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PCB/PCBA knowledge
How to become a qualified PCB designer

PCB design is a very important step in electronic product design, and it is an important carrier of electronic products. A PCB designer is someone who designs a PCB. Whether they are competent in the PCB design work determines the quality of the PCB and the finished product. A good PCB not only has a good appearance, but also needs to meet the requirements of high-cost performance, good electrical performance, high stability and reliability, easy production and maintenance, and easy certification. Then how to become a qualified PCB designer and what skills a PCB designer should master? Keep reading!

Table of Contents

What is a PCB designer?

PCB designer
PCB designer

A PCB designer is a professional who specializes in designing printed circuit boards (PCBs). They use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create the layout and routing of the electrical connections on the board. PCB designers must have a solid understanding of electronics, as well as knowledge of materials, manufacturing processes, and industry standards. Their ultimate goal is to produce a high-quality, functional PCB that meets the requirements of the project at hand.

What skills a PCB designer should master?

1. Familiar with at least one industry EDA tool
There are many PCB layout design software, the main ones currently used in the market include the following: Cadence Allegro, Mentor Pads, Protel, CAM350, etc., among which Cadence Allegro has a relatively higher market share. Allegro has many advantages, such as a friendly software operation interface, fast response speed, high operating efficiency, rich secondary development functions, perfect rule manager functions, powerful high-speed design exclusive functions, etc. 

PCB design software
PCB design software

As a qualified PCB designer, he/she must master at least one industry EDA tool, which is an indispensable tool in the PCB design process.

2. Familiar with devices, understand circuit schematic diagrams, and recognize key signals
Commonly used electronic components include: resistors, capacitors, inductors, transformers, diodes, triodes, FETs, optocouplers (OC), sensors, crystal oscillators, relays, buzzers, rectifier bridge stacks, filters, switches, fuses, etc. Key signals include: power supply, analog signal, high-speed signal, clock signal, differential signal, synchronous signal, etc. A PCB designer must be familiar with devices, understand circuit schematic diagrams, and recognize key signals. These are the basic skills, just as cooking means to a cook.

3. Have a certain understanding of SI/PI knowledge

As the output switching speed of integrated circuits increases and the density of PCB boards increases, signal integrity (SI) has become one of the issues that must be concerned in high-speed digital PCB design. Factors such as the parameters of components and PCB boards, the layout of components on PCB boards, and the wiring of high-speed signals will all cause signal integrity problems, resulting in unstable system operation, or even non-operation at all. 

How to fully consider the signal integrity factor in the PCB layout design process and take effective control measures has become a hot topic in the PCB design industry today.

With the development trend of high power consumption, high density, high speed, high current and low voltage in electronic systems, the power integrity (PI) problem in the field of high-speed PCB design has become increasingly serious.

As an excellent PCB design engineer, of course, he needs to have a certain understanding of SI/PI knowledge, so that he can use it to guide the optimization of PCB design, improve the design of power channels, and optimize the design of decoupling capacitors.

4. Master process knowledge
As a PCB designer, it is also necessary to master relevant process knowledge. include:

  • PCB stackup.
  • Basic design requirements (meet manufacturability, testability): PCB solder mask window opening, device spacing, hole size, silkscreen, etc.
  • Stencil selection.
  • SMT assembly knowledge. A PCB designer must understand the placement process and master the general steps of the PCB board placement process: solder paste; device BOM check; mount device; reflow soldering; PCB inspection.
  • Soldering techniques. As a PCB designer, he should master the soldering ability.

5. Understand production requirements

PCB production process
PCB production process

The basic information of PCB board processing needs to be clearly noted. This allows for a more efficient and error-free PCB production process. In other words, the processor processes according to the PCB designer’s requirements. The basic information on the PCB board includes: board material, board thickness, surface technology, impedance control table, PCB silkscreen color, green oil color, plug holes (including green oil plug holes and resin plug holes), acceptance criteria, etc.

6. Have a good command of circuit knowledge
In a product, there are different circuit modules. The functions realized by each product are realized by each sub-circuit in the circuit together. In other words, what kind of function needs to be realized, what kind of circuit is needed. As a qualified PCB designer, he must master relevant circuit knowledge, including:

  • Basic hardware knowledge

(1)Be able to accurately understand the signal flow of the entire circuit, the input and output, signal conversion and other circuits in the circuit, and know the functions realized by each circuit module;

(2)Power distribution. Be clear about the power distribution on the PCB, including the processing of the power input port, the processing of the DC conversion of the power supply and the processing of the switching power supply, etc.;

(3)Accurately distinguish the role of basic components.

  • Digital circuits and analog circuits knowledge

Be able to accurately distinguish digital circuits from analog circuits; understand the concepts and differences between synchronous circuits and asynchronous circuits and the concepts of serial bus and parallel bus; understand the waveforms of digital signals in ideal and actual states, etc.

  • Digital and analog circuits knowledge

Master the conversion relationship and characteristics between digital and analog circuits.

  • RF circuits knowledge

Be able to understand the difference between RF circuits and other circuits and the importance of impedance on RF boards.

Conclusion

It is really not easy to be an excellent PCB designer. More knowledge and practice are needed in the process. But if you really master these knowledge and skills, PCB design becomes a breeze.

FAQ

PCB design is the entire process of creating a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) through collaboration and integration between multiple disciplines and multiple domains which includes electrical, mechanical, software, system, test, and manufacturing.

A PCB designer is a professional who specializes in designing printed circuit boards (PCBs).

  1. Familiar with at least one industry EDA tool
  2. Familiar with devices, understand circuit schematic diagrams, and recognize key signals
  3. Have a certain understanding of SI/PI knowledge
  4. Master process knowledge
  5. Understand production requirements
  6. Have a good command of circuit knowledge

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