PCB Architecture: The Art of Creating Circuit Boards

Ever since we have been able to communicate with each other, we have had a strong desire to express our thoughts through some tangible method. Cave drawings, totems, paintings, statues, and even buildings are physical manifestations of our thoughts and ideas. As buildings demonstrate, art can be at once aesthetically pleasing and highly functional. A glance at any city skyline undoubtedly illustrates that architects are indeed artists.

You may have never thought of yourself an artist; however, designing printed circuit boards (PCBs) is no less of an art than architecture. In fact, PCBs can be thought of as living art, as they actively perform a function instead of being static. The process of transforming an idea into a PCB architecture does include stages and well-defined steps; however, each new design is a customization that provides you with an opportunity to be creative. These opportunities are easier to recognize if we first go through the standard PCB architecture paradigm.

The PCB Architecture Paradigm

The standard paradigm to create a PCB can be divided into the major tasks shown in the figure below.

PCB Architecture Paradigm

PCB Architecture Paradigm

  • Planning
    • Prior to embarking on your PCB architecture, you must answer the following pertinent questions:
      • What is the function of this board?
      • What size should it be?
      • Where will it be used?
      • Are there any special board considerations?
  • Select Components

Here, you must determine the best components and package types to use. These decisions will determine how your board is laid out and how it will be fabricated and assembled.

  • Create Schematic

The schematic is your opportunity to define the interconnections between components and connectors or the nets for your design.

  • Create PCB Layout

Without a doubt, the PCB layout is the most important part of your design as it is the primary means of conveying your design intent to your contract manufacturer (CM). Therefore, it is essential that your design file and BOM be synchronized and complete.

  • Acquire Materials

Before the construction of your board can commence, your CM must acquire the materials specified by your board design. Your selections have a significant impact on board operation, especially for high-speed signals.

  • Fabricate Board

Board fabrication is performed by your CM; however, the efficiency of building your boards is highly correlated with the PCB tolerances of your design being aligned with your CM’s equipment and capabilities.

  • Procure Components

Selecting components and procuring them throughout the development process are not the same thing. Without understanding and considering component lifecycles, the manufacture of your board can be delayed or halted due to shortages.

  • Assemble PCB

The final manufacturing tasks involve board assembly. This includes securing your components and depanelization.

  • Testing

Testing, in some form, is always the final task. This may involve functional testing during prototyping, yield rate determination for production, or regulatory testing, such as to meet FCC standards for RF devices. In addition to quality control inspections typically done by your CM, you may opt for tests during manufacturing, such as the Resistivity Of Solvents Extracted (ROSE) test.

For a good PCB architecture, the paradigm above should be followed. However, there are opportunities within this process for you to exert creativity and ingenuity, which will separate your board creation from others.

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Creating Your PCB Architecture Paradigm

Although your created board is a functional device with specific operational objectives, it is also a reflection of your skill in the art of PCB architecture design. Below are a few areas within the design paradigm where you have the greatest opportunity for an exhibition.

🎨 Selecting your materials

It is probably common for most designers to give little consideration to materials used for their boards, opting instead to simply select FR-4, which is the most used. This may be

satisfactory for most applications; however, a better design involves matching your material selection with the type of board you are designing. This requires an understanding of material properties and their impact on your board’s manufacture and operation.

🎨 Choosing your stackup

When designing your PCB stackup, you have a good deal of flexibility. However, you should be guided by your CM’s design for manufacturing (DFM), which includes defining your stackup, then choose each layer based on its own function or purpose in the stack.

🎨 Placing your components

Just as for the PCB stackup, you have a great deal of freedom in placing your components and other board elements and you should incorporate your CM’s DFM. Although there are guidelines for footprints and spacing, your ability to place elements with respect to thermal, electrical and mechanical considerations will impact your board’s quality and reliability.

🎨 Routing your traces

DFM also provides the constraints that must be coordinated with your placement and spacing choices when routing traces.Where and how you lay out your traces, including vias as well as their width and copper thickness, has a significant impact on the signal integrity on your board.

Taking advantage of the opportunities listed above will enable you to exceed good PCB design principles and create your own PCB architecture masterpiece.

Tempo‘s Custom PCB Manufacturing Service
  • ISO-9001, IPC-600 and IPC-610 commitment to quality certifications.
  • Accurate quote in less than 1 day.
  • Performs entire turnkey process in as fast as 3 days.
  • Emphasizes DFM to eliminate time-consuming back-and-forth design corrections.
  • Sources components from the most reputable suppliers in the industry to reduce procurement time.
  • Performs multiple automated inspections during assembly to ensure PCB quality for prototyping.
  • Provides support throughout the PCB manufacturing process, beginning with design.
  • Smooth transition from prototyping to production.

Most great artists had a muse or source of inspiration. Now, you may not need a muse, but you should certainly have a supportive partner you can form a symbiotic relationship with to ensure your boards reflect your intent and are built to the highest quality. At Tempo Automation, we will assist you from day 1 of design with our industry-leading PCB prototype and low volume production process as well as our design for manufacturing (DFM) expertise.

And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on the stages of PCB architecture or specific areas of customization, contact us.

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