What Role Will PCBAs Play a Role in Your Next Innovation? Consider Its Part in Tomorrow’s ‘Smart’ Film Set


At just 50 years into the so-called “Digital Revolution,” today’s consumers and workforce take for granted the fact that — up until the early 1980s — all of the household gadgets, business machines, and industrial machines we rely on were once powered, controlled, and connected by mechanical and analog systems. From medicine to aerospace, from telephony to automotive, from building systems to home white goods – nary a device that exists today doesn’t have a hard-working PCBA in its innards.

The Cascade Systems team was recently reminded of this easily overlooked truth – and how the digital revolution both continues and, indeed, is accelerating — when a producer of advanced, LED lighting systems for movie sets charged us with helping them manufacture an advanced control system that enables precision, on-set lighting to be deployed (not unlike a film’s soundtrack) to better evoke mood, emphasize on-screen action, or even pinpoint actor’s expressions. (I can’t divulge the name of the first movie that’ll use it, but suffice it to say it will be exciting to see it when it is released to a theater near you – or, if need be in the Covid-19 era, on your laptop, home theater, or TV… Each of them is also enabled by advanced PCBAs, I might add!)

Of course, lighting is just a fraction of the PCBA-enabled infrastructure on a film set that’s rich with opportunities for innovation or, the continuance of the aforementioned ‘revolution.’

In fact, beyond the equipment a layman would expect to find on a set (e.g. cameras, lighting, booms, tracks, motorized dollies, hand-held, and body-mounted rigs, etc.), a typical shoot requires a vast array of ancillary gear like monitors, sound boards, lighting controls, power supplies, special effects generators, teleprompters, headsets and speakers, and much, much more… All of it is reliant on and enabled by onboard, PCBA-based computing power.

Neat as that is to our firm and electronics devotees, what CST finds most interesting and invigorating are the functionalities and possibilities that tomorrow’s PCBA technology will allow us to bring to an application like this. 

  • Manifesting the promise of IoT, imagine the synchronization, control, and monitoring opportunities that might unfold if all of this gear were wirelessly connected to each other via RF chipsets, or to the cloud, or to a production studio miles away. (My mind runs to hundreds of mesh-networked small lights triggering another in a finely tuned choreography, or an engineer in NY making real-time adjustments to audio levels on an LA soundstage, or the preventative cost savings that would result from knowing an expensive light is about to blow.
  • Leveraging the ever smaller form factors of PCBAs and components – or the footprints reductions made possible by HDIs — what currently bulky and heavy film-set equipment could be reimagined and redesigned to be truly portable, easing set-ups and tear-downs, live-action handling and movement of equipment during a shoot, or transport between locations? 
  • Or, at the base PCB level, consider what advantages flex PCBs could bring to movie sets, given their ability to move, twist, be ‘worn’ by actors, or slide unseen into tight spaces; the potential that advanced, moisture-resistant conformal coatings could hold for film-makers shooting in damp locales; or the environmental benefits of introducing ever more ‘green’ PCB technology to the film industry.

Point is, with each new innovation at the board level comes a host of equally intriguing and exciting innovations at the equipment level. It just takes an OEM with a commitment to imagine and offer it, PCBA manufacturers and other partners nimble and creative enough to help execute it, and an end-market eager to adopt it.

Rebecca Wheeler

Rebecca Wheeler