A ballast is the big bulky box like structure on fluorescent lamps. The electric ballasts of the past have been replaced by PCB based electronic ballasts. The conglomeration of PCB technology and electronics has been helpful in achieving this.
What a ballast does
The ballasts are used to limit the electric currents in fluorescent lamps. The lamps are filled with mercury vapor. Due to negative resistance characteristics of the mercury vapor, it draws heavy currents in the lamps, which can destroy the lamp. For limiting these dangerous amounts of electric current, ballasts are used.
The traditional ballasts used to be either inductive or resistive in nature. Inductive ballasts produced high voltages across discharge tubes that ionize the gas and limits the amount of current to save the lamp. One of the major disadvantages with the ballasts was the frequency at which the lamp operates. The electrical ballasts operating at low frequencies affected the performance of the lamps. Flicker could be observed in the lamps due to low frequency operation. Also, the windings used to be under constant stresses producing an irritating humming noise during their operation.
PCB based electronic ballasts
But now the tide has changed and with the development of solid state electronics and PCB technology, electronic ballasts are replacing the electrical ballasts and the the latter is on the verge of extinction.
The electronic ballasts are based on the principles of SMPS technology, pulse width modulation or frequency modulation techniques. The electronic components in the form of switching devices like MOSFETs, IGBT or transistor and diodes, transformers, etc. are embedded on a PCB. These circuits in addition to limiting the amount of current, increase the frequency of the power to high levels. As a result, flicker in the lamp is reduced and buzzing sound from the ballasts is also eliminated. Due to absence of preheating technique, the lamp life is increased.
Advantages of PCB electronic ballasts
- With the advent of PCB electronic ballasts, which are relatively small sizes of the components, the electronic ballasts have become smaller and lighter than electric ballasts.
- The lamps have become sleeker and the thickness has been reduced giving the same illumination.
- They are comparatively inexpensive due to mass production techniques and low cost of the components.
- Flicker and buzzing in the fluorescent lamps is reduced considerably.
- They are more efficient than the electrical ballasts and result in saving of power and lead to long life of lamps.
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The early phase
In today’s technological scenario, PCBs play an important role when compared to early were not much commendable. They mainly and mostly consisted of end-end wiring or point-point contacts creating clumsy wiring practices. The turret board (the early form of electronic circuit) was little better than the point connections used.
The earlier practices resulted in a complex network circuit. It was difficult to detect the faults occurring in the system. In addition, fixed the problems resulted in more faults in the circuit later.
Problems related to low data transfer speed and heat generation frequently happened and the mechanical stress produced due to the working of the machinery was harmful to the circuit.
Merits of PCB
The invention of the PCB resolved the issues that were common with the earlier practices. Faults happened less often now and it was a simple task to do away with them in case of faults. Also, the circuit boards could now handle more work load in related environments. Consequently, the electronic industry started expanding with the size of the PCBs getting smaller and more features getting loaded over single chip, the circuits gained credibility in terms of reliability.
Economy in cost and size
The short track lengths and effective use of the board space resulted in compactness of the circuits resulting in usage of a lower amount of raw material and lower cost. Large scale production of PCBs expanded the electronic consumer market, which resulted in the goods available to consumers at lower prices. It also led to capital benefits to the companies. As the size of PCBs reduced, it led to added features like GSM, video capturing abilities and GPRS added on a single chip at little extra cost which made technology viable to the common man.
Miniaturization of the substrate is posing a challenge to the skills and competence of all: researchers as well as developers. And, PCB development is going meet the ever growing technological needs of different users in different sectors.
With the coming of 3D printing technology, the industry will have an edge over the existing 2D and 2.5D technology. The medical domain is challenging, and it is an opportunity for PCB professionals for developing technological applications for easy and simpler use of the equipment in diagnosis of illnesses and other applications in medical profession.
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