Future PCB Industry Trends To Watch Out For

Jan 23, 2024Applications, Contract electronics manufacturing, General, PCB assembly

Future PCB Industry Trends To Watch Out For

The increasing appetite for innovation and uncompromising demand for more powerful and compact electronic devices continues to drive the growth and evolution of both the printed circuit boards (PCB) industry and contract electronic manufacturing (CEM).

With our finger always on the pulse when it comes to interpreting PCB industry trends, MPE Electronics helps our clients plan ahead for changing market needs, and defending against foreseeable challenges.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the PCB industry trends, advancements and technologies that are revolutionising electronic products and CEM.

Contract Electronic Manufacturing partnerships

Contract electronic manufacturing, the practice of outsourcing the production of electronic components and assemblies, allows original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to focus on their core competencies, among them developing and selling new electronic products and technologies.

One key advancement in the realm of CEM is the rise of collaborative partnerships, where CEM providers work closely with OEMs in the design and development phases. The benefits of such collaboration are more efficient production processes, improved quality control and ultimately faster time-to-market for electronic products.

Where full box build or turnkey manufacturing, with CEMs assembling the entire electronic system or product, the manufacturing process is further refined by reducing the number of suppliers and, therefore, potential points of failure, as well as, again, relieving the OEM of another operational process.

Read about how MPE partnered with a global tyre manufacturing giant to provide the full product assembly service here.


PCB industry trends The increasing collaboration between CEMs and OEMs in design and development including full box building, accelerates time-to-market for electronic products

The latest trends in PCB assembly technology

Surface Mount Technology(SMT)

SMT is transforming PCB assembly. SMT is an automated assembly process whereby components are pasted and soldered to circuit boards using automated production lines. This allows for the placement of smaller, more densely packed components on PCBs, enabling the manufacture of more compact and efficient electronic devices. Miniaturisation (see below) and component density are crucial aspects of modern PCB design.

Surface Mount Technology (SMT) automatically places sensitive and/or extremely small components onto the surface of the circuit board

Advanced robotics

Advanced robotics is also playing a significant role in improving the efficiency of PCB assembly. Robotic arms and automated pick-and-place machines ensure precision and consistency, minimising human error and time lost on rework. These advancements expedite the assembly process and contribute to higher product quality and reliability.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

VR & AR are also poised to have a positive impact on the way assembly teams are trained when learning how to assemble new PCB designs, as well as performing quality testing, disassembly and maintenance and repair.

Advanced technology and materials shaping PCB manufacture

High density interconnects (miniaturisation)

As demand for smaller and more powerful electronics grows, PCBs must be designed to accommodate more components within a minimal space. The development of High-density interconnect (HDI) technology has allowed for the miniaturisation of PCBs via intricate, multilayered boards with ‘fine-pitch’ components (i.e. boards with a significantly high amount of components per square inch). HDI technology can be used to innovate in a range of different industries, from wearable technology, such as smartwatches, to complex medical devices.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI has already made its mark on numerous industries, including PCB manufacturing, where machine-learning algorithms are used to improve quality control and identify defects during production. AI-driven optical inspection systems can detect even the tiniest imperfections, enhancing the overall quality of PCB assemblies.

AI can also be used in the design phase, assisting engineers in optimising PCB assembly layouts for better performance, heat dissipation and signal integrity – essential applications for electronic devices following the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) and launch of 5G technology. AI can also enable faster and more accurate prototyping, ultimately reducing time-to-market for new products.

Additive manufacturing (3D printing of PCBs)

Additive manufacturing, the process of joining materials, layer upon layer, to make objects from 3D model data (commonly known as 3D printing), is an alternative approach to PCB prototyping and low-volume production. 3D-printed PCBs can be highly customised and used to reduce lead times. While not yet suitable for mass production, additive manufacturing is poised to play a significant role in PCB development and faster prototyping, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing (i.e the removal of materials via grinding, cutting or drilling).

Advanced materials

An increasing number of modern electronic devices require PCBs to be manufactured using materials with different characteristics than those traditionally used, in order to meet the need for specific capabilities and features.

  • Ceramic substrates, or underlying layers, offer improved thermal conductivity, enhancing the performance of PCBs by transferring heat away from hot spots and dissipating it over the whole surface. This characteristic makes ceramic PCBs essential to industries such as Aerospace, Automotive, Medical devices, Heavy machinery and Electronics.
  • High frequency laminates with stable dielectric constant (i.e. the ability to store electrical energy) reduce signal loss and improve reliability, making PCBs manufactured with this material ideal for the Defence and Medical industries.
  • Flex substrate, flexible and rigid-flexible PCBs (i.e. boards that consist of multiple layers of flexible circuit substrates/layers attached to one or more rigid boards) are suitable for applications where the PCB needs to be curved or bent to fit into unusual shapes or sizes and perform reliably in high-temperature environments. Owing to their space-saving characteristics, flexible PCBs are well designed for use in electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, cameras, printers and laptops. Flex PCBs are also a fundamental component of pacemakers, cochlear implants and defibrillators.
  • Biodegradable polymers can be used to replace toxic thermosetting resins currently used in PCB manufacture. However, these biodegradable substrate materials cannot withstand subtractive processes like etching and chemical washes.

Learn how MPE has integrated ceramic substrates into their PCB manufacturing

Case study: MPE assembles wet tags with ceramic boards for global tyre manufacturer

Future challenges

Security & certification

As IoT devices are in constant contact within their networks, they are continually exposed to possible data theft and cyber attacks. Electronic device manufacturers will need to work with PCB manufacturers capable of adapting to these challenges by making them secure during the installation process, as well as arranging for automatic software updates to fend off attacks.

Moreover, adaptations to regulations and the governance of the IoT places responsibility on manufacturers of electronic devices with connectivity to keep up-to-date with changing rules and obtain various certifications.

Overcoming rising costs

Rising costs and interruptions to the supply of materials, complex assembly procedures and labour are a constant concern for OEMs. One work-around popular in the aerospace industry has been to employ the use of Commercial off-the-shelf solutions (COTS), which are components designed to be easily installed into existing systems. This reduces costs, ensures quality and safety, and speeds up project completion.

How are these trends likely to impact your product?

The outlook for the PCB industry will continue to be shaped by the demands for an increasingly interconnected and technologically driven world. Trends like CEM partnerships and a full box build service offering, as well as advancements in technology and materials used in the manufacture and assembly of PCBs, will shape the immediate future of your product in terms of efficiency, reliability and sustainability.

Working with a contract electronics manufacturer like MPE Electronics, who can support your business in keeping up-to-date and adapting to these trends, will be crucial to remaining competitive, optimising production and generating revenue.

Get the answers you’re looking for

Contact our expert team today by emailing us at enquiries@mpe-electronics.co.uk to get key insights to all your PCB assembly and full box build related questions

MPE Electronics is an established and experienced contract electronics manufacturer specialising in PCB assemblies and full box build assembly for a wide range of commercial and industrial businesses.

To find out how MPE Electronics’ PCB manufacturing and assembly services can benefit your business, contact our expert and friendly team on +44 (0)1825 764822 or enquiries@mpe-electronics.co.uk.


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