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Copper Sheets’ Role in Printed Circuit Boards

When Forbes magazine recently covered the topic of 3D printing, it maintained that while the technology has advanced for “making plastic and metal parts, for other applications, like making printed circuit boards, [3D printing] is only in the early stages of proving its viability.” In the interim, however, printed circuit boards are doing perfectly fine with their current manner of doing things; that is with the use of copper sheet into their design.

For those unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia defines printed circuit boards or PCBs as a means of mechanically supporting and electrically connecting electronic components. And even though they might not be part of the average individual’s everyday vocabulary, one encounters them everywhere in the 21st century world. That’s because they “are used in all but the simplest electronic products.”

So what goes into this component that is so integral to so many of today’s electronics? Printed circuit boards wouldn’t even exist, let alone perform such a vital function, if not for the incorporation of copper sheets into their design.

More specifically, as Wikipedia points out, they use “conductive tracks, pads and other features etched from copper sheets laminated onto a non-conductive substrate.” The boards come in one of three variations, single sided, double sided or multi layered. The differentiation between the three types all has to do with the number of copper sheet layers that are involved (i.e., one layer for single sided; two layers for double sided; and multiple sheets for multi layered).

Following is a step by step procedural for how the typical printed circuit board is made:

  1. Because today’s electronics demand that their circuit boards be as tiny as possible, small, lightweight and flexible are the orders of the day. While the boards themselves accommodate these requests, the wires that are attached to them must be dense enough to handle all the electronic interaction that is taking place inside the devices. As a result, most of the current crop begin with a flexible substrate. This flexibility not only enables alteration in the shape of the board to fit into and around the miniature crevices where it is required, but it also allows for three-dimensional wiring.
  2. Next, the polymer of which today’s printed circuit boards are constructed is laminated onto the top surface of a copper sheet, typically 110 or ED copper.
  3. The copper sheet is then etched with the circuit pattern that will be followed by the wiring.
  4. A second layer of polymer is applied to the copper sheet to insulate the circuit board. This coating also prevents the copper sheet from corroding.
  5. Finally, all the electronic components of the device are connected together.

The end result, especially in circuit boards that are multi layered with copper sheets, precipitates the complex interconnected wiring that make modern day electronics so sophisticated. What’s more, it accomplishes this aim at an affordable cost to the manufacturer. A primary converter and distributor of copper foil and sheets facilitates this process.

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