PCB technology opens up design opportunities for electronics

PCB technology opens up design opportunities for electronics

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United States national research laboratory Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has announced that it has developed a compact, robust, and low-cost method for interconnecting printed circuit boards (PCBs) without requiring soldering or additional components.
By Rich Pell

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The narrow board-in-board connectors, say the researchers, can handle higher voltages and mechanical stresses compared to currently available miniature connector technologies, and multiple boards can be connected into a variety of shapes, including 3D shapes. Potential uses for this technology range from vital aviation electronics to thin sensor probes.

The invention, say the researchers, opens doors for electrical device manufacturers to develop cost-effective printed circuit boards for use in sensor devices as well as automotive, aerospace, defense, and energy applications. The new PCB with board-in-board interconnectors offers the following benefits:

  • relies on established, low-cost PCB manufacturing techniques
  • is inexpensive compared to pin connector alternatives
  • does not require soldering
  • is easily customizable into 3D shapes
  • provides opportunities in high-stress applications or where the devices are subject to vibration, and
  • can handle high voltages.

Conventional board-to-board connectors can be a significant cost of devices; they often require soldering, and the connection is often fragile in environments that present mechanical stress and vibrations. On the other hand, while press-fit connectors for high-stress environments do not require soldering, they can be expensive.

This new method produces PCBs that are shaped in a narrow 5 mm format, similar to a pencil, with each end of the board containing respectively an array of angled slots, or a series of pins shaped like miniature jaws with barbed teeth that lock two PCBs together. The angled slots create a spring-loading mechanism that eliminates the need to solder PCBs and ensures robust connections that withstand vibration.

The user or engineer can connect these PCBs in a variety of shapes, say the researchers, including stacked vertically, run sequentially in a series, or connected at various angles to create 3D shapes.

“This new type of PCB interconnects opens up a world of design opportunities for electronics,” says Stijn Wielandt, a researcher in Berkeley Lab’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Area. “The strong locking mechanism means simple assembly and less breakage in applications that produce mechanical stress or vibrations on circuit boards. The compact format also allows for use in 3D components.”

Because the contacts are spaced out along the length of the board, the connector can also handle higher voltages, which opens opportunities in the field of power electronics, for example in the domain of solar power, battery packs, and motor control. The technology is currently available for licensing.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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