PCBs are the foundation of electrical devices all around us – from children’s toys to kitchen appliances to the smartphone you’re probably using to read this article. To function, these items all rely on a functioning PCB or printed circuit board.
Whether you’re an expert engineer or an at-home inventor, you’ve likely designed PCBs that fail due to a short circuit or burnt-out component. PCB designs are incredibly intricate, and you’re not alone in your trial and error. Circumvent some of these hard lessons by checking out these tips to optimize your PCB layout for a better performing PCB.
Before you begin drawing up the plans for your next PCB, pause for a moment to consider why. Is your goal to improve an existing circuit board? Are you dreaming of an entirely innovative concept? Whichever your reason, make sure you know your end goal and research whether there are existing circuit board templates that you can use. This pre-work will save you a ton of time and keep you from reinventing the wheel if a solution already exists. You’ll also avoid repeating the mishaps of others when designing your PCB layout.
Create a Blueprint
Once you’re set on the outcome you’re hoping to achieve, it’s time to put your ideas into something tangible. Start with a hand-drawn sketch to map out your circuit board. This will allow you to see the flow and catch any errors before adding in the complication of technology. You can also have colleagues or other PCB hobbyists review your circuit board layout ideas for input before creating your virtual design.
Use a (Free) PCB Software
With your blueprint in hand, you’re ready to start designing the layout of your PCB. The best way to create a PCB layout is by using free PCB design software, like Advanced Circuit’s PCB Artist. PCB design software, like PCB Artist, will give you access to a components library with over 500,000 parts. It’s incredibly easy to search for a previously used component, add it, and rearrange as needed for your PCB layout. Never pay money to use PCB design software, as there are so many excellent free choices on the market.
This digital blueprint that you create using a PCB software is called a schematic. In your schematic, you’ll place your components, connectors, connections, and power sources. Eventually, this will become your PCB design that a manufacturer will use to create your PCB.
Most free PCB design software also comes with a design rule check so you can be confident that your PCB layout works and can be produced by the manufacturer of your choice.
The placement of your components during the schematics stage is incredibly critical to the viability of your PCB. Typically, you want to start by placing your most essential elements first, and then go from there with any flairs or add-ons. Keep in mind that you don’t want to overcrowd your PCB. Placing components and active elements too close together can result in high temperatures. Overheating your PCB can cause components to burn and, ultimately, lead to your PCB failing.
You’ll also want to check with the manufacturer, and during the design, rule check to see if there are placement restrictions. In general, you want to leave at least 100 mils of space between any component and the edge of your PCB. You also want to evenly space out your components and organize so that like-components are oriented the same direction, as possible.
As you plan and design your PCB’s layout, you’ll want to consider the different routing options and specifications. On a finished PCB, the routing is the copper traces that run along the green board and indicate the flow of electricity between the components. The general rule of thumb is to make the route distance between elements as short and direct as possible. You also want to make sure that you make your traces wide enough to handle the high temperatures in an electrical circuit. When in doubt about your PCB overheating, you can always add in via, or holes, to channel electricity to the other side of the PCB.
Thanks to advances in our scientific understanding of electricity and circuits, we can now easily manufacture PCBs with multiple layers. The more layers you have on a PCB layout, the more complex your circuit will be. Extra layers allow you to add in more components and tends to have higher connectivity.
Multilayer PCBs appear in more sophisticated electrical devices, but if you find your PCB layout is becoming overcrowded, this could be an excellent way to problem-solve. Multilayer PCB designs do come with higher costs, but Advanced Circuits offers excellent deals on two and four-layer PCB fabrication.
You’ve put in the hard work and effort to design your PCB, so make sure you select a manufacturer that can bring your plan to life. Different PCB manufacturers use different fabrication processes and use varying qualities of components. It would be a shame to have an incredible PCB layout, only to receive a low-quality product with a lousy soldering job or faulty components. Choosing a manufacturer that uses surface mounting technology is your best bet for a PCB that precisely represents your PCB layout. This fabrication method is mostly automated and reduces the risk of human error when creating your physical PCB.
Create a Prototype
Even if you’re 100% confident in your PCB, it’s always a good idea to order a prototype. Even experts know that you’ll likely want to make tweaks to your PCB design once you see how your prototype performs in its given application. After testing out your prototype, you can go back to the drawing board and update your PCB layout for optimal output.
Advanced Circuits Can Help
Advanced Circuits is the third largest PCB manufacturer in the U.S. Their company has you covered from beginning to end in your PCB layout process. You can utilize their free PCB design software and file check to ensure your layout is bug-free and ready to go. Advanced Circuits has an incredibly accurate fabrication process that will ensure your PCB is delivered precisely as you designed it.