If you could name one thing, just one discovery or invention that completely changed the face of the world forever – what would it be? Many people cite things like the computer, the internet and the wheel among others.

As important as those inventions are, two of those things only exist because of one other thing, without which this world be vastly different to the one that you know and love. Many of the things that we write about here on Tech Weet require this remarkable invention. Indeed, it is the sole reason that you are even able to read this article.

The Printed Circuit Board (PCB)

Few inventions have had as much of an impact on the world as the PCB (printed circuit board). In fact, it could be argued that the printed circuit board was a more important invention than even the microchip (or, to give it its proper name, the integrated circuit). After all, the PCB predates it by some 40 years.

The ‘modern’ PCB was first created in 1936 (although its history begins in 1903, in Germany). While the first commercial integrated circuit was made available in 1961 by Paul Eisler.

PCB trundled along quite happily without the IC for 40 years. Giving the world enhanced radio technology along the way, as well being used in the US military which is when things really took off.

By contrast, the microchip could not even exist had the printed circuit board not been invented. Although the impact it had on the world was incalculable, when it did arrive.

Today, every electronic device uses a PCB in some way or another – even the smallest television remote control. Almost every technological advance that has been made since 1961 owes its very existence to the PCB.

Sounds like a great bit of kit. What is it?

Put simply, the printed circuit board is the foundation upon which electrical components are pieced together to build a functioning device. If we picture a floor space with wires running through it and with sockets placed at various locations, we end up with a basic printed circuit board.

Appliances could be plugged into the sockets in the floor, negating the need for them to be plugged into wall outlets. If this floor could then be picked up, appliances and all, and transported to another home then you would have a functioning PCB. Apart from the fact that it wouldn’t be ‘printed’, obviously.

Of course, this isn’t a completely accurate representation but it does provide a rough idea of what we are dealing with. Oh and if you spotted an issue with appliance size, and the maximum ‘power’ output of the PCB (in every sense) then go to the head of the class.

Size and power has become more of an issue in recent years for the integrated circuit, which has efficiency implications for the PCB. It’s an issue for the IC because as the technology advances, the number of operations per second that are performed goes up. In more recent years that increase has been astronomical.