PCB Designers Should Know How a PCB Is Built


Yes, I know I have said this before, but I hate the idea that some people consider the printed circuit board a commodity. That this electronic component is nothing more than a “green plastic card” a platform for the almighty components. Many, not all, designers, pride themselves on their strategic ignorance of the printed circuit board. Some design trainers have even told their students to not pay attention to the people building the boards, to ignore their “too many” questions; advising them to tell the questioners to stop asking so many questions, and to just be quiet and build the boards as designed. These designers do this with an attitude of imperious infallibility worthy of the Vicar of Christ.

The contract manufacturers on the other hand, are getting better. They are actually starting to take some interest in PCBs and how they are built. My partners and I, as well as some of our PCB clients, are hearing from contract manufacturers who are looking for facts about PCBs and how they are built. Some of them want to talk to our PCB fabrication customers and get advice on how to better design boards. Boards that will be easier, and more economical to build.

This new trend is particularly refreshing, since some of the PCB experts I know have reported that less than ten percent of the data packages that PCB shops are getting from their customers are complete and accurate and that most of the time there is something wrong with the data. Combine that with the fact, that until recently shops that went back to their customers with questions were commonly chastised and told to “build it the way we designed it!” which often led to disastrous results.

Don’t you love that? A vendor getting chastised for asking her customer questions with the sole intent of building him the best board possible? Isn’t it that silliest thing you’ve ever heard of?

As the workforce gets younger, we are faced with a double dilemma, because these young designers have never been in a board shop. They do not understand that building a circuit board is an extremely complicated process. They do not know how to differentiate from one material to another, and they do not appreciate the subtleties of one material call out versus another. In short, many of them are flying blind, when it comes to the very object they are tasked with designing.

If you are ever lucky enough to be able tag along when a group of your designers and engineers are taking a tour of a board house, I urge you to do it. There is nothing quite as fascinating as seeing the looks on these designers’ faces as they finally get to see the intricacies of board building. As they follow along, tracking the process of building a multilayer board, you can see the look of surprise on their faces, as they realize just how many steps it takes to build a PCB.  After a good and thorough tour, they never look at a PCB the same again.

I would urge all of you board builders to invite designers, and engineers, to your shop for plant tours; and I would urge you designers and engineers to accept those invitations. It will be the best three hours you’ll ever spend.

Fortunately, the times are changing and many of our customers are now asking for our help. Many of my clients are happy to say that customers are not only asking for their advice and their help, but they are also inviting them into their companies to give seminars educating their designers on how to produce the best date package possible. Hallelujah!

And one more bit of good news… warning product plug ahead! One of my clients Prototron Circuits. has written a new micro-book The PCB Designer’s Guidelines to Producing the Perfect Data Package by industry guru Mark Thompson a Prototron front engineer, and customer liaison. This new micro-book, the newest addition to I-Connect 007’s micro-book series, will be available for free download in mid-August. I predict that this new book, which I have had the privilege of reading, and reviewing will become one of the most downloaded ebooks yet. If you are serious about creating the best, nay, the most perfect data packages, available today, please do yourself a favor and download and read and learn from this book. It’s very simple the better the package the better the board. It’s only common sense.

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