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Custom Electronics: An Essential Guide to PCB Layout Design


The printed circuit board (or PCB) manufacturing industry has experienced a decline over the last few years. However, there’s still a strong demand for these kinds of circuit boards in certain markets, including among those who manufacture computer, electrical, and communications equipment.

Are you interested in designing printed circuit boards as part of your business? If so, keep reading. Explained below is everything you need to know about PCB layout design.

What Is PCB Design?

Before we dive into the specifics of PCB design, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page with regard to what this process is and what it entails.

A printed circuit board can also be known as a printed wiring board or a printed wiring card. Prior to the introduction of PCBs, the process by which circuits were constructed was extremely laborious and involved lots of point-to-point wiring. This process resulted in frequent failings at the wire junctions, as well as short circuits due to insulation aging and cracking.

PCBs help to solve this and other circuit board manufacturing problems. A PCB features a series of lines and pads, all of which connect various points on the board together, and allows for power and signals to be routed between physical devices. The layers of a PCB are made of different materials but are all laminated together to create one single object.

Benefits of PCBs

PCBs help to address some of the problems presented by other types of circuit boards (short circuits, wire junction failings, etc.). There are additional benefits that come with using these kinds of circuit boards, though, including the following:

Fewer carrying wires and less bulk for circuit board interconnections

Easier repairs and diagnostics

Less assembly time

No moving parts

Limited electronic noise

More affordable and easier to mass production

As if these reasons weren’t sufficient for convincing you to use PCBs, keep in mind that they are also more reliable than other types of circuit boards.

How to Design PCB

Okay, you’re probably feeling a little more interested in PCB design at this point. Where do you begin when it comes to designing these kinds of circuit boards, though?

Here are some steps to follow that will help to guide you through the design process:

Make a Schematic

The first thing to do when designing a printed circuit board is to create a schematic. A schematic acts as a blueprint and provides guidance as you start laying out tracks and placing various components on the circuit board.

The easiest way to create a schematic is by using PCB editing software. The right software will help you to import various components, wires, and footprints into your file. This, in turn, simplifies the design process and helps you get a high-quality finished product faster.

To get started with creating a schematic, simply login to your editing software of choice. Then, select the option to create a new project.

Optimize Your Design

There’s a lot to keep in mind when it comes to optimizing your PCB design. Here are some of the most important elements you ought to keep in mind as you work on your schematic:

Shape and size

User interfaces

PCB layers

Ground layers

Layer thickness

PCB traces

Trace width

You also ought to pay attention to certain thermal considerations and electrical considerations. For example, make sure the traces are properly sized to prevent overheating. Assess the maximum temperature of your PCB, too.

As for electrical considerations, keep traces as short as you can. This helps to prevent potential issues and allows for higher speed signals. Take note of the angle of the traces, too, as 90-degree trace angles can lead to reflection issues and may make it harder for manufacturing machines to copy the pattern properly.

Address Manufacture Considerations

Consider potential manufacturing limitations related to PCB design, too. While you’re creating your schematic, think about the minimums for things like clearance and hole size. If you don’t adhere to these minimums, you could end up spending a lot of time and energy on a design that can’t actually be created.

Think about whether or not you’re going to use fiducial marks, too. Fiducial marks aren’t 100 percent necessary, but they can be useful reference points for some manufacturing machines. Consider what you want to be displayed (if anything) on the silkscreen layer as well before you think about sending your design off to a manufacturer.

Consider Reparability and Testability

When designing PCBs and other types of circuit boards, you need to think about sustainability. If you want your product to be well-received and have the potential to help you turn a profit, it needs to feature a sustainable design. Part of this is ensuring that it can be easily repaired and features test points that help you to demonstrate its value.

Create the Layout

Once you’ve taken all of these factors into account, you’ll be ready to continue on with the layout design process. There’s a lot to think about when you’re designing PCBs. If you take the time to consider these things now, though, you’ll have an easier time putting together a great design the first time around.

Order Your PCB

When you’re happy with your design, you’ll be able to send it off to a manufacturer and order some prototypes. If you need help with the ordering process, most design software tools, as you can see here, will include instructions and additional guidance. They also will likely have a download option, so you can download the finished design if you want to send it to multiple manufacturers or keep a copy in your personal files.

Get Started with PCB Design Today

Now that you know more about PCB layout design and PCB design basics, it’s time to get to work. Keep the information outlined above in mind and you’ll have a much easier time putting together high-quality PCBs.

Do you want to learn more about PCB board design or other aspects of manufacturing and design? If so, check out some of the other resources on our site today. The Tech section is full of helpful articles.

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