has increased significantly.
It’s interesting to know IoT’s effects on PCB manufacturing.
The internet of things (IoT) is a technological movement aiming to connect and network devices, appliances and possibly any object in order to optimize operations, processes, maintenance or to offer new features or services. It is crucial to companies like Nortech Systems as they mainly manufacture complex high-tech devices. These devices often embed a wireless connectivity solution and they operate in many different industries. The built-in connectivity allows IoT-enabled devices to communicate with each other, and this results in the possibility for manufacturers to develop and offer new features, functionalities and services.
IoT has been progressively penetrating the business, industrial and consumer spaces. You may even already experience it on a daily basis if you work in a smart building or in a smart office. You may also have a smart home solution in your house and therefore you’ve already seen how IoT works. Connected objects and equipments, and their associated services, offer businesses and consumers more comfort, security and efficiency in their everyday activities.
IoT in relation to PCB design and manufacturing
So how does IoT affect PCB design and manufacturing? IoT influences PCB design because it needs wireless communication capabilities to be embedded into the myriad of smart objects coming to the market. And adding RF technology components to a product imposes strict design rules on the whole system, including the Printed Circuit Board. It also requires specific test and validation processes at the end of the manufacturing process.
Whether it is for an industrial sensor, a wearable device or a location tracker, adding one or several chips dedicated to wireless connectivity challenges the product design team in several ways:
- Integration: more components to be fitted into a (generally) compact form factor
- RF design: designing a product with embedded RF communication requires to follow very stringent design rules to maximize the radio performance, avoid interferences (with other components or systems) and satisfy any applicable regulation or standard in terms of RF pollution, power transmission, ect…
This impacts the PCB routing as well:
A first aspect to take into consideration during RF signal routing concerns the impedance matching. A circuit without impedance matching, in fact, generates not only significant power losses, but also dangerous signal reflections along the PCB traces. Since most systems and RF modules have an impedance of 50 Ω, it is preferable that the traces of an RF PCB have the same characteristic impedance. The two types of traces commonly used on PCBs are microstrips, where traces are placed on the outer layers of the PCB (usually above a ground plane) and striplines, where each trace is sandwiched between two ground planes.
Another important factor that affects routing is the choice of the stack-up, that is the number and type of layers that make up the printed circuit. RF PCBs are normally composed of 2 or 4 layers, but in some cases, they can reach 8 layers. A 4-layer PCB greatly facilitates routing, with more space available for components and the ability to create both ground and power planes.
The PCB designer has also to make sure that RF signals are properly isolated, avoiding unwanted coupling with other signals. The common practice is to use a solid (uninterrupted) ground plane, placed immediately below the upper layer where components and transmission lines are placed.
On top of PCB routing, the design team must take special care of the shielding to avoid any interference between the RF circuitry and the baseband section.
Then, special requirements apply to the PCB and complete product assembly processes, without forgetting the testing processes which most likely will require RF testers on the line.
So, what’s the impact of IoT on PCB manufacturing and designing? Since most internet of things circuit boards are often loaded with modules, sensors, and other integrated circuits, it pushes PCB designers and manufacturers to create more compact designs. Manufacturers turning their products into IoT devices are generally not willing to sacrifice the form factor of their devices.
Moreover, because of the wireless/RF nature of IoT devices, IoT imposes strict PCB design and manufacturing rules to the engineering team. And with a wider perspective, we can say that IoT pushes PCB designing technology and practices to innovation to ensure all IoT products reaching the market work at their best in a crowded RF environment.