Material Conservation: The PCB Designer's Role


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During these times of supply chain uncertainty, many product developers are considering new ways to conserve materials—from laminates to components, layer reduction, and everything in between. Barry Matties and Happy Holden recently spoke with Alun Morgan, president of EIPC and technology ambassador for Ventec, about material conservation strategies for today’s PCB designers and design engineers. Alun explained why this may be the perfect time to educate PCB designers about conserving materials: When a model is broken, the people involved are much more open to new ideas.

Barry Matties: As companies try to navigate these challenging times, they’re considering changing their strategies. What other options do they have?

Alun Morgan: The only other option is stopping completely. Cease operations. And that really is an issue.

Matties: Material conservation must be a conversation in many facilities today.

Morgan: Yes. And actually, I hope we can come out of this and start accepting Happy’s very simple suggestion. He said, “Why don’t we just reduce the thickness of the boards?” That would save a huge number of resources, just a huge number, which has got to be a good thing. Using less material is a good thing in any way, shape, or form.

Happy Holden: Everybody is buying direct imaging equipment now, but the thing is they’re still designing 4-mil lines and spaces. Well, if you went to 2-mil lines and spaces and had half the number of signal layers, you would also need fewer power and ground layers. Unfortunately, currently in North America, if you can’t route the board with 4-mil lines and spaces, you add more layers, you make the thing more complicated, and use more materials.

You don’t go back and reconsider: Should I use 3/3? No, you just slap in more signal layers. Well, that’s great, but what if your vendors can’t buy the material? That’s not a solution. North America is particularly bad at that. You’ve got to start looking at other solutions because doing it the same old way (SOW) that we did 40 years ago will not work. When we have a material crisis, you can’t get copper foil. You can’t get prepreg. Well, stop using copper foil. Stop using as much prepreg. Extend what you have.

Morgan: Or use less. The message you’re giving, Happy, is one that we’ve heard before, which is that you must get to the designers and explain because if you don’t get the designers on board, they won’t design the boards that way. Many of us have spent our working lives talking to designers. Of course, there are a lot of them and every time we’ve talked to one set, there’s a new batch of designers coming along.

They need to understand what this is all about, because they would never come to that kind of conclusion naturally—to make the board thinner. They would never come to that conclusion because they don’t understand. But in the space of a short presentation, you could probably give designers a huge amount of information and help them make the change. Maybe this will be the catalyst for designing for conservation (DFC), because we haven’t seen the worst of it. I’m certain of that. Maybe it will be the catalyst that will drive some proper change.

Happy, you and I know what some of the possibilities are if we can get designers to think in terms of material conservation. I’m not saying that we know everything, but we know some things that could work, and this might be the time. This may be our chance to actually do something to reduce material consumption, starting with board design.

To read the rest of this interview, which appeared in the August 2022 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.

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