What is it about PCB's that make them such an interesting piece of engineering?

I'm asking myself this question as I sit here on a Friday evening after a week of fairly intensive work on PCB design documentation etc...  From my point of view I create a multitude of different board designs from single layer power supply application boards to multilayer test boards being used in instrumentation.  Each of these types of designs have their own frustrations and delights I suppose (sorry couldn't think of a better word) so what is it?

The answer isn't simple and the fun isn't in the documentation it has to be said, but then it never is, but as most PCB designers know it's a necessary part of the job and normally do it well!  Every design though no matter what it is you're doing, how big or small the board is has at least one point where the challenge becomes apparent and you're sitting there with U2 (or whoever) blowing your ears out and you think right - how do I do this?

Perhaps this is it, perhaps it's not just the signal integrity, the EMC, the mechanical constraints or for that matter how it's going to fit into the case...  It's all of it.  PCB design isn't playing with coloured lines to join the dots.  It's the challenge of putting all the bits of the puzzle together, all the constraints, the requirements and then after all this the requirements that the designer places on themselves to create a functional, manufacturable PCB design.  And when this has been completed and all the problems solved you sit back look at it and think not only thins is good, but the sense of satisfaction gained from completing it really is like nothing else.  It's like completing the Rubik’s cube from a mess (not that I've actually done this).

For me that's what PCB design is about and there is nothing like being given a good meaty juicy project from scratch and letting the creative spirit loose to carry out a design like this.  That's why I find my little PCB design world so exciting.

 

Simon Farnell CID

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Comment by Daniel Hanten on May 10, 2011 at 8:07pm

Hi Simon,

 

I am not in the PCB design industry, but I am in the manufacturing arena for them.  I always wondered what those people were thinking when they came up with some of the designs we are asked to build.  We build mostly for DOD contractors and do mostly R & D work so we build the first generation of parts that usually have several changes because of our limitations to build the boards with repeatable results or because the designers have checked the design again and found something that needs to be changed.  It is nice to hear some of the hardships that the designers go through to design the boards since it seems like they don't always look at it from a builders perspective, but this probably has mostly to do with the type of product we build.

Comment by Scott McCafferty on May 6, 2011 at 5:17pm

Hi Simon, 

 

Sorry I missed your note earlier - I work closely with Sunstone on business issues and find that they are very  passionate about their tools & service - if you give them a shot (which I'd recommend based on my dealings, I'd love your feedback.  

 

Thanks, 

Comment by Simon Farnell on April 18, 2011 at 1:13pm
Sorry Kathie, I didn't see your comment down there... PCB stands for Printed Circuit Board. :-)
Comment by Simon Farnell on March 11, 2011 at 1:24pm
Thanks for the input Blake, it's funny. No matter where PCB designers come from, they all have the same challenges and problems.
Comment by Blake Leverett on March 8, 2011 at 2:45pm

I've been designing PCB's since 1987, and have done hundreds of designs in all kinds of industries.  It really is a big puzzle.  Here is what I have noticed about PCB design:

1. If a board is ugly, it won't work.  It has to be beautiful to be done.

2. Don't ever order a board before it has to be ordered.  Changes will always come until the very last minute.

3. PCB layout people are strange folks.  You have to have a certain mindset to do PCB layout.

4. High voltage will go right through FR4, so get all that inner layer copper out of the way of high voltage traces.

5. Paranoia is your friend.  You cannot check over things enough.

 

Comment by Simon Farnell on February 26, 2011 at 3:17pm
I haven't Scott. I have sometimes thought about it just to evaluate their design tool.  Do you have any experience of it?
Comment by Scott McCafferty on February 24, 2011 at 9:19am
Hi Simon, ever use Sunstone?
Comment by Kathie Zipp on February 22, 2011 at 1:37pm
Nice blog Simon. It's great to see someone who is passionate about their work. I believe PCB stands for Public Circuit board? Just for clarification

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