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   2nd Mar 09

 PCB industry's u-turn trend from multi-layer to double or even single layer

Before the birth of microprocessor, semiconductor chips hardly had more than 24 pins. With the birth of microprocessor and the PC, the complexity of address bus and data bus running on the PCB boards has grown phenomenally with number of stacked connection layers on PCB increasing to 20+. The 64 bit and 32 bit address/data lines on a typical PC motherboard PCB looks like roots of a tree, with only difference of former being parallel. It's Herculean task to trace a connection on today's multi-layer PCBs.

The big question is, does this trend of growing PCB complexities going to continue? If we study few of new technologies coming up in the market, the trend may be that of opposite type.

The simple answer for this reverse trend can be System on Chip (SOC). The semiconductor vendor of SoC class ICs would be packing up all the necessary semiconductor devices in single chip. It can be monolithic or a multi chip module.

Also there is serious research going on to develop chip-to-chip communication through optical channels so that the data and address is multiplexed and sent on a single optical wire. Intel has demonstrated integrated photo diode inside a chip from silicon material.

With this kind of technology, the Printed Circuit Board will have one or two SoC class devices, couple of power semiconductor devices, and few passive and electromechanical components. The connection between these devices is hardly any complex, with only two layer or a maximum of 4-layer PCB is suffice.

However its not that easy to develop SoC class chips for every application. Huge volume requirement only can be meaning full for companies to invest in SoC development.
The precision and reliability required for industrial, medical, and such fields still not feasible through SoC type devices. For low volume, customized, requirement the discrete semiconductor ICs are only the way for many more years.

But when it comes to mass consumer, otherwise called convergence market, the next level of integration in VLSI design may reduce the PCB complexities back to layer2 or layer 4 levels or even to layer 1 level.

There are already few new mobile phone ICs released in the market, which says these devices need only 2 /4 layer PCBs.

This trend is a welcome trend, if we look into the environmental hazards caused by chemical wastage produced by PCB industry. With the reduction in PCB size and layers, some amount of Copper metal is also saved.

Year 2009 and 2010 might see some unexpected trends such as these to give different market dynamics to ailing electronic industry for a positive change. But for the PCB industry, this trend should be carefully watched to save them from factory expansion/ technology up gradation.

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