Designing a printed circuit board doesn’t have to be a tedious and time-consuming process. Decades of trial and error have unveiled a few key strategies to take the frustration out of building a PCB.
Granted, today’s electronics developers have a distinct advantage thanks to electronic design automation (EDA) software such as Circuit Studio. This program helps PCB engineers create and edit schematics, apply routing, and test a 3D visual of their circuit boards before fabrication.
In addition to using the right EDA software, you can save time and avoid mistakes by employing these five strategies for efficient PCB design:
Carefully evaluate component placement before manufacturing your PCB.
There are many reasons why a PCB designer might have to go back to the schematic. Most of these issues relate to component placement.
The placement of your PCB’s components will have a profound impact on its efficiency, function and durability. Here’s a checklist to use before you go to fabrication:
- Modify the through holes so they can be auto-assembled;
- Make sure the hardware has sufficient mounting hole clearance;
- Confirm that the terminators are close to the source;
- Make sure there is sufficient clearance for IC extraction tools, and the socketed ICs have plenty of clearance;
- Check the polarized components;
- Confirm the plane clearances are appropriate to prevent shorts when soldering;
- Check the orientation of connectors;
- And confirm the bypass capacitors are placed next to corresponding IC power pins and components.
Make sure your dimensions are appropriate.
If your PCB’s components don’t have the appropriate dimensions, then it won’t function properly. Be sure to check these points before going to fabrication:
- The finished holes are at least 15 millimeters smaller than pads;
- Traces are sufficient to manage the current;
- Lead is at least 10 millimeters smaller than finished holes;
- Test pads are 200 millimeters from the board’s edge;
- Openings of the solder paste mask are appropriate dimensions;
- And the board’s edge is at least 20 millimeters from traces.
Double-check your routing – and then check it again.
Even if your PCB functions correctly when manufactured, it won’t last long if it has poor routing. Be sure to ask these questions before going to fabrication:
- Are there several vias for high current traces and low impedance traces?
- Are any traces running below sensitive or noisy components?
- Are the traces susceptible to solder bridging?
- Did you place the ground planes in the appropriate locations?
- Are the analog and digital signal commons connected at one point only?
- Does your board have any dead traces?
Avoid common mistakes.
There are countless mistakes a PCB developer can make at any point of the design process. The following are particularly common oversights that are easy to avoid:
- Forgetting to confirm that you have the components you need – or they are available to order – before purchasing your board;
- Using the wrong edge tolerances;
- Not leaving enough space to add components after manufacture (Pro Tip: You can do this by adding extra components that you can remove without affecting the PCB’s functionality.);
- Not asking other developers to review your PCB design before going to fabrication;
- And not backing up your work.
Last but not least: Be careful when choosing your EDA software.
Finding the right EDA software for your needs is just as important as using the appropriate PCB design strategies. Your EDA software should have the following features:
Powerful Schematic Interface: The program should have an easy-to-edit schematic capture with a simulation engine that lets you test and modify your printed circuit board before routing.
Comprehensive PCB Editing: The editing interface is one of the biggest differences among EDA software. Your program should have comprehensive editing options that make the design process easier and less time-consuming. Here are a few features to look for:
- Rule-driven routing;
- Auto-router engine;
- And a 3-dimensaional visualization engine.
Expansive Content Library: The best EDA software has a dense content library and allows users to check the component inventories of sellers in real-time.
With the right EDA software and proven PCB design strategies, creating a printed circuit board will be a breeze – well, not exactly, but these tips can save you countless hours of wasted labor and help you avoid common mistakes that often send developers back to the schematic.