PCB Design Step

Virtually every electronic product is constructed with one or more printed-circuit boards (PCBs). The PCBs hold the ICs and other components and implement the interconnections between them. PCBs are created in abundance for portable electronics, computers, and entertainment equipment. They are also made for test equipment, manufacturing, and spacecraft.

Yet engineers, technicians, and even novice PCB designers can create high-quality PCBs for any and every purpose with confidence that the outcome will meet or exceed the objective. Also, these designs can be completed on schedule and within budget while meeting the design requirements. Designers just need to mind the essential documentation, design steps and strategies, and final checks.

The Basic Design Process


Board Outline

The board outline of a PCB can be cut into any shape for a form factor that meets a specific design. When working with small devices, the need for a specific shape (round, rectangular, zig-zag etc…) is important to finalizing a product. As such a number of methods are used to define the shape of your board outline, including importing DXF files (a format used by mechanical CAD tools) to help to define a specific shape for the design.

Creating Copper Routes

Copper routes on a Printed Circuit Board are responsible for conducting the electrical signal throughout the board, to various components and connectors. The copper is created either by layering copper on the completed board surface(s) and etching away excess copper to create the copper pathways. These etchings are created by placing a temporary “mask” over areas of copper routes, and then removing all unwanted copper.

Drilling Holes

In order to create pathways of signals to various layers on a board, or to create regions to attach components on a board, you do need to drill holes on a board.  A plated through hole (PTH) in a printed circuit board is called a via and allows you to provide electrical connection between a copper route on one layer of a PCB, to copper on another layer. There are various types of vias. A blind via starts on one outer layer of a PCB, but ends at an inner layer (i.e. it does not completely pass through the board). A buried via connects copper routes on two inner layers of a board (i.e. it does not connect at the surface level of a board). Holes for vias are “drilled” using either a fine drill bit, or in the case of very small microvias with a laser.

Components on a PCB Design

Components on PCB are the semiconductor devices that together allow you to perform specific  design actions (filtering, amplification etc…). Components are either through-hole technology (THT) components or surface mount devices (SMD). 

THT parts are generally larger in size and were ubiquitous in design until the late 1980’s when SMD parts became more widely used. THT have longer pins that are basically inserted into drilled holes and soldered one-by-one onto the PCB.

SMD parts are (generally) much smaller in size and allow you to solder much smaller leads to the surface of a PCB. By having the SMD parts soldered to the surface of a PCB, engineers can attach parts to either surface (top or bottom) of a PCB, rather than having to solder through-hole parts.

Gerber Files

A Gerber File is a file format used for PCB manufacturing. Fabrication machines can use these files to layout electrical connections such as trace and pads. The file also contains information for drilling, and milling the completed circuit board.

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