Since we produced our first electronic equipment in 1975, we have witnessed many advances in the industry. Today’s electronic equipment has lower power consumption, works effectively, is fast and relatively cost effective while becoming more resistant to physical damage and human error.
However, it wasn’t always like this – see our timeline below that shows how electronics have got to where they are today.
In the beginning
Early electronic equipment was made using components mechanically fitted into a unit and then connected by a series of wires, which were soldered to the components. The main early active component of this era was the electronic valve, that had to be put into a holder and the wires soldered to the holder. The user interactive parts such as the switches, sockets and displays were panel mounted on the outside face of the equipment.
60’s, 70’s & PCBs
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, printed circuit boards were introduced into electronics manufacturing. They were initially called printed wiring boards, but printed circuit boards or PCB became the familiar term.
A bare PCB has conductive copper tracks that have been etched from a copper sheet that has been laminated on to a non-conductive substrate material. Components were mounted on the PCB by placing their leads though holes in the PCB and making a soldered joint. The conductive tracks of the PCB replace the wires and cables that previously connected the components. The PCB gave mechanical support to and made electrical connection between the components in a very convenient form.
The majority of components at this time were passive components, such as resistors, capacitors and inductors, but the early 70’s saw the start of the mass availability of more active components, such as diodes, transistors and early ICs (integrated circuits).
80’s, 90’s & SMT PCBs
Through the next decade, the components improved and the use of multi-layered PCBs became more available. These PCBs had more than one etched layer of copper, which allowed an individual PCB to carry more complex tracking and connections. A smaller PCB could be used to achieve a requirement, with more densely populated components.
In the 1980’s, there was the most radical change to PCBs and components, which has stayed with us until now. Surface Mount Technology (SMT) PCBs were introduced
Components became much smaller and no longer needed leads to be mounted and soldered to a PCB. They were glued to the top of a PCB that no longer had holes, but had small solder pads. A small solder joint was made between a pin coming from the component and the solder pad on the PCB. This was done with the use of solder paste and a reflow oven to melt the solder paste.
This new manufacturing method created much smaller and lighter electronics. It could also be effectively automated and achieves very rapid manufacturing times.
00’s & Programmable logic devices
At the turn of the century, the next major influence was the mass introduction of programmable logic devices. These devices have seen the reduction of required components and the movement from hardware dominated electronics to software dominated electronics. This has run alongside the change from analogue devices to digital devices. The devices, sometimes known as programmable ICs, have at their core a microprocessor, around which the software for a particular application can be written.
These programmable devices allow electronics to have ultra-complex control of many applications and systems, in a way we accept and expect in the present day. AGW have successfully introduced a new product for one of their customers using this style of electronics and are working on the development of a second project using programmable devices.