The Printed Circuit Boards of Commercial Aviation Applications
Printed circuit boards, or PCBs, are a common element of countless electronic systems. Coming in the form of a flat substrate with various embedded electronic components and copper traces, PCBs act as a medium that collects and connects components to one another in a very controlled manner. While a majority of circuit boards perform the same roles, their exact makeup and design will differ based on the application and environment in question. For example, many modern aircraft that are highly electrified take advantage of printed circuit boards for standard system functionality, but unlike the PCBs that may be found in a home computer, these boards must be rigorously designed to withstand the demanding needs, intensive stresses, and environmental conditions present during flight.
Since the introduction of the glass cockpit and the shift away from mechanical gauges, aircraft have increasingly become electrified. The complexity increases when considering the various entertainment systems, charging ports, and internet equipment that have also become more common. With a large amount of electronics being added each year, there is a great need for integrated devices and interfaces that can facilitate the seamless operations of multiple complex networks.
One way in which printed circuit boards meet the demands of airplane systems is by using the IEEE 802.3 standard for Ethernet technology. With this design, PCBs can support flight control systems and benefit energy usage, fuel consumption, ground crew coordination, and landing gear operations. As a result, such Ethernet technology is perfect for the current demands needed for harsh, mobile, and mission-critical environments.
Another way in which the printed circuit boards of aircraft differ from standard boards is through their better thermal management capabilities. In certain areas of aircraft, temperatures can intensely rise as a result of combustion, moving parts, and more. As such, any printed circuit board situated in these spaces must be able to withstand high temperatures without melting and failing. In order to remain cool for optimal operations, aviation circuit boards have much effort put into their heat distribution and thermal conductivity.
With the use of heat sink components, heat may be redirected through corrugated structures for proper convection and conduction. Additionally, copper and aluminum backings also assist in directing heat to the heat sink as well. For flame resistance, chemical resistance, and ash and smoke deterrence, materials such as FR-4 are often utilized.
As a last major concern, aviation PCBs may also take advantage of flexing in certain spaces which is achieved through the use of polyamide instead of FR-4. This allows the board to be light and curved, ensuring that it can fit within very constricted spaces. Beyond helping assemblies be more compact, the bending capability of aviation PCBs also ensures that they do not break or fail when faced with vibration or turbulence during standard flight operations.
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