IoT is everywhere, and the PCB industry is in a constant state of innovation as they try to keep up with consumer demands.
When developing new products, building in IoT capabilities is no longer just an option—it is necessary. Everything is connected. We no longer live in an age where you can ignore a knock on your door. When someone rings your video doorbell, it’ll send a live feed to your phone over your home’s WiFi, where you can then turn on your outdoor light and let the package carrier know where to leave your package—and you might not even be home!
This is the kind of technology they dreamed about on The Jetsons.
For the contents of this article, we’ll be talking about how to successfully design a PCB for IoT products in consumer electronics. This includes fitness watches, in-home appliances, phone to car connectivity, smart speakers, and much, much more.
What is IoT?
You’ve probably heard this term before and may even be familiar with it, but as a brief synopsis, “IoT” stands for the Internet of Things. It is a network of physical devices (aka “things”) that have software, sensors, or other technologies installed to connect those products to other devices in order to exchange data over the internet.
An example of this would be your Fitbit connecting to your app to give immediate updates on your workout and calories burned. It’s incredibly beneficial for a generation who always wants to stay connected.
The trend right now in the IoT industry is to develop products keeping these factors in mind:
- Small Scale: Consumer-centric products especially need to be created with the end-user in mind. Many IoT products are meant to be carried around all the time, which means they need to be as small as possible.
- Comfortability: In an era where devices are wearable, comfortability is crucial. Your target audience won’t buy something big and bulky that they have to constantly workaround.
- Durability: Some IoT products are meant to withstand extreme temperatures or extreme abuse.
How to Successfully Design a PCB for IoT Products
Simplify MCAD & ECAD Collaboration
The mechanical side and the engineering side need to work together to produce a profitable IoT product. As with any development project, making a change on one team will affect the other. Suppose the electrical engineering team builds something that won’t fit into what the mechanical engineer team has built. In that case, there will have to be a pause in the development process in order to address this situation.
Thankfully, there are many CAD tools programs that make collaboration easy between teams. They will be able to work agilely, making the development process quicker, and reducing headaches for everyone involved. Whatever tool you decide to use, make sure it’s a seamless transition for all of your teams and engineers.
Take Advantage of Multiple Board Designs
When designing PCB boards for IoT products, a common issue is the amount of space the engineers have to work with. Consumer products are getting smaller and smaller, which means the boards have to do the same—or be strategically placed to seem like they are.
Standard printed circuit boards are made in a horizontal fashion, but this isn’t always the best design for IoT products since they can take up a lot of space that way.
To work around this, choose the best type of printed circuit board for your product. In many cases, a rigid-flex PCB is a great option for IoT products because it can flex and form to different situations, meaning they can essentially be bent into the shape you need them to be. They are also ultra-thin, can absorb high-shock environments, and can be used in place of multiple boards to cut down on space.
Proper Power Management
Consumers also want their products to last as long as possible without a charge or battery replacement. Factoring in power consumption is something you’ll have to keep in mind when designing your PCB.
Each circuit block on your board is likely to be a source of power consumption, which can be a lot for a tiny board to take on.
If you find yourself getting stuck here, partnering with a manufacturing company that has experience in this area can help resolve this as well as lower your costs. A trustworthy PCB manufacturer will know what parts can be replaced to implement the same outcome while keeping your cost in mind as well.
Start Testing Early
Mistakes are inevitable—especially in the development process—so it’s best to get over that hurdle at the beginning rather than the end of your design process. Testing often, finding mistakes early, and keeping an agile mindset can help alleviate long-term and more costly issues.
Figure out what testing functionality and certifications you will need and start tests as soon as possible and continue to do it at different stages in the process. As soon as you make a change or try something new, test it before you move on to the next stage. This will save you time, headache, and frustration.
Optimizing Your PCB for IoT Products
IoT products are on the rise, and they don’t seem to be slowing down. With this comes the complex changes and innovation with printed circuit boards as well. When designing a PCB to incorporate with the Internet of Things, focus your end-product on comfortability, connectivity, size, and durability while keeping these other steps in mind throughout the development process.