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Which Term To Use - PWB or PCB?
Is there any real difference between the terms Printed Wire Board and Printed Circuit Board? Which do you recommend?
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Which Term To Use - PWB or PCB?
Is there any real difference between the terms Printed Wire Board (PWB) and Printed Circuit Board (PCB)?

Which do you recommend we use for internal and external documents?
R. D.
Expert's Panel Responses

This question has been discussed numerous times at IPC meetings and usually enables a fair amount of emotion.

All of the following are possible uses, depending on your age, geographic location (slang usage), and where/how you got your training. I'm sure there are more.

PB - printed board. the most generic term for a bare board

PWB - printed wiring board, one of the first uses when the issue was only a point to point connection.

PCB - printed circuit board, where the width, side to side and multi-layer relationship(spacing) of conductor runs has or is designed to have a specific effect on circuit operation other than just a point to point connection. Circuit impedance is a primary issue. In approximately 1999 the IPC Technical Activities Executive Committee made a mandate to only use the term PCB for all new document development because more often than not the printed circuitry design will have an impact on function.

PWA - printed wire assembly - older use

PCA - printed circuit assembly - logical to use with the 1999 change to PCB.

PCBA - printed circuit board assembly - multiplerequests/comments (strong push) from users and technical committees in Asia and Europe to use this as the preferred term.

Embedded active or passive components opens up a whole new range of possibilities as well.

While it would be good to have a single term (or pair of terms for bare boards and assemblies) reality is that there are many IPCdocuments of various age using different terms and many more book and magazine article authors, conference lecturers, etc., that pretty much use whatever term they are most comfortable with.

If preparing a document; it would be appropriate to use a term that most of the expected users would understand. In the world of electronics technology, it would seem that most usersshould be able to understand the content when any of these terms are used.

Jack Crawford
Director - Certification & Assembly Technology
Mr. Crawford is Director of Certification and Assembly Technology for IPC. He is technical liaison to the IPC committees that maintain critical industry standards and has presented numerous papers internationally.

Great question.

IPC-T-50H, has a definition for each of these terms,

Printed Circuit Board, provides both point-to-point connections and printed components in a predetermined arrangement on a common base.

Printed Wiring Board, provides point-to-point connections but not printed components in a predetermined arrangement on a common base.

There is a difference between the two, but I would say the industry has used the term interchangeably throughout the history of electronic manufacturing.

Left to my devices all raw boards coming from the board shops should be called Printed Wiring Boards.

Leo Lambert
Vice President, Technical Director
EPTAC Corporation
At EPTAC Corporation, Mr. Lambert oversees content of course offerings, IPC Certification programs and provides customers with expert consultation in electronics manufacturing, including RoHS/WEEE and lead free issues. Leo is also the IPC General Chairman for the Assembly/Joining Process Committee.

Most of the industry uses PCB. So that would be the term for me.

Edward Zamborsky
Regional Sales Manager
OK International Inc.
Mr. Zamborsky serves as one of OK's technology advisers to the Product Development group. Ed has authored articles and papers on topics such as; Low Volume SMT Assembly, Solder Fume Extraction, SMT Rework, BGA Rework, Lead Free Hand Soldering, Lead Free Visual Inspection and Lead Free Array Rework.

No Real difference. PCB is the more modern term.

Gary Goldberg
President and CEO
Mr Goldberg has practical experience in production line layout, process flow and cycle rate analysis. He knows how to avoid bottle necks and most related PCB or pallet handling questions.
Reader Comment
It is same, PCB is used more than PWB.
Scott Chen, Excellence PCB Technology Co.,Ltd
Reader Comment

I started in the 70s calling them Printed Wire Boards and Printed Wire Assemblies as still prefer those terms. A Printed Circuit is just that, a circuit that is printed to the board with printed resistors, traces printed specifically to provide deliberate capacitive or inductive effects, or other "printed" components as in a Hybrid.

To say that "printed circuitry design will have an impact on function" negates the fact that even if all components are connected by discrete wires, those wires still impart LCR characteristics to the circuit function.

Personally I think we as an industry just got lazy and instead of continuously correcting the commonly misapplied term "Printed Circuit" we just gave up and accepted it.

Terminology is only useful if it has specific meaning and we now have ambiguous terms that don't specify exactly what we are talking about.

David Mason
Reader Comment

Really, the terms are used interchangeably. Technically hybrid circuits are the only true printed circuits. All other processes are based on combinations of additive and subtractive processes which do not involve the direct lay-down of the conductor.

John McConnell, Kemet, USA
Reader Comment

I think the standard naming should be updated to CWC "Circuit Wiring Carrier". This would include rigid, rigid-flex, flex, and any other exotic of the like, and would also be inclusive of all process technologies that would yield the same general commodity as the end result. Any kind of common sense update would be refreshing!

Reader Comment

Another consideration - although "PCB" was the most commonly used term years ago, during the 1970's and 80's there was a lot of negative publicity about polychlorinated biphenyls (aka PCBs) as carcinogenic environmental pollutants, and the circuit board industry in the U.S. turned to favor "PWB" to avoid any confusion or association with those pollutants.

Karl Wengenroth, Enthone, Inc., USA
Reader Comment

I have been in this industry for well over 35 years, and what we are talking about have always been referred to as PCBs. There was actually something we called a printed wire board that was literally wires laid down on a board with a coating of resin covering it to keep the wires in place. At the time there weren't multilayer boards, so high density could be achieved this way. It was sort of like wire wrap, but the wires were "welded" to the pads instead of wrapped.

Jeff L Sorensen, Teridian Semiconductor, USA
Reader Comment

Printed circuit boards is the modern term for the bare board, also called the fabricated board. Circuit Card Assembly (CCA) is the term used to describe the finished assembly, not PWA.

Richard Stadem, General Dynamics AIS
Reader Comment

Looking at Mr. Leo Lambert's comment, the different between the two terms is mainly in having the printed components or not. What are "Printed components"? Does this refer to legend printing or component mark printing?

Thomas Ip, Newsmart International Limited
Reader Comment

The boards in question essentially provide a substrate with interconnect traces and pads. Some have embedded components but are NOT a functional circuit by any stretch of the imagination.

I seem to recall that in the 1970s the board industry agreed that PCB was incorrect and that PWB accurately reflected the functionality. Some old timers, who resist change, clung to the inaccurate PCB term. Apparently, laziness has prevailed for man but PWB is frequently used now.

If you think about it, using lithography, today's SoCs (systems on a chip) are the only true "printed circuits", requiring only power.

Terrence Thompson, WDPI
Reader Comment

We have been a manufacturer of printed circuit boards for 37 years now, our UL Card says Printed Wiring Board. But most people say PCB or Circuit Board.

Richard Kincaid
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