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What to look for when using an external PCB design center
Nick Barbin, Optimum Design Associates

Often clients are not familiar with all aspects of these complex specifications and therefore rely heavily on the expertise of PCB structured front-to-back design process, and advanced EDA toolsets. Success can be defined as meeting or exceeding all

Communication

sary components for success in turn and in greater detail.

Designers

enough technical savvy to know what technologies and background detail are required for a specific design, and, in that context, must then be confident enough to pursue further information without being apprehensive about asking any question, no matter how

a project involves an external PCB design center. Most electronic or mechanical designs follow prescribed standards, but PCB ability to logically use layout tools and processes. Designers must also have a good working knowledge of the tions. This is best accomplished by having a 'kick-off' meeting during which all technical and schedule goals are discussed and

of a complex design. Most PCB design centers, including Optimum, do not require designers to be degree-level electrical engineers, although they must have a strong understanding of electrical concepts (e.g., high-speed, EM1 Control, power distribution, etc).

external PCB design center should proactively contribute to the work that defines the project's ideal