It's an undeniable fact that the printed circuit board manufacturing industry has changed incredibly over the last decade alone. Extend this to 20 or 30 years, when personal computers were first hitting the shelves, and the advancements are truly astonishing.
But what will the next 10 or 20 years hold for the sector as technology cultivates products reminiscent of the "Back to the Future" movie?
Possibilities aren't endless
Though it may seem that literally anything could happen in the PCB sector moving forward, a Wired magazine article that asked a number of distinguished scholars within the computer tech industry says otherwise. The majority of responses revolve around two key components - the cloud and the true personalization of the personal computer.
Google had an inkling of what lay down the road when it introduced its Google Glass, though the design and concept was rushed and it subsequently dropped off the face of the Earth until another FCC proposal cropped up, according to Ars Technica. The idea was pure gold, in the sense that Google wanted people to interact with their computer much like they use their eyes to see the world. According to Charles M. Lieber, professor at Harvard University, this is what the future of the personal computer is.
"Personal computing will become very, very personal," Lieber told Wired. "Currently, our interface is through the peripheral nervous system - input by touch and voice; output to eyes and ears. In a very personal future, we would work directly from our brains, integrating 3D nanoelectronics with our neural networks."
What does this mean for manufacturers?
Apart from Lieber's theory sounding like the plot of a science-fiction movie, it does hold some weight within the PCB industry. An article from Printed Circuit Design and Fab reported that one of the challenges that has been plaguing the sector for years, and will continue to do so, is the shrinking size of electronics and the parts required to run them.
Lean manufacturing methods will be key in working around the complexities involved in designing PCBs that can fit objects like Google Glass, wearable technology and whatever the future may hold - which could actually just be an electronic insert into the brain or eye.
"Lean manufacturing will be key moving forward."
According to PCD&F, the recent advances in auto-routing are facilitating an easier adaptation to new challenges designers face, though the field needs more research to reduce the average size of boards even smaller while still maintaining the growing number of pins and balls being needed on a single chip. Companies that can quickly change design and manufacturing practices will ultimately stand out of the crowd as the professional space becomes refined with fewer competitors due to the challenges the industry faces.
Beyond Lieber's theory, Winfried Hensinger also postulated that the personal computer of the future won't necessarily need to be faster than it is today because it will be connected to the cloud, which can do all the heavy lifting.
"With the speed of wireless internet increasing, the location of the actual data processing will not be on your personal device, but on a distant, more powerful machine connected via the cloud," Hensinger told Wired. "Such computers may belong to the general extremely powerful quantum class that will be developed in ten to 20 years."
It's clear that before these super computers roll out for the masses, they'll be used by the military and medical health care industries. PCB manufacturers who want to take part in this highly valuable contract manufacturing will need to assure the entities they can handle any quirks in design through lean manufacturing methods.
These changes in personal computing will undoubtedly shift the landscape of the PCB sector, though how so remains to be seen.