The Valuable Role of Copper in PCB Fabrication

Prototype pcb manufacturing

If you work on, or really use, any electronic devices you know how important prototype printed circuit boards (PCB) is to just about everything. How important is it? Well, the global market for the little parts had hit about $60 billion in 2012. That represented 1.7% of actual growth from 2011. This is according to 2012 IPC’s World PCB Production Report. PCBs can be made in three ways. They can be single-sided, double-sided or multilayered. While each board has to be tailor made for the device into which it will be placed, there is one thing that is pretty much common to all kinds of PCB fabrication and that is their dependence on copper.

If you have been keeping up with this sort of thing, you may have noticed that copper is a very hot commodity right now. And this is not just because of is value in PCB fabrication. For many years, copper was the only game in town. In fact for over 5,000 years, it was the only metal to be used at all. Its use dates back at least 10,000 years. As malleable as it is, which is one reason it was so popular, the real reason it was used so much was that it can be recycled, again, again and again.

If you are wondering how recyclable it is, it has been estimated that the planet has roughly 5.8 trillion pounds of it but only 12% of that has been mined. Almost all of that is being used by someone, somewhere today.

So, why is copper theft such a big deal? It has been reported that in the United States almost $1 billion of damage is done every year by people who are stealing copper. The Department of Energy reports that commissions have been set up and new laws passed to combat the problem.

Why all this thieving of copper? What makes it so valuable today? And now we get back to the PCB fabrication process and the other qualities of the metal that make it so valuable. We live in a world that depends on its electricity and the devices powered by it. The reason copper is so valuable to the PCB fabrication process is its unique ability to conduct electricity and all that gets back to its chemical makeup.

All general chemistry classes should not start with the teaching of specific figures. If you have forgotten what they are, they are the numbers you need to care about. When calculating most chemistry you can have a number that goes on for infinity and for what general chemistry students need to do, that is taking things a bit far. But that is really just math.

Chemistry should start with the electrons. Once students have been taught what each part of the atom is (proton, neutron, electron and nucleus), they really can forget about what is happening inside the atom and look at the outer shell. That is called the “valence shell” and really is where all the action is. How well an atom holds onto its electrons or how well it gives them away is where it all happens. Oxygen, the most electronegative element would be a terrible conductor of electricity for this very reason. To conduct electricity, you need to be able to let go and it cannot. Conversely, this is why it is so important to respiration. It is so greedy for electrons that it will take them from its neighbors.

Copper, on the other hand, gives and takes electrons freely creating the chain that is electrical conductivity. All prototype PCB manufacturing is therefore served by two of copper’s key qualities. It is generally cheap and it can effectively and efficiently conduct the power around the prototype printed circuit boards they way they need it so.

It is easy to take for granted the metal that is copper. After using it for more than 10,000 years maybe some people only think of copper when they look at the green statues that have been made of it. First it was used as jewelry and decoration. Now it is being used to power our world in wiring and PCB fabrication. Who knows what is next for it.

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