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How to Design Your Own Circuit Board

The design and board layout can be regarded as a science and an art. To start with a circuit board design from the scratch could be difficult. If this is your first time working with printed circuit board and electronics design, and you still have something to learn regarding custom pcb design, we have compiled some important steps to help you achieve this.

So much is involved in the engineering of a printed circuit board (PCB) design, from the basic type of printed circuits to a non rigid and complex PCB. New electronic devices will begin as block diagrams and some electronic schematics. Immediately you have completed and validated the schematics, then you can follow these steps in creating the PCB layouts of today.

What does a Circuit Board Mean?

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) offer some mechanical support and connect the different electronic components making use of pads, conductive tracks, as well as other features that are etched from the copper sheets, and then laminated to a non-conductive substrate. In addition, printed circuit boards come with copper traces or copper layers that are pre-designed on the conducting sheet.

These predefined tracks help in reducing the wiring, therefore reducing faults that can arise as a result of loose connections. All you need to do is place those surface mount components on the printed circuit board (PCB) and then solder them.

Our article will reveal and teach you how to make your own circuit boards from the comfort of your home. When you do this, you will save yourself a lot of time from double checking and debugging the connections to a breadboard. Furthermore, after this tutorial, you can go ahead and make your Arduino. Therefore, get ready and learn how to do it!

Ways of Making Your Circuit Board

Three main methods are useful when making a PCB. These include

  • Circuit by hand method
  • Iron on Glossy method
  • Laser method

Since the last method – laser method – is well-known as the industrial way of PCB manufacturing, we will have to learn more about the other two methods. For the sake of this article, we will be learning how to make circuit boards using Altium designer.

PCB Design is achieved by the conversion of the schematic diagram of your circuit into the PCB layout making use of a pcb design software. A lot of open source softwares is available for PCB design and layout creation. Some of them include PCBWizard and Autodesk Eagle.

Here is a complete list of the steps involved in the PCB board design and PCB layout.

  • Creating the schematic diagram
  • Creating the blank PCB layout
  • Capturing the schematic – linking it to your printed circuit board
  • Designing the PCB stackup
  • Define the DFM requirements and design rules
  • Place the components
  • Insert the drill holes
  • Route the traces
  • Add identifiers and labels
  • Generate the design files

Now, let’s understand these steps one after the other.

Schematic Capture

If you are generating the pcb design of your printed circuit board from a specific template or you are creating the PCB from scratch, the best thing to start with is the schematic. This is similar to the new device’s blueprints. Also, understanding whatever is shown in the schematics is also very important. First of all, the schematics have to include the following:

  • The components used for the printed circuit board design
  • The way these components are linked or connected
  • The relationships formed between these components in the different schematics

This last point is very important. This is because complex designs can make use of hierarchical schematics. Furthermore, you can make sure that there is a serious organization in the new board if you make use of hierarchical approaches into the printed circuit board design and then go ahead to place these circuit boards in the different schematics.

Creating the Blank PCB Layout

After creating the schematic, you will need to use a tool in the Altium designer to help in importuning the components into your blank PCB layout. The first thing to do, is to create a blank document for your PCB which generates a PcbDoc file.

If the layer stackup, dimensions, and shape of the PCB (printed circuit board) has been predetermined, then it is time to set them. Also, if you don’t wish to perform the tasks at that moment, do not fret; the layer stackup, size, and board shape can easily be changed.

The compilation process deals with the verification of the pcb design as well as the generation of different project documents. This allows the inspection and correction of the pcb design before transferring it to the PcbDoc. Also, it is very necessary that you check and update your Project Options. These are useful in the creation of the information for the PcbDoc.

Capturing the Schematic – Linking it to Your Printed Circuit Board

The tools in the Altium designer usually work in a pcb design environment that is united, whereby the BOM, PCB layout and schematic are interlinked. Also, you can access them simultaneously. There are other programs which aid the manual compilation of the schematic data.

However, this Altium designer helps you achieve this automatically as you engage in your own printed circuit board design creation. To transfer your SchDoc information onto the PcbDoc you just created, click Design and then update PCB. A dialog opens – Engineering Change Order, which opens and lists all the nets and components from the schematic.

Designing the PCB Stackup

After transferring the schematic information onto the PcbDoc, then the footprints of the components will be revealed. This also includes the specification of the board outline. Before you place the components, make sure the PCB layout is defined. This includes the layer stackup and shape, making use of the Layer Stackup Manager.

If this is your first time doing PCB design, the majority of modern concepts for PCB board design begins with 4 layer boards on FR4, though it is possible to define your specific number of layer on the Altium designer.

If you are dealing with high frequency/high speed circuit board design, then you can make use of the in-built impedance profiler. This is to make sure that there is impedance control in the board.

Define the DFM Requirements and Design Rules

The number of categories for the circuit board design rule is extensive. You may not have to make use of the available rules for all designs. You may deselect/select the individual PCB rules just by tapping and right clicking the rule from the list. The printed circuit board design rules can be categorized into the following:

  • Clearances in-between objects present in the PCB layout like between pads and traces
  • Solder mask or copper traces feature the size limits like solder mask silvers and holes
  • Routing rules, which includes length limitations and trace width, which can be enforced on some nets
  • Signal integrity and high speed limits like overshoot
  • Clearances and limits of board fabrication like board edge clearance

Place the Components

 The Altium designer offers great flexibility. It also allows the quick placing of the components on the circuit board. With this, it is possible to arrange the components automatically or place them in a manual way. Make sure you take advantage of the auto-placement speed to make sure the laying out of the circuit board works with good guidelines for component placement.

Insert the Drill Holes

Before you route the traces, it is advisable to place the drill holes. This includes the vias and mounting. If there is a complication on the circuit board design, then it is necessary to modify some via locations when trace routing is ongoing.

Route the Traces

Immediately the components have been placed as well as other different mechanical elements, then it is time to route the traces. While you route the circuit board, try to come up with a unique strategy that helps in first finishing the important routes properly. Next, fill the gaps using the connections remaining as required.

Some important routes include power nets, noise-sensitive nets such as low-level analog signals, and other impedance-controlled nets. Ensure to make use of good guidelines for routing. Also take advantage of the altium designer tools to help in simplifying the process.

Add Identifiers and Labels

After verifying your circuit board layout, then you are set to add markings, identifiers, logos, labels, as well as other imagery on printed circuit boards. Including the reference designators for the components is a great idea as this goes a long way in the PCB board assembly.

Furthermore, ensure that the pin 1 indicators, polarity indicators are kept visible because they aid PCB testing and PCB assembly.

Generate the PCB Design Files

 Before creating the manufacturer deliverables, it is a great idea to verify the layout of the circuit board by conducting a DRC – design rule check. This can be done automatically with the Altium designer as you route the circuit board design and its components. However, it isn’t a bad idea when you conduct a manual DRC. Once the printed circuit board has successfully passed the last DRC, then there’s a need to get the design files.

Conclusion

By now, you should know how to design your own circuit board. If you have any questions, please reach out to us here.