Layman’s History of Electronics Assembly

Have you ever wondered how most electronics devices are produced? Or how we can create cost effective disposable electronics? We owe many advances and cost savings to a simple technology called printed circuit boards (PCB) and its various assembly methods.

Early History

Before circuit boards, electronics were a mess of wires and components! Components and wires would be soldered directly to each other. This is known as point-to-point construction.

Motorola Goldenview – Image from Wikipedia

Using the Motorola Goldenview as an example, you can see that manufacturing this would be difficult and would be dependent on skilled people remembering where each point had to be connected to.

Much of this changed with the use of circuit boards, which allowed easier assembly by humans. As time progressed eventually manually assembled circuit boards led to automation of pick and place of components, greatly speeding up the manufacturing process.

Introduction of Circuit Boards

A printed circuit board (PCB) serves to bring together the huge number of resistors, capacitors, logic chips, controllers, etc to function as a single device. Th board helps to support and connect all the components together in a precise repeatable way, forming the circuits needed for the device to function. You can think of it as a road for cars, it serves to connect the points where we want to travel between.

PCBs were first used with manual assembly methods, typically with through hole components and, where human workers would assemble the components by hand onto the PCB and solder the components to create the connection.

Hand etched and soldered circuit board – Image from Wikipedia

The Next Leap

PCB technology hand in hand with Surface Mount Technology (SMT) allowed for large scale mass production to take off. Now you have mass produced circuit boards being assembled with components by a pick and place machine capable of over 100,000 components an hour.

Pick and place machine – Image from Wikipedia

Surface Mount Technology has allowed for quick mass production of circuit boards and electronic devices. Standardised components available from less than 1mmx1mm to more than 1cmx1cm can be quickly assembled.

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