Plated Through Hole Vs. Non-Plated Through Hole Which PCB Technology is Right for Your Next Electronics Project?

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Understanding through-hole technology

Before we jump into the discussion of plated through-hole vs. non-plated through-hole, we have to acquaint ourselves first with one fundamental concept: through-hole technology in Printed Circuit Boards (PCB)

When it comes to PCBs, Through-hole technology is a fundamental concept. It refers to the process of mounting electronic components on circuit boards. It’s done by inserting their leads or pins through pre-drilled holes in the board and soldering them on the opposite side.

Let’s do this by rehashing what through-hole technology is…

What are through-hole technologies

Through-Hole technology

What are through-hole technologies, and how do they work in PCBs?

Through-hole technology is a widely used method for mounting electronic components. The process involves drilling holes through the board. You insert component leads or pins through the holes. Then, you solder the components in place. Through-hole is a secure and reliable way to put components, making it ideal for applications requiring high durability and stability levels.

Several components are commonly used in through-hole PCBs, including resistors, capacitors, diodes, transistors, and other discrete components. These components differ in size, shape, and materials. The difference impacts the performance and cost of the final product.

Different through-hole PCBs

Through-hole technology can be used in various types of PCBs, including:

  • Single-sided PCBs – they have components mounted only on one side of the board.
  • Double-sided PCBs – they have components on both sides.
  • Multilayer PCBs – they are composed of multiple layers of conductive material and insulation. Multilayer PCBs can comprise three up to 40+ layers for complex circuits.

Now that we’re clear about the Plated Through Hole technology let’s discuss Plated Through Holes. After that, we’ll do Non-Plated Through Hole.

Why use Plated Through Holes (PTH)

Reasons to Use Plated Through Holes

Why use Plated Through Holes (PTH)?

Plated through-hole (PTH) technology is a widely used method of manufacturing circuit boards. It involves drilling holes in the board and then plating the walls of the holes with a conductive material to create electrical connections between the different layers of the board. Here are some pros and cons:

Benefits of Plated Through-Hole PCBs

Plated through-holes provide a more robust and reliable connection than non-plated holes, making them suitable for high-reliability applications such as aerospace, defense, and medical devices.

The plated walls of the holes reduce the resistance and capacitance of the interconnections, improving the electrical performance of the board.

Challenges and Limitations of PTH PCBs

The plating process increases the cost of manufacturing the board, making it more expensive when compared to non-plated through-hole PCBs.

The plating process can also lead to issues such as over-plating, under-plating, and incomplete plating, which can affect the electrical performance of the board.

Common applications PTH PCBs

Plated through-hole PCBs are widely used in applications that require durability. Examples: aerospace setting, military setting, medical devices, and cars.

They are also used in high-speed digital circuits and in circuits that require good thermal dissipation.

Plated through-hole technology has evolved over time. New techniques such as laser-drilled microvias and sequential lamination have made it possible to create even more complex HDI PCBs.

Why use Non-Plated Through Holes

Reasons to Use Non-Plated Through Holes

How about using Non-Plated Through Holes (N-PTH)?

Non-plated through-hole technology is a type of PCB technology that does not use any plating or metallization. Instead, the holes drilled through the PCB are left as they are, and the leads of the through-hole components are inserted and soldered to the pads on both sides of the PCB.

Non-plated through-hole technology is a simpler and more cost-effective alternative to plated through-hole technology. In non-plated through-hole PCBs, the holes drilled through the PCB have no metal. The components are inserted and soldered to the pads on both sides of the PCB. This is different from plated through-hole PCBs, where the holes are plated with metal to form a conductive path between the layers of the PCB.

Benefits of Non-Plated Through-Hole PCB

There are several benefits to using non-plated through-hole PCBs. They are simpler and easier to manufacture than plated through-hole PCBs, which can be more complex and time-consuming to produce. Non-plated through-hole PCBs are also cheaper than plated ones since they do not require plating or metallization. Additionally, non-plated through-hole PCBs are more environmentally friendly than plated through-hole PCBs. Why? They do not require the use of any chemicals or hazardous materials.

Challenges and limitations of N-PTH PCBs

Non-plated through-hole PCBs have some drawbacks. One of the main challenges is that they may not be suitable for HDI designs since the through-hole components can take up a lot of space on the PCB. Additionally, the leads of through-hole components can be more prone to damage and fatigue. Thinking about it, this reduces the ruggedness and lifespan of the PCB.

Where non-plated through-hole PCBs are best suited

Non-plated through-hole PCBs are commonly used in applications where simplicity and cost-effectiveness are more important than max performance. Some common applications include industrial controls, consumer electronics, and automotive systems. Non-plated through-hole PCBs can also be used in prototyping and testing since they are easy to modify and repair.

N-PTH vs. other PCB types

Non-plated through-hole PCBs have lower electrical performance than plated through-hole PCBs and surface-mount PCBs (SMT PCB). Leads of through-hole components can cause parasitic capacitance and inductance, which can affect the electrical characteristics of the circuit. If your device does not require high-speed or high-frequency signals, non-plated through-hole is a good fit.

