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All you need to know about Altium PCB

Are you a fan of electronics? Have you heard about Altium PCB? If you have not, worry not, for we will go through this revolutionary topic giving an in-depth analysis. Those who have heard about this fantastic software will also be fascinated by the unique facts about Altium PCB. So follow along as we venture into this amazing world of technology.

Do you have a hard time trying to design a circuit board on a piece of paper as an engineer? We all do; that is why this revolutionary software has been created, to make your work easier and more efficient. The software lets you create a printed circuit board via your computer. The software has many tools which help create a design that is not just attractive but also detailed.

About Altium PCB

Altium is a software company. It provides computer-based electronic designing software which engineers use to create printed circuit design. The company was initially called Protel Systems up until 2001 where it changed its name to Altium. The company was founded in 1985 in Australia; it now has regional headquarters in Japan, China, Australia, and Europe. The software it produces is only compatible with Microsoft Windows operating systems.

It produces software that is widely used in the following industries:

  1. Aerospace
  2. Automotive
  3. Telecommunication
  4. Defense

It has a flagship product known as the Altium design, which is used to create unified electronic designs. Their software is very efficient in handling and is widely used at a global level.

When the company was first launched, it created a software known as Protel schematic. The software was made to develop circuit diagram designs for distributed networks only. It was hence limited to a single market, but the company realized that it could do more.

The company then produced Easytrax and Autotrax, which performed the same functions as Protel schematics. But later on, in 1990, they began to look at ways to build software that unified the electronic design process. The software would use one data model, which would hold every design data needed to create a product. That included FPGA, embedded, and PCB. TheThe software added a lot of features and tools to make it as effective and efficient as possible. Using the software, engineers can now easily create board design, routing, FPGA designs, and so much more.

In 1991, they released the first-ever computer-based printed circuit board designing software for windows. Ever since then, the software popularity has grown immensely, gaining users from all across the universe. Its uses are endless ranging from designing PCBs for phones and other electronics that we use in our day to day activities.

What is a PCB

Altium library

A Printed circuit board is one of the key concepts when it comes to electronics. A PCB is fundamental in such a way that many engineers forget to go through what it is. So let us break down a PCB and see what it is exactly.

Before PCB was invented, engineers used point-to-point wiring to create circuits aboard. The process was both laborious and led to frequent failure at wire junctions, followed by short circuits when the wires started to wear and crack.

Engineers then figured out a way to solve some of their problems by developing a wire wrapping method. A wire is coiled around a post at every connection point in this method, creating a gas-tight connection. The technique made the circuits more durable and eased the process of making changes in the circuit.

As the world evolved, electronics switched from the olden days’ relays and vacuum tubes to integrated circuits and silicon. As a result, the size and cost of electronics started to decrease at a high rate. Manufacturers were hence driven to find a new way to reduce the amount of material used to create electronics to increase their profit margin. Thus the printed circuit board was born.

A printed circuit board is a board created so that it connects different points using pads and lines. Thus, it allows power and signal transfer between various physical devices in a non-bulky manner. Solder is a metal used to make electrical connections on the board between many different surfaces on the printed circuit board. Due to the metallic nature of solder, it provides efficient mechanical adhesiveness.

What are the compositions of a PCB

A printed circuit board is created in a sandwiched manner. It contains alternating layers of different materials laminated together using heat and adhesive. The materials are laminated in such a firm way that they result into one object.

Here are the materials that make up the printed circuit board:

  1. Soldering mask
  2. Silkscreen
  3. Substrate (FR4)
  4. Copper

Substrate (FR4)

It is the substrate or base material of the PCB and is made out of fiberglass. The common designator of the fiberglass used in this process is FR4. It provides thickness and rigidity to the core of the printed circuit board. However, other versions use high-temperature plastic to create a more flexible and PCB board.

Printed circuit boards come in varying thicknesses. For SparkFun products, 1.66mm is the most widely used thickness. Other products such as Arduino pro micro board and LilyPad boards use a thickness of 0.8mm.

Board also differs in price according to the material used. Boards made out of phenolics and epoxies are cheaper but less durable than those made out of FR4. The only way to identify such kind of board is by soldering it. During the soldering process, these boards tend to have a distinct nasty smell. Therefore, they are primarily used in products made for low-end consumers. Phenolic is also a lousy base material as it has a low thermal decomposition temperature. Due to this feature, the material tends to delaminate, char, and smoke when you hold the soldering iron on the PCB for too long.

Copper

The layer that follows is a thin foil of copper. The thin foil is laminated on the board using adhesive and heat to form. On the most common double-sided printed circuit boards, the copper foil is applied on both sides of the substrate. On cheaper PCBs, the foil is only placed on one side. When we talk about 2-layer boards or double-sided, we talk about how many copper layers exist in a PCB. They can range from one up to sixteen layers.

The copper foil thickness also differs in terms of consistency. The most commonly used thickness measured in weights adds up to one ounce per square foot. However, the PCBs that handle a lot of power can range from two to three-ounce of copper. Therefore, every ounce per square translates to thirty-five micrometers of an inch of copper thickness.

Solder mask

It is the layer found on top of the copper layer. The coating gives the PCB a green color. The solder mask layers are placed as an overlay onto the copper layer, insulating the available copper traces to avoid accidental contact from other conductive bits, metal, or solder. In addition, it helps engineers solder the correct spots hence preventing short circuits.

Silkscreen

The silkscreen layer is placed on top of the PCB for labeling. With it, an engineer can be able to apply numbers, symbols, and numbers with ease. In addition, it helps other people understand the making of the PCB and the function of every part.

Silkscreen is primarily white, but it can also come in many different colors according to the ink used. Using more than a single color on a PCB board is, however, uncommon.

Now that we have gone through the basic structure of a printed circuit board, we can now dive into some terms that you may come across.

Terminologies used in Printed circuit boards

  1. Annular ring – it is a copper ring that is found around the holes on a PCB.
  2. Design rule check – commonly known as DRC-is used to check if the PCB design has any errors.
  3. Drill hit – they are spots on a PCB where holes are supposed to be drilled. If the drill hits are inaccurate, you might end up damaging the PCB board.
  4. Finger – they are exposed metal paddings found on the boards’ edge. They are used to make a connection between different circuit boards.
  5. Mouse bites – they are used to separate panels from the board.
  6. Pad – exposed portions found on the board where soldering is done.
  7. Panel – a large circuit board made up of small boards that are broken down before use.
  8. Paste pencil – a thin metal layer that is applied on top of the board, allowing solder paste deposition on some parts during assembly.
  9. Pick-and-place – the process of placing components on a circuit board.
  10. Plane – continuous copper block on a circuit board; the border defines it.
  11. Plate through-hole – a hole found on the board; it is plated all the way through.

Advantages of a PCB

A Printed circuit board has, without a doubt, changed the whole electrical industry. It has brought in a new way to save time while creating circuits and changing them. The circuit board is also easily understood since labeling is easy.

Since Altium invented PCBs, cases of short-circuiting in products have reduced. It has also reduced the amount of bulk in electronics, making them cheaper and more portable.

We can hence say that this design is undeniably a revolution in the world.

Conclusion

Altium software to create printed control boards has undeniably revolutionized the world. PCBs are now used in most electronics ranging from phones to televisions and have made electronic manufacturing a lot easier.