The Basics of Printed Circuit PCB Prototyping Board Design

pcb prototyping board

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) have long been the foundation of electrical engineering, serving as the “brains” of any powered device. Designing PCBs is to electrical engineering as HTML is to web development—the backbone that makes it all possible. That’s because no powered device works without a PCB of some sort. From cell phones and remote controls to robotics and toys, PCBs provide electricity and connectivity between the components of a device, allowing it to function the way it was designed.

Here’s a look at what goes into this technology and what you need to know to get started prototyping a PCB for your next embedded system project.

PCBs on the Rise: Powering the Connected Devices of the IoT

PCB design has been around for decades, but its relevance is back in the spotlight. They originally came about to answer the need for smaller, more efficient ways to power electronics. In the age of the Internet of Things (IoT) where everyday devices with embedded systems are becoming Internet-connected devices, PCB design is still meeting that need, while growing more advanced, and more in demand.

The IoT has brought us the ability to control everyday objects and devices remotely, from our phones. All of a sudden, household objects are mini-computers, able to be turned on through a mobile app. Wearables track our steps, and smart thermostats track our environments. Cars can monitor themselves, and bridges can sense structural failure. All of this requires hardware, software, and power.

pcb prototyping board

For many of these devices to be “smart,” they need to have PCBs. So what are PCBs exactly, and how are they made? Let’s break down the basics.

WHAT IS A PRINTED CIRCUIT BOARD?

pcb prototyping board

Printed circuit boards are physical components of electronic devices. They’re made up of a board, which is typically resin or plastic, and solder, the conductive metal parts that channel energy, usually made of copper. The solder makes the electrical connections between the PCB and the parts of the device possible. There’s also a silkscreen layer on top of the board that indicates what goes where like a roadmap.

PCBs don’t just supply power; they also support the mechanics of a device. That’s because of they, not only route power, they route signals to different components. This is why a PCB acts like the brain of a device—and a device can’t function without it.

A PCB Prototyping Board is usually talked about in terms of how many layers it has, which can be anywhere from one to 10 layers. The more complex a device is the more layers the PCB will have. They can also be single- or double-sided, with copper layers on both sides. The more copper there is for connecting components, the more components you can have–hence, the more complex the device.

To get a PCB designed and manufactured, there are a few steps: schematic design, board design with EDA software, manufacturing, assembly, and testing.

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