Take a look at the manufacturing process used to create PCBs (printed circuit boards) and it is likely to cause a bit of a shock; few consumers understand the complexity of the PCB components hidden inside most of their electronic devices. Whether it is the simplest of calculators or the most advanced household appliance, a PCB (or two, or more) is at work inside. And while some PCB designs are more complex than others, it is still best to have access to the very best in PCB design software and resources.
Gerber Files and PCB Design Software
Gerber or IX274X files (they are the same) are the end products from the most commonly used PCB design software options. They are what can be called “step one” in the production or manufacturing process; they are the digital or physical blueprints for the completed printed circuit board. In the past, experts generated layers of transparent film overlays that used color coding to delineate the different areas of the board, and offer some help with identifying design flaws.
The advent of advanced PCB design software, however, has allowed manufacturers or design teams to cut down on the steps and use the software to display and adjust the layers. The initial designs generated from the PCB design software focus on the design and maybe the process used for assembly. They do not highlight any areas of concern or error.
This means that even a blueprint generated by the finest PCB design software, and used by a skilled expert, may contain errors in the Gerber (or other file types) that lead to a batch of useless boards. This is especially true in our modern age of outsourcing and production-only services.
Consider that one undetected problem in the Gerber file for a printed circuit board may pass unnoticed through the hands of the subcontractor. They are likely to be overseas or what is deemed a “no touch” producer that just uses the files and makes the boards, and this means that an entire batch of PCBs can be made, and create a financial, production, or scheduling nightmare.
That is why it is imperative for any companies using printed circuit boards to identify the best PCB design software and resources intended to avoid those issues. It is also important for any team to understand where flaws in Gerber files might prove their downfall, and how to overcome such risks. While it is putting the cart before the horse to offer the solutions before itemizing the problems, it is helpful to understand that there are options for PCB design software and evaluation tools that can eliminate all the risks present.
Free PCB Design Software and Analytics
Advanced Circuits rates as one of the most trusted and popular domestic producers of PCBs and prototypes. Offering full design to shipping services, and assembly, we also help our clients avoid the costly errors just itemized above through the use of free design tools. Whether using Gerber files or another design program, the Advanced Circuit site has an option for exporting design files into the site’s free PCB file check software, known as FreeDFM, and getting a comprehensive analysis on the design. By uploading the files, entering contact information, and sending it into the analysis engine, a client gets a full analysis of the design. The software quickly evaluates and repairs problematic issues in the printed circuit board design files, and also generates a report of any questionable issues left uncorrected. Labeling them as potential showstoppers, it ensures that a customer does not waste time or money on flawed or entirely useless production jobs. And even more exciting is that those who run the Gerber files before submission enjoy a discount from Advanced Circuits on the project.
In addition to the troubleshooting software, Advanced Circuits also makes industry-best design software available entirely free for clients to use. The free PCB Layout Software known as PCB Artist is provided in an unrestricted format (along with a library of more than 500k common parts and components) and can be used to design PCBs of up to 28 layers. With such functions as controlled auto routing design tools, digital schematics, and much more, it also cuts down on the risks of a flawed design. Files generated through this program can also be run through the file check to ensure the best outcomes and a discount on the work.
And just what sorts of problems will these tools help erase from Gerber files? The most common include:
- Flawed file names– It is not at all unusual for Gerber files to be created via a flawed naming protocol. This causes confusion within the process, and can only be detected by file checking or troubleshooting ahead of the game.
- Empty files – In addition to flawed names are empty files. Designers frequently move, erase, or negate data and this inserts zero data files into the process, and which runs the risk of causing issues in the design and fabrication process.
- Missing data – While an empty file is one thing, a file with incomplete data is another. Our free PCB design software and checking services show when details don’t line up with specifications or when there is mismatched information. Gerber files must not be void of key data, so any opportunity to eliminate such a glitch will save a lot of time, money and headaches.
- Conflicting layers – Gerber files feature design specifications at every layer. The designer has to ensure that the specs function synchronously, or there will be errors at every subsequent layer.
Correctly Designed & Manufactured Printed Circuit Boards
There is no real reason for any glitches to occur in the design process, but there are many reasons that they can and do. Using free resources like those from Advanced Circuits cuts down on any potential risks plus helps a company keep design, fabrication and manufacturing moving smoothly.
Upload PCB design files to FreeDFM here.