Printed Circuit Boards are instrumental components found in nearly every electronic device, from handheld equipment to large appliances. Serving as an electrical insulator and mechanical base for board-level elements, a PCB provides a lightweight, compact, and functional architecture on which to build devices. Since the scope and capability of PCBs show no sign of slowing down, it is important for anybody interested in such technology to gain a basic understanding of their design and function. In this blog, we will discuss everything you need to know about printed circuit boards, including their composition, variants, and associated components.
Upon first glance, PCBs do not look complex. However, a Printed Circuit Board is actually composed of several layers, each serving a unique and salient function. One of these layers is the substrate layer that gives the board its rigidity. This film is commonly made from cured epoxy resins, although more demanding applications may call for a tougher material such as fiberglass. Meanwhile, a copper layer provides the conductive material for any associated elements. When a PCB is labeled "single-sided" or "double-sided," this indicates the number of layers being referenced. Depending on the power demands of the application, a thicker substrate layer may be chosen, but most boards only feature 1oz of copper by weight. Since copper has a high probability of oxidation, it is covered by a protective solder-mask layer. Finally, the silkscreen layer consists of non-conductive ink traces to help users identify various board-level elements.
PCBs provide the foundation for a wide range of electrical components, some of which will be covered below.
Serving as a passive component, inductors have the capacity to store energy in the form of a magnetic field when exposed to a current. They are often used as filters for analog circuits but may also contribute to signal processing and magnetic-field sensing.
As their name suggests, resistors are passive elements used to reduce current flow and terminate transmission. Their resistance value may either be fixed or variable, creating a wide array of applications. When choosing a resistor, it is critical to be aware of its temperature coefficient, which determines how the component will change in the context of various temperatures. For example, a resistor with a positive temperature coefficient will exhibit a resistance value that tracks linearly with temperature.
Similar to inductors, the primary job of a capacitor is to store electrical energy. However, unlike the short-term capability of a magnetic field, capacitors store energy in an electric field, which may be held onto for longer periods of time. The most common application for capacitors is the protection of data in a system with volatile memory, should the device be disconnected from power.
Composed from a semiconductor material, transistors work to amplify electrical signals and current. They are often used as a switch, power regulator, controller, or to bolster speaker output.
For many applications, it would be destructive if the current were to flow in the wrong direction. To prevent this from happening, diodes are used as "one-way" valves. Although there are many diode variants, the most popular is the light-emitting diode (LED), which contains materials that emit photons when electrically stimulated.
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