PCB prototyping — elaborated as “printed circuit board prototyping” — is a complex but expanding market. While circuit board prototyping typically refers to PCB fabrication on a small scale, the world market for printed circuit boards almost reached an astonishing $60 million in 2012 — an almost 2 percent increase from 2011. By 2014, that mark was met and exceeded at $60.2 million.
Prototype printed circuit boards, as mentioned before, are usually small-scale creations, sold in small quantities. Prototype PCBs are usually made as tests for a theoretical design. As with other prototypes in most fields, an idea is first created. Once that stage is reached, an early prototype is created to test the efficacy of the design. The prototype circuit boards are usually replicated easily, in case the design works. If they do not work, having the physical prototype helps determine exactly what needs to be tweaked or alternated to create a working model.
But what exactly are printed circuit boards in general? Typically, they’re self-contained. meaning they don’t need any exterior power source to work. All PCBs need is in the module itself. They’re made of a series of interconnected electronic components such as wires and copper sheets. They can be found in almost any electronic device in some capacity, such as old-school beepers and pagers to radios and advanced computers. All boards are designed with specific purposes in mind. They need to be small enough to fit into the space that’s required — a printed circuit board for a supercomputer may not fit in a small Bluetooth speaker. This is another application for circuit board prototyping — trying to get the technology from larger circuit boards into small models.
There are two main assembly methods for printed circuit boards. The first is “Through Hole Technology.” The through hole method is the original method. The electronic components were inserted by leads literally “through holes” on the board, and on the other side, they are soldered to onto copper traces. The other method is newer and called “Surface Mount Assembly.” Surface mount assembly gained popularity in the 1990s. Components were redesigned slightly, but they were then able to be soldered directly onto the printed circuit board. This allowed for smaller components and a higher degree of automation.
Printed circuit boards have become an incredibly important aspect of the increasingly electronic age we live in, and prototyping is a huge part of advancing the industry. Electronics as we know them today would not be possible without them.