PCBs and the Internet of Things

Posted 10/7/2016 by AdvancedPCB
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In today’s world, it’s nearly impossible to get through the day without interacting with some sort of electronic device. Most are connected in some way to a source of communications, facilitated by the internet. It’s this phenomenon that has been termed the Internet of Things (IoT). Technology and electronic components embedded in practically everything touched throughout the day are coupled in ways never envisioned a few short years ago:

  • Social media access is available 24×7 from computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones
  • Smart televisions have direct access to the internet for live video streaming available at the touch of a remote (or the touch of a smartphone)
  • GPS systems in automobiles guide drivers to destinations reliably and consistently
  • Friends and families are in constant touch through social media, texting, and other means, enabled by the IoT
  • Vehicles keep owners up-to-date with service reminders when attention is needed, or when time for scheduled maintenance is approaching
  • Medical diagnostic equipment now incorporates technology that allows physicians and laboratory technicians to share information more reliably and accurately, providing improved patient care
  • Smart homes are becoming internet hubs in their own right with IoT-enabled thermostats, lighting, entertainment systems, and security capabilities
  • Children are even taking the lead in embracing technology with their ability to absorb it quickly and to appreciate the entertainment value
  • Wearable technology in the form of fitness bands, smart watches, and environment simulators are growing in functionality and popularity

For PCB designers and fabricators, the IoT is a new opportunity to expand the use of electronic technology in markets that did not even exist in the past.

How do PCBs Fit into the IoT?

Within the heart of each of these electronic marvels that combine to formulate the IoT resides at least one printed circuit board (PCB) that provides the functionality of the device. Automobiles have become more electronic than mechanical, as witnessed now by the advent of self-parking vehicles and the self-driving cars now in prototyping phases.

The IoT is an inherent requirement to make such development possible, as these vehicles will need to sense their environments as well as their current position with extreme accuracy. PCBs loaded with highly-technical functionality will be the critical infrastructure behind these impressive advancements in transportation.

Smart homes are taking off for many homeowners, and the technology offered by the IoT presents convenience, efficiency, and security never before possible. Sensors will change the environment related to lighting and temperature, controlled by an in-home computer system or wall-mounted tablet, preset schedules, or even from a smartphone – anywhere in the world. Someone approaching the home can be viewed in real time, and communicated with face-to-face in the same way. Cameras with internet connectivity already enable this level of contact with the homeowner’s device via the internet and cellular services.

PCBs are the enablers of nearly every device in the IoT. Highly reliable, compact circuit boards permit easy and convenient access to internet-enabled applications even from the smallest of devices, with high-speed connectivity.

IoT – Consumers and Businesses

IoT advancements are creating new markets for electronics entrepreneurs, consumer goods retailers, and consumers alike. Through global positioning capabilities and ‘beaconing’ technology, retailers can reach out and ‘touch’ consumers via their smartphones and tablets as they browse retail stores or even stroll past a store in a shopping mall.

As technology continues to expand exponentially, additional markets for the new capabilities will be realized by those with the imagination and business savvy to take advantage of these opportunities. This includes creative PCB designers and fabricators whose skills will be needed to power the devices and applications.

Demand for powerful PCBs with miniaturized, light-weight attributes to power next-generation devices will continue to expand. This includes smartphones, tablets, and devices such as drones or in-store radio-frequency (RF) chips embedded in products that enable instant access to store inventory and specific location.

Medical technology has been evolving rapidly to include such devices as implanted heart monitors that alert not only when health risks are imminent, but also to such conditions as weakening batteries. Diagnostic equipment is also powered by the IoT enabling transfer of test results directly to the physician’s desktop or tablet without the lag time of mailing or even emailing findings.

Future of the Internet of Things

Analysts at Business Insider predict that by 2018 there will be in excess of 9 billion devices interconnected to the internet by some means. That generates a significant opportunity and challenge for PCB designers and manufacturers to meet the need of those devices through innovative circuit designs, layout advancements, and new developments in fabrication technology.

Such innovative developments as flexible and High-Density Interconnect (HDI) PCBs are contributing to the advancement of technology in devices requiring installation in small form-factors and a higher level of component density for smaller and lighter devices.

The power and innovation of the IoT will continue to evolve at a breakneck pace, and PCB technology must continue with advancements that meet the demand of business, consumers, and applications. For developers of IoT-enabled devices, it will be critical to include PCB designers and manufacturers who are experienced with technology and innovative methodologies when selecting vendors to provide such services.

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