The world is becoming more connected every day. More and more devices are including a variety of sensors, communication capabilities, and interface options. Even my grandfather can control his hearing aids from his smartphone.
Current IoT market trends in 2019 show that the market for interconnected smart devices is growing, and PCB designers will need to rethink their capabilities to meet these demands for new technology. Creating this new technology requires synthesizing best practices from high speed design, PDN design, rigid-flex and flex design, and mechanical design. Hardware designers have to consider the electrical and mechanical aspects of their new designs. This is about more than just adding a capacitor here or placing an extra chip there.
Knowing this, how can designers seamlessly integrate multiple IoT design and and keep up with market trends? Here are the broad trends we see in PCB design for IoT devices. We hope that designers who are just starting to venture into the broad world of IoT devices can see opportunities to excel and innovate.
IoT market trends place significant challenges on PCB designers. New devices demand smaller, faster, more efficient designs that drive modern technology. From the perspective of features, new IoT products will incorporate a range of functionality not seen in earlier technologies. These include wireless communications features, voice and image recognition, video and audio features, and requirements for interfacing with a variety of different sensors and HMI tools.
More IoT products are really embedded systems with a variety of functions, thus PCB designers will need to understand much more about the software required to run these devices. PCB designers would be well advised to familiarize themselves with as many programming languages as possible, ranging from C/C++ to Python and other embedded frameworks.
In order to enable the miniaturization and functionality required in so many new IoT products, we see four important design trends moving further into the mainstream:
Demands for smaller devices and more functionality require greater use of HDI design practices. HDI boards present just as many challenges for manufacturers as they do for designers, and we will start to see a greater use of HDI architectures in order to keep board sizes small. The development of new interconnect architectures will be aided by additive manufacturing systems for PCBs in IoT devices (see below).
As part of HDI design and routing, we’ll start to see even higher layer counts, with signal traces internalized in the interior of already-busy PCBs. This will free up valuable space on the surface layers to allow inclusion of more components. In addition to unique interconnect architectures, this also requires unique stackup architecture and advanced materials to ensure low level, low power components can communicate in a board without errors.
More component manufacturers will begin producing a broader array of system-on-chip (SoC) components that provide an integrated set of features within a single IC. These components will provide much more functionality for specific applications, allowing designers to mix and match the features they need for their new products. The same idea applies to system-on-module (SoM) components.
Proper fabrication of blind vias in an HDI PCB.
Rigid-flex and flex PCBs fall under my most cherished piece of PCB technology. The new iPhone contains a couple dozen or so flex PCBs as this is the easiest way to include all the required components and features inside the phone without increasing the size of the handset. This also left more room for a larger battery, which provides longer battery life.
The use of fully-flexible and rigid-flex circuits allows a new board to better conform to its packaging, and it allows components to move with their enclosures as needed. This puts the onus to design teams to collaborate in a more effective way during the design phase. Hardware and electronics designers can no longer afford to silo themselves and work on different aspects of new products. They will inevitably have to work together in a set of unified electrical and mechanical design tools to create new IoT products.
If we think back to smartphones for the moment, one should remember that modern handsets already communicate via cellular, WiFi, Bluetooth, and in some cases NFC. Certain products for various applications, particularly at the consumer level, will likely need to become compatible with 5G as the rollout of new cellular networks continues. Some development boards are already compatible with cellular shields, allowing designers to build embedded systems that connect to a standard cellular network. Other applications, such as environmental or industrial monitoring, will likely include other wireless protocols like LoRA, Zigbee, or others. Expect the communication requirements for your new products to span beyond Bluetooth and WiFi.
Designs that include a broad range of wireless communication capabilities will require a greater emphasis on mixed signal and RF simulation tools. These simulation tools are critical for ensuring power integrity in IoT devices, as well as for ensuring sufficient isolation different communication capabilities. The move to greater use of HDI techniques tends to exacerbate some signal integrity and power integrity problems related to parasitic capacitance, and post-layout simulation tools will be important for inspecting digital and analog signal integrity in these devices.
Expect to see more cellular capable devices like this older 4G/LTE baseboard for Raspberry Pi from SixFab.
Manufacturers and components distributors will need to rethink their role in fabrication, assembly, and the components supply chain. This is especially true as more additive manufacturing systems come online. This particular area of technology will force designers to rethink the way they create their PCB layouts. Despite the upcoming technology shift, the move towards additive for PCB fabrication will free many designers from the design constraints imposed by the traditional PCB manufacturing process.
Additive manufacturing systems companies like Nano Dimension and Optomec are already making their mark in this market. The ability to 3D print fully functional electronics is already revolutionizing rapid prototyping, enabling customization, and helping shorten development cycles. As more materials and systems come online in the near future, we can expect to see a greater shift to use of additive manufacturing at larger scale, including for PCBs, electronic components, and even semiconducting devices.
The DragonFly Pro additive manufacturing system for PCB fabrication from Nano Dimension.
Admittedly, we’ve only scratched the surface of upcoming IoT market trends, but we hope designers will have a good reference to start learning more. With technology and IoT market trends in 2019 extending far past common PCB design practices, entrepreneurs, innovative technology companies, and embedded systems companies need to work with technology research and design firms that know how to overcome these unique design challenges.
If you’re looking for a knowledgable firm that offers cutting-edge PCB design services and SEO & thought leadership marketing services for electronics companies, contact NWES for a consultation.