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8 Essential Printed Circuit Board Design Tips

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Lots of people are waking up to the possibilities that PCB design offers. But learning to design PCBs can take a while.

Below are eight tips for immediately improving your printed circuit designs.

Define Your Purpose

Before you embark on any major design project, it is helpful to know what your objectives are. Without a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve, you will be designing with one hand tied behind your back. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of improvisation or changing your designs on the fly. However, you should do so with a clear idea of what you are aiming for in your head.

Sketch Out Your Designs First

Before you fire up your chosen PCB design software, it is worth sketching out a board plan by hand beforehand. Not only will this enable you to identify the overall shape of your design, but this process can also help to identify any flaws in your planned approach. With a sketch of your design to work from, building a digital blueprint will be much easier.

Keep Important Nodes Accessible

Ask any experienced PCB designer what key piece of advice they would give to new designers, many of them will point to this tip. Ensuring that all the important nodes on your board can be easily accessed will help you enormously when the time comes to troubleshooting.

Even the best and most experienced PCB designers make mistakes sometimes. When something isn’t working on your board, identifying the issue can be a difficult process. Designing your boards to facilitate troubleshooting enables you to do it more quickly, easily, and reliably if you need to.

If you have no choice but to place a component in an awkward and inaccessible position, place a test point nearby and connect them. You can then test the component if you need to, even if you can’t access it directly.

Space Your Components Properly

With technology, the temptation is often to go as small as you can. Many people associate smaller tech with bigger tech. This perception has resulted in PCB designers pursuing ever-smaller designs to believe that smaller designs are better and more efficient. However, this isn’t always the case, especially with PCBs.

If you try to place your components too close together, you will have at least a couple of problems. First of all, you won’t have much room remaining for your traces. Traces need sufficient space to expand when they heat up. Otherwise, they will short-circuit. Not only this, but most manufacturers have minimum spacing requirements. If you want to position components within this minimum distance, precision engineering will be required. More precise engineering means higher manufacturing costs for you.

Source Your Components Carefully

The components you pair with your PCBs will play a huge role in determining their functionality and usefulness. The quality of the components you use will determine the quality of your final PCB. If you want to produce a high-quality and reliable board, you need to choose your components to reflect this.

There’s no shortage of electronic component suppliers operating today. Instead of wading through hundreds of potential options to find the right one for your needs, you can use an electronics search engine to find available suppliers for the components you need. It can connect you with suppliers of everything from rocker switches to solid-state relays and datasheets that contain the full specs for each component.

Give Your Components The Same Orientation

Orienting your components the same wat is another way of making things easier when it comes to troubleshooting. You should position every component so that the #1 pin is in the top-left corner. Orienting all your components the same way makes it less likely you will make mistakes when positioning or soldering your components.

Use A Printout To Verify Your Designs

Once you have finalized your design, print out a life-size copy of your board. You can then place components on it to be sure that they will fit and that your design can incorporate them all. Even if you have datasheets for your components, you should still verify your design using a printout.

Select Your Trace Width According to Current

Traces expand as they get hot. The greater the current that flows through them, the more heat they will generate. The traces that are handling the largest currents need to be the widest. Trying to force a current through a trace that is too thin will cause excessive heat and potentially lead to failure.

All the tools and resources you need to start designing your own PCBs are now widely available. But designing PCBs isn’t as straightforward as some people think. To be an effective designer, you need to be familiar with the fundamentals. Stick to the advice above, and you will be well on your way to designing high-quality versatile PCBs.