What do you consider valuable? Cash, gold, stocks, and bonds? Think again.
In 1907, Nicola Tesla took pity on Thomas Edison and tore up a contract that would have made him the first billionaire on earth. He did this because he did not want Edison to be ruined. Though Tesla had money in the bank, in doing so, he condemned himself to eventual failure. What does this story teach us? That genuine equitable stability comes from understanding evolving technologies and where you fit into that evolution. Somehow, Tesla missed that.
In the ever-moving tide of technology, the need to innovate requires a constant shift in vision, and this need has never been more evident than in PCB manufacturing. Unlike the flat boards of the past, PCBs have evolved into tiny, multilayered, complex systems that hardly resemble their earliest ancestors. They are also produced at a much higher and more efficient rate than ever before thanks to sophisticated design software and manufacturing processes. Even 10 years ago, microvias, HDI, and FPGAs were only seen in the most expensive designs yet are now readily available to designers worldwide.
As technology and consumer demand grows, so must PCBs. With consumers pushing for slimmer and faster devices, and with industries seeking improved functionality, the PCB must continue evolving. This is happening. In fact, innovation has become so valuable that PCBs are quickly becoming the currency of technology.
However, the value of this commodity is only as good as its reliability, so this demand creates a need to guarantee quality. While modern PCBs are produced at incredible rates with astounding complexity, whether it is in the shape of the PCB itself or the accessories attached directly to the board, all effort is made for ensuring quality control. Despite automation and the reduction of possible human error, quality control can only be maintained through applied inspection. Nothing is a better solution for this level of quality control than X-ray inspection and continues to be the best-applied way of guaranteeing product reliability.
While consumers continuously push for newer and better devices, the industry fills the need for new PCB functions, and there is no sign of this slowing down. Growth in the manufacturing process itself has increased PCB complexity, thus introducing new challenges for manufacturing companies. That's why most predictions for PCB futures focus strongly on new applications.
3D printing technology is one of the most exciting technological innovations in PCB tech. These systems create 3D circuits by printing a substrate—layer by layer—and then adding a liquid ink on top of it that contains electronic functionalities. Surface-mount technologies can then be added to create the final system. The result is a circuit that can take any shape imaginable.
Realistically, there is no actual limitation on the type of substrate material that can be used in 3D PE manufacturing. PCB houses can select any material they like. This makes environmentally friendly production a possibility as they can choose low-cost, recyclable materials. At the present rate of development, soon, the momentum will surpass the traditional concept of profit and loss, replacing the product itself as the currency of the industry.
Many industry leaders expect the 3D PE industry to expand even faster as manufacturing companies discover new methods and applications for the technology. Innovation is breeding evolution, and experts expect things to move even faster. As a result, the monetary value of what is being done has become secondary to the runaway development of this new era. In other words, profits are guaranteed as long as innovation continues. Thus, the true value is in the technology is itself. But this level of growth also creates a quality control dilemma. How do you maintain quality control on a small, multidimensional surface?
The answer is clear: X-ray technology. The parallel evolution of new X-ray techniques offers the only truly effective solution to multidimensional surfaces, which brings us back to Tesla. If he had thought it through, he would have understood that collaboration would have been the solution to Edison’s problem and his own success.
Herein lies the moral of our story, and the goal of all visionary innovators: The future of technology is based on the demand that drives it, and that demand sits squarely on the shoulders of PCB innovation. For example, flexible PCB technology is already outpacing rigid PCBs in terms of sales growth, meaning the future is here. And by embracing that future, we ensure continued success. In short, innovation has become, and always will be, the currency of technology.
Again, how do you define what is valuable? What drives continued success and the promise of abundance, not collecting meager interest and not stuffed in a mattress for a rainy day? The best return on investment is in the future, and the future is innovative PCB technology. And by using X-ray technology, you can help guarantee that quality, helping make sure the currency of technology maintains its value now and into the future.
Dr. Bill Cardoso is CEO of Creative Electron.