When we think about technological advancement with respect to consumers, it’s usually regarding one of two things. The first is simply gaining access to new internet features, social networks, apps, and the like.
As our piece on The Pre-Historic World Wide Web noted, the first website went online in August of 1991. The web has been evolving ever since, and in the process is continually delivering new consumer experiences.
The second thing is the consistent release of new consumer products. We live in a constant cycle of updates and debuts, whether they concern our computers, our phones, various accessories, or now even our wearables.
Just recently, the entire internet was in a frenzy over a supposed iPhone 14 leak — which Apple Insider noted came days before the iPhone 13 was even unveiled. Consumer product rumors and releases ultimately drive much of the tech discourse.
Alongside internet updates and new consumer products though, we occasionally see entire new types of technology to get excited about. One in recent years has been 3D printing and looking at how it’s been adopted by consumers and what it can be used for, we’re wondering if PCB (printed circuit board) design might be next.
Just five years ago, 3D printing was essentially a new technology. We began to see demonstrations of machines “printing” everything from components for homes to ornate chess pieces. And we began to hear that 3D printing could do anything from solving homelessness crises to expediting the production of electric vehicles. Yet at that time, 3D printing was still a largely commercial technology, reserved for industrial and scientific purposes.
In time though, 3D printing became more of a consumer technology as well. As Fast Company noted in 2020, the cost of the printers themselves dropped to a point at which it was “accessible to most Americans.” This led more people to buy printers for themselves, at which point they could “download, customize, and print” an incredible range of products. That could mean anything from a knife rack to a candlestick holder, to a one-of-a-kind action figure. It might also mean a casing for homemade electronics — which brings us back to the PCB idea.
At first, the idea of designing a circuit board may seem inaccessible. And to be sure, it’s certainly something that will appeal and come more naturally to a true tech enthusiast. Nevertheless, it is easier than it used to be for consumers to customize and build their own printed circuit boards.
Design demonstrations and even exact schematics can be found for all kinds of circuit boards built for all kinds of purposes. Consumers can find these resources and, according to Altium, plug specifics into powerful board layout software that makes it easy to configure a working PCB — and even have it sent for manufacturing.
It takes some time for newcomers to learn this process and nail down the specifics of PCB design. But the bottom line is that it’s more of an option than it once was, and it gives consumers the opportunity to build their own, functioning electronics. These might be anything from alarm clocks to temperature readers — and in some cases, they may even be built with 3D-printed casing surrounding custom PCBs. In other words, people now have the ability to fully customize home electronics products inside and out.
We’ll see in time just how trendy this sort of thing becomes. But as we grow used to 3D printing as one of the more interesting consumer tech trends in recent years, it’s worth considering whether PCB design might be up next.