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The Road to be a Successful PCB Designer
PCB Designing can be considered an art as much as it can be considered a science. It takes practice to perfect and create successful designs that in-turn create successful products.
Printed circuits became popular and commercially viable in the 1950s though the ‘printed wire’ was first patented in 1925 by Charles Ducas. It was in 1943 that the first operational PCBs were designed by Dr. Paul Eisler and since then there has been no looking back. With the advent of digital age and the need for increased power, efficiency and smaller footprint-based devices, the popularity and need for PCBs has evolved quite rapidly.
While back in the 1950s, a PCB would have around 30 transistors, today, a regular PCB hosting modern chips will have more than a few million transistors. Today, PCB layout is done using advanced Computer-Aided Design (CAD) systems and software where component placement and routing define electrical connectivity and traces are drawn digitally.
A good PCB designer dons several hats and has skills in both electrical engineering and manufacturing. While the technical knowhow is critical, here is a short list of ideal qualities of a good PCB designer:
1. Be Passionate:
Like for anything else in life, passion for layout work is of utmost importance. Being passionate about creating the best and most efficient layout will be the driving factor in creating both simple and complex layouts. Although the work may seem routine or scheduled, the diverse variety of projects and industries we get to work on is challenging and fun – from large industrial boards to micro designs for wearables.
2. Stay up to date:
Read, read and read. Whatever the medium, a great PCB designer should pay attention to new technologies and be aware of the latest developments in the electronics industry, as well as think critically about how to apply those new technologies to future design and layout projects. Taking time to familiarise yourself with emerging technologies will help to prepare for the adoption of these new technologies in a timely manner. Its not just circuit designs that have grown in complexity over the years, but the design tools available are also continuously evolving with an incredibly high level of functionality to deliver precision and accuracy. It is important to keep abreast of technology for both design and the design tools.
3. Pay attention to detail:
Before starting any layout, a PCB designer should invest time to fully understand all the customer’s requirements, carefully read all the specifications of each component's datasheet, as well as thoroughly review mechanical requirements. This may involve poring through several hundred pages of content however making this effort will reduce the time required to modify and route later on, and make the layout conform more closely to the customer's requirements. For e.g., reading the component datasheet will give insight into thermal resistance ratings and will also give recommended guidelines on achieving optimal heat diversion.
4. Be a great team player:
For a design project to be successful, it takes the effort and hard work of a number of people working towards the same goal. You have to work closely with several people from various departments to successfully complete and deliver a project. This includes liaising and coordinating with your own team, members of hardware, mechanical, industrial, and firmware design teams, and also departments like purchasing, project management and marketing, among others. PCB designers also need to be able to collaborate with other PCB designers in the industry, and more importantly, learn from each other.
5. Don’t put off addressing known issues.
During the layout process, if any issues are identified, it is important to solve them immediately. Waiting to resolve the problem can cause the issue to be missed or amplified, which can lead to a sub-par product that increases the amount of time a customer will need to spend to debug a faulty prototype and will prolong the time-to-market transition for that product. The impact to customer experience and satisfaction is one of the main reasons to address known issues as soon as they are identified.
6. Focus on quality.
Most projects come with tight deadlines and high pressure for turnaround, and it may be instinctive to try to rush through the layout. If a PCB designer’s only focus is rushing through the layout, it may lead to oversights that cause potential fabrication issues, DFM/DFT issues, assembly issues, and mechanical problems, as well as adversely affect the layout's functionality. Each problem can pose significant challenges to the overall project thereby affecting the customer’s schedule. To avoid this, it is important to use the Design Rule Checks (DRC) throughout the design process and not just at the end of the design phase before manufacturing. Doing this will help identify potential design problems early on which can be rectified easier and quicker.
The future of PCB designing is very exciting, and I look forward to adopting and experiencing the advancements in this field. There are lots of innovative technologies that are currently being explored and developed including flexible PCBs, printed electronics, paper-based PCBs, biodegradable substrates, conductive inks and more. Its’ an exciting time to be in the industry.
With over 20 years of experience as a PCB designer, I can wholeheartedly say that PCB designing is an art: its challenging, empowering, creative and a whole lot of fun.