Those involved in the design and use of printed circuit boards (PCBs) know the pain of creating a design, having it produced, and then finding one or more design flaws that make a batch of printed circuit boards useless. Not only is it a waste of money and time, but it also creates costly production delays and lost revenue. Whether it was a prototype PCB that did not work or a full batch, it may have been avoidable if some sort of file checking feature had been available.
There are modern software solutions that can help to do that level of checking and bring the creation of useless printed circuit boards to an end. They guarantee your work is heading into production without errors, and they are often called Gerber file viewers.
Should You Run Printed Circuit Board Designs Through a Gerber File Viewer?
Standard PCB design uses Gerber files. Most involved in the industry know all about a Gerber file and how to read one. It enables standardization in design and eliminates glitches caused by any attempts at merging different kinds of files.
Are PCBs so complex? Printed circuit boards are found in and also contain electronic components. They may feature resistors and capacitors and run complex or simple operations. Circuits are mounted to the board, and the various elements within a board communicate through conducting materials like copper lines.
Gerber files detail these connections and components and will show the many layers that printed circuit boards may require to do their job. Gerber files, however, may also be used by PCB printing devices to make the boards. They may guide the production of a PCB directly from the design, depending upon the information within the files.
To date, there have been three generations of Gerber files:
- Standard Gerber, RS-274-D was the first generation
- Extended Gerber, RS0274X was the second generation
- Gerber X2 is the latest generation and also often includes metadata
A single Gerber file corresponds or details a single layer on printed circuit boards, one file for each layer, including inner layers, as well as top or bottom signal layers. Historically, manufacturers would work directly with designers and go over the Gerber files to ensure no issues. Today, things have changed, and a manufacturer may whip up a batch of printed circuit boards without evaluating or scrutinizing the Gerber files.
As many recognize, this can lead to a lot of trouble. Flawed layering, failed communications, and other issues may leave an entire batch of PCBs useless to the buyer. Fortunately, the use of a Gerber file viewer may save the day.
Using the Gerber File Viewer
Gerber file viewers were designed and created to address the issue of flawed PCB design. Today, there are many types of Gerber file viewers on the market that allow PCB designers to see how the various layers will operate as a physical PCB.
While there are many programs, Advanced Circuits makes an entirely free tool of this kind available to its customers. It requires a quick upload of Gerber files into the system and is free whether or not the user is a registered customer of the company.
Known as FreeDFM, it does a comprehensive evaluation of the design. It looks at all of the inner layers and evaluates such issues as spacing, trace width, annular ring, inner clearance, and thermal reduction. It also analyzes the outer layers’ similar areas, checking spacing, trace width, and annular ring. It looks at physical production issues like drilling and evaluates solder mask for undersized or missing clearances. It checks the silkscreen for line width.
After this comprehensive review, it generates an easy-to-understand report in a PDF format. It provides its full findings of the Gerber file review, and while it may make some basic repairs, it also identifies issues that a designer must address. For example, one of the more common design flaws is missing or incomplete data. FreeDFM will ensure that files have the required data.
One of the most significant benefits of the Gerber file viewer is its ability to correct common design issues automatically. It fixes small issues on-the-fly, cutting down on designer’s workloads and delays. The information taken from the evaluation also helps to generate an accurate quote for PCB production.
The free Gerber file viewer is an ideal tool for error-free production. Yet Advanced Circuits also offers an array of other services and resources, including:
- Fast service – Speedy turnaround time and fast shipping ensures that customers get their PCBs quickly.
- Custom orders – Custom orders are welcome for PCB prototypes or full batches.
- No tooling charges – When an order features Standard Specifications, tooling charges are waived and similar fees are canceled on reorders of Standard Spec as Custom Spec items.
- No minimum orders – There are no minimum lot requirements, meaning that clients are not forced to invest in huge orders with more PCBs than they might need or used.
- Not a broker – The company never subs out their work, but instead, relies on their top-of-the-line, 62,000-square-foot facility that guarantees the kind of quality and speed most customers want but don’t always get.
- 24-hour support – Customer service around-the-clock is great, but they also feature a live tech support team that allows design teams to speak directly with a CAM engineer at any hour of the day or night.
- Best shipping record – Advance Circuits has the best on-time shipping record in the industry, and they are now shipping 50% of orders early! In fact, they say they “put our money where our mouth is . . . and we ship Standard Spec orders on time, or they’re FREE!”
Whether it is a new company seeking a maker of printed circuit boards or a long-standing firm eager to up the quality and experience with a PCB manufacturer, Advanced Circuits has the resources needed. With free evaluations through the Gerber file viewer, designs will be better than ever, and PCBs can be as innovative or as simple as needed and always reliable.