Comparison of PTH and N-PTH

Comparison of PTH and N-PTH

Let’s compare PTH and N-PTH now

As we’ve promised, we did a lengthy discussion on Plated Through Hole and then Non-Plated Through Hole.

Now, it’s time to choose…

Applications where PTH is ideal

Think reliability and high electrical performance whenever you see “Plated through-hole.”

PTH PCBs are ideal for devices that require high-speed data transmission, such as telecommunications equipment and computer motherboards. The plating process in plated through-hole PCBs provides a secure and reliable electrical connection between components and circuit layers. This ensures signal integrity and prevents issues such as noise interference and signal loss.

And where N-PTH PCBs are the best option —

For N-PTH, think of applications where simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and environmental friendliness are the top priorities. These PCBs are commonly used in daily electronic devices such as toys, household appliances, and lighting fixtures. Non-plated through-hole PCBs are also ideal for devices that do not require high-speed data transmission or high power dissipation.

There may be more factors to consider…

When deciding between plated and non-plated through-hole PCBs, you should consider budget, performance requirements, and manufacturing complexity factors.

Plated through-hole PCBs are more expensive to fabricate due to the plating process, but they offer improved reliability and electrical performance. Non-plated through-hole PCBs, on the other hand, are generally more cost-effective and easier to manufacture, but they may not be suitable for high-performance applications.

Long story short, the choice between plated and non-plated through-hole PCBs depends on you. What do you need? Do you need a high-performance board? How much are you willing to spend? With these in mind, determine which type of Hole-PCB is most pleasing.

For the manufacturing process of both PTH and N-PTH, let’s do a refresher first. This educational video gives the steps in detail:

 

Are there differences in the manufacturing process between plated and non-plated through-hole PCBs?

The short answer is yes. The following section describes our answer in detail.

Steps involved in manufacturing PTH PCBs

  1. Drilling: Holes are drilled into the PCB using a high-speed drill. This process must be precise to ensure the holes align correctly with the component pads.
  2. Copper plating: The PCB is placed in a plating bath where a thin layer of copper is deposited on the walls of the holes. This copper layer helps to improve the electrical connection between the component leads and the PCB traces.
  3. Through-hole plating: The plated through-holes are then coated with a layer of tin or other material to prevent oxidation.
  4. Solder mask application: A layer of solder mask is applied to the surface of the PCB, covering all the areas except where the components are to be placed.
  5. Component placement: Components are placed on the PCB and soldered to the pads.

Steps involved in manufacturing non-plated through-hole PCBs

Compared to PTH, N-PTH only has two steps, which are:

  1. Drilling: Holes are drilled into the PCB using a high-speed drill. This process must be precise to ensure the holes align with the component pads.
  2. Component placement: Components are placed on the PCB and soldered to the pads.

The big difference between the two processes is the copper plating step. These extra steps add an extra layer of complexity and cost.

Equipment required for manufacturing PTH versus N-PTH

Both processes require a high-speed drill for hole drilling and equipment for component placement and soldering. However, plated through-hole PCBs require the extra goods for copper plating. This includes a plating bath plus associated chemicals.

How about Quality Control of PTH vs. N-PTH?

Both require careful QC measures to ensure the holes are drilled to the correct size and alignment. The components all need to be properly placed and soldered.

Plated through-hole PCBs require additional quality control measures for the copper plating step. PTH PCBs must have the copper layer even and adhere steadfastly to the hole walls.

Do you see it now? While both plated through-hole and non-plated through-hole PCBs serve specific applications, the manufacturing processes aren’t the same. Again, you be the judge of which one you like the best.

Cost analysis and material comparison

Cost Analysis & Material Comparison

Cost analysis and material considerations: plated vs. non-plated through-hole PCBs

Regarding PTH vs. N-PTH, how much you spend and what material is used are compulsory factors. Let’s take a closer look!

Cost comparison

The cost of a PCB depends on several factors, including the number of layers, the board size, and the complexity of the circuit design. However, when comparing plated and non-plated through-hole PCBs, there are a few key cost differences.

Plated through-hole PCBs typically require more materials and manufacturing steps, which can increase their cost compared to non-plated through-hole PCBs. The equipment necessary for manufacturing plated through-hole PCBs generally is more expensive.

On the other hand, non-plated through-hole PCBs are often less expensive due to their simpler manufacturing process and fewer required materials. However, it’s important to remember that non-plated through-hole PCBs may offer different reliability and electrical performance than plated ones. Think then of long-term cost-effectiveness.

You can use a PCB Cost Calculator in one of our previous posts to help you calculate. Meanwhile…

Material considerations/comparison

  • Conductivity: Plated through-hole PCBs typically use materials with higher conductivity, such as copper, which can improve their electrical performance.
  • Solderability: Non-plated through-hole PCBs may require additional steps to ensure proper soldering, as the holes may not be coated with a conductive material.
  • Environmental impact: Non-plated through-hole PCBs may be considered eco-friendly, as they require fewer materials and chemicals during manufacturing.
  • Component compatibility: Some components may be better suited for plated through-hole PCBs, while others may work best with non-plated ones.

