Pcb Design Services

Written by Serena Berger
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Printed circuit boards, or PCBs, are essential for countless products and industries. Very few companies who require them have an in-house PCB design team or facilities with which to manufacture circuit boards. Due to their level of specialization, they represent one of the most commonly outsourced aspects of production for any product which is electrical or has electrical components.

PCBs connect electronic components without the quantity of separate wires which would otherwise be necessary. The motherboard of a computer is an example of a PCB with which most people are at least visually familiar. The simplest PCBs are made from sheets of plastic and sheets of copper foil. The plastic is a substrate--which, in industrial printing, refers to any material onto which an image is printed. The foil is glued onto the plastic and then portions of it are removed, leaving traces, which become the conductors. Components are then attached to the traces so that all electrical current is essentially managed by this one circuit board.

There are several different types of circuit boards used in industry. PCBs have the advantage of being the least expensive, and they are quite durable and considered highly reliable. Wire wrap boards are suitable to be manufactured only in smaller quantities--they are easier to repair than PCBs, but they are not appropriate for many jobs. Point-to-point constructed boards are now considered antiquated, though they are still an alternative to PCB boards--again, when you are making a smaller number of boards. The manufacturing process for point-to-point electronics cannot be automated successfully, so PCBs remain the most popular option for large quantities of inexpensive and reliable circuitry.

Using a PCB Design Service

A PCB design service will be best able to determine exactly how to make the most efficient, small-scale, and inexpensive board for your purpose. Typically, there will be at least two experts working on your project: an electrical engineer to design the circuitry, and a technician to design the PCB itself. You may want to find a designer with expertise in your specific industry, as countless fields require PCBs, and each has its own particular concerns.

For example, in a case such as aerospace engineering, a priority will be carrying heat away from the components. This will require the installation of a solid copper or metal conductive core. In the case of a PCB used in a device which emits or reads radio frequencies, a priority is using materials which will not detune the radio. PCBs which may be exposed to the elements require conformal coats to prevent corrosion or electrical shorting from condensation.

A good PCB designer can balance cost and size. Since you may think you want the smallest PCB possible, some designers will prioritize miniaturization above all else, ultimately delivering you a board with conductors placed too close together. The solder which attaches component wires to the board can cause electrical shorts on nearby connectors and the repair process will be difficult and costly (if not impossible). If, however, the PCB is not designed by someone with expertise in layout, the conductors may be too far apart and the board will be too large and more expensive than necessary to manufacture.

Minimizing the Costs of PCB Design

Most modern PCBs designed for complex digital circuits have multiple layers--up to 16, in fact. Some of these layers are devoted entirely to grounding and drawing heat away from other components. All of the layers must be connected somehow. This is typically accomplished through vias (tiny holes), which are electroplated or have small rivets inserted through them to hold the layers of the board together.

It is almost impossible to inspect vias--especially if they are blind (visible on only one surface) or buried (visible on neither). This means you really need a top notch designer, one who can keep the number of vias used at the minimum without sacrificing reliable construction. Foremost, this keeps the manufacturing costs low--as drilling the vias is one of the most difficult and expensive parts of the construction process. It also means that you minimize the number of costly repairs that might be needed in the future.


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