Designing circuit boards requires an understanding of more than just circuit functionality. It also requires that you understand how the board will fit within the application, what the item will ultimately do, how heat will be dispersed within the board and throughout the environment, and a great deal more. Whether you are designing your very first PCB or you’ve been at it for some time, the tips below will help improve your circuit board design.
Make Troubleshooting Easy
There will come a time when you need to troubleshoot functionality within your board. Make sure that important nodes are accessible. This will require that you plan ahead – which points will be important to your troubleshooting? How accessible are they? Is there a test point connected to those parts? Looped test points are often the simplest to use, too, and can easily accommodate a test probe with a hook. However, there are numerous other types of test points that may be used depending on the probe type you want to use.
Speaking of loops, it’s important that you don’t go overboard when it comes to their size. Keeping them small helps ensure that you avoid some specific issues. The smaller the loop, the lower the resistance and inductance. You should also consider placing your loops over a ground plane to reduce inductance even more. Smaller loops will reduce high-frequency voltage spikes and the number of signals in the node.
It’s tempting to cram as many components on the board as possible. However, one of the most important rules of circuit board design is this: leave ample space between components. There are several problems inherent with putting your components too close together. One of those is that you may inadvertently leave too little room for wiring. Each pin must be connected, so the more pins a component has, the more wiring it will need and the more space around it to accommodate those wires. You will also find that when you leave enough space between components, it’s simpler to solder in place, and auto-routing is also easier.
Soldering mistakes can quickly turn a simple project into a massive headache. One way to help eliminate those mistakes is to place your components with the same orientation. In most cases, pin 1 is located in the upper left corner. Keep this orientation throughout the entire circuit board and you’ll find that you experience fewer errors during the soldering process, and that it also makes inspecting your completed circuit board simpler, too.
Size Traces Appropriately
Copper is going to play a significant role in your circuit board design. However, what your software doesn’t really show you is the amount of resistance within those copper wires. Make sure that you size your traces appropriately to account for things like voltage drop, temperature increase, and power dissipation. To do that, you will need to factor in length, width, and thickness to control resistance. Because you cannot control the actual physical properties of the metal, you must size the metal (trace) to help combat resistance, heat buildup, and other challenges that might make your circuit board perform poorly. A PCB trace width calculator can help ensure that you’re creating traces that are wide and thick enough for the job.
Print It to Test It
Before doing anything else, complete your design and layout process and then print the board’s layout on paper. Then, use that paper to make sure that everything really does fit. The printout should fit within the housing of the item you’re creating, but you should also make sure that each of the components fits on the board within the design that you’ve created. This single step can save you an immense amount of stress down the road if the space for one component in the layout is just a little bit off.
Place Decouple Capacitors Correctly
Decoupling capacitors play a vital role in your circuit board design, but they need to be placed appropriately. Place them as close as you can to the power and ground pins of your integrated circuits. This will help to improve their efficiency and reduce inductance. Another tip that can reduce inductance is to use multiple vias from the capacitor pin to the ground plane.
Don’t Rely on Your Auto-Router
Your Auto-Router is a handy tool, and it can be a valuable asset that offers a lot of benefits. However, don’t rely on it too much. We offer one of the most robust Auto-Routers in PCB Artist, our free circuit board design software, but it is not a replacement for routing yourself. Only use your Auto-Router in some specific situations, including when you need ultra-precise placement, when you discover bottlenecks that need to be worked around, and when you cannot see where you need to route traces.
Avoid 90-Degree Trace Angles
It might seem like creating 90-degree trace angles is unavoidable. The truth is, you can do better. A 90-degree trace angle can actually be problematic for a number of reasons. One of those is that the outside corner is often going to be narrower than your standard trace width. There is also the possibility of having multiple angles that are only partially traced, leading to shorting and other problems. Instead of 90-degree angles, shoot for 45-degree angles. This ensures that you’re easily able to etch fully and avoid shorting.
PCB Artist Provides the Design Capabilities You Need
Ultimately, circuit board design requires time, patience, and a firm understanding of basic design principles. Our free circuit board design software, PCB Artist, helps ensure that you have the capabilities you need. At Advanced Circuits, we also offer full manufacturing capabilities to bring your boards to life. No matter what the purpose of your boards, we help ensure that you’re able to reach your goals. Contact us today to learn more, or download PCB Artist free of charge.