In summary, cost and material considerations of plated and non-plated through-hole PCBs can vary depending on your specs. It’s important to carefully evaluate these factors and choose the option that best fits you.

Future developments in through-hole PCB technology

This section is applicable for PTH and N-PTH, since both are Through Hole PCBs.

Through-hole technology has come a long way since its inception in the 1940s. As technology advances, let’s say there will be further improvements in these types of PCBs.

Recent advancements in PTH technology

Laser-drilled holes: Laser technology has revolutionized the drilling of small holes, making it possible to create much smaller holes. This is particularly useful for high-density PCBs that require many holes.

High-speed plating: Traditional through-hole plating can be a slow process, but new techniques, such as pulse plating, can significantly reduce the plating time. This can result in faster production times and lower costs.

Improved materials: The materials used in through-hole plating have improved over the years, resulting in better performance and reliability. For example, electroless nickel immersion gold (ENIG) is now commonly used instead of traditional tin-lead plating.

Recent advancements in N-PTH technology

Surface-mount technology: SMT has been around for decades, but recent advancements have made it even more efficient and effective. SMT allows for much smaller and more complex PCB designs, making it a popular choice for many applications.

Conductive ink: Newer conductive ink has made it possible to create through-hole connections without traditional plating. This can significantly reduce the cost and complexity of PCB manufacturing.

3D printing: This innovation has the potential to revolutionize PCB manufacturing. While it’s still in its early stages, researchers are speeding up the use of 3D printing to create complex, multilayer PCBs.

The future of Through-Hole PCBs

Future of Through-Hole PCBs

The Future of Through-Hole technology

For both PTH and N-PTH, there’s something to look forward to. Let’s jump to the list. Then, we’ll get more specific and discuss PTH and N-PTH advancements separately.

Hybrid technology: There is potential for developing hybrid PCBs that combine plated and non-plated through-hole technology. This could result in PCBs with improved performance and lower costs.

Smaller holes: As technology advances, we can expect to see even smaller holes drilled in PCBs. This will enable the creation of even more compact and high-density PCB designs.

More environmentally-friendly materials: A growing demand for more environmentally-friendly PCB manufacturing processes and materials exists. We will see new developments in this area eventually.

Trends and developments for plated through-hole PCBs

Automotive industry: Plated through-hole PCBs are commonly used in the automotive industry for applications such as engine control units (ECUs) and safety systems. As automobiles become high-tech, expect to see even more applications for plated through-hole PCBs.

Aerospace industry: The aerospace industry requires extremely reliable PCBs that can withstand harsh conditions. Plated through-hole PCBs are ideal for these applications, and expect bigger developments in this area.

Future applications for non-plated through-hole PCBs happening now

As we advance, many potential future applications for non-plated through-hole PCBs emerge. One area where non-plated through-hole PCBs are particularly well-suited is the development of small and portable electronic devices.

These devices, such as wearables, smartwatches, and IoT sensors, require high flexibility and durability to function properly. Non-plated through-hole PCBs can offer these benefits by using flexible substrates and eliminating the need for drilling and plating, resulting in a more reliable and robust design.

Another potential future application for non-plated through-hole PCBs is developing sustainable electronics. Non-plated through-hole PCBs can be made using eco materials and processes. Additionally, the simpler manufacturing process leads to reduced waste and energy consumption.

Non-plated through-hole PCBs, like PTH, have applications in the automotive and aerospace industries. With their simpler design and lack of plating, N-PTH can offer a more rugged and reliable solution than other types of PCBs.

Finally, N-PTH PCBs have applications in medical devices. Clinical devices require a high degree of flexibility, reliability, and biocompatibility. Non-plated through-hole PCBs can be made using biocompatible materials. They can be designed to be more flexible and durable than other types of PCBs, making them well-suited for medical applications.

Conclude PTH vs N-PTH

Choosing a PCB Manufacturer

After all of that lengthy talk, let’s conclude

It’s important to note that N-PTH technology may offer significant advantages over P-PTH technology in certain applications. For instance, N-PTH PCBs may be better suited for use in high-density, small-form-factor devices with limited space, as they don’t require the additional plating step. Additionally, N-PTH offers better thermal performance, which is important in applications where heat dissipation is a concern.

Another potential application for N-PTH technology is in the field of flexible PCBs, which are increasingly popular in applications where traditional rigid PCBs are not suitable. So, let’s think of wearable electronics or curved displays. All in all, N-PTH  seems more high-tech and suited for the future.

Speaking of PCBs, have you heard of PCBMay? They are a reliable Chinese manufacturer that offers both P-PTH and N-PTH PCBs and flexible PCBs. We’ve got a proven track record of delivering high-quality PCBs at competitive prices, and they use the latest manufacturing technologies to ensure fast turnaround times and excellent results.

If you’re in need of high-quality PCBs for your next project, check out PCBMay. We have a wide range of PCB options to choose. We’re very much committed to providing you with exceptional customer service.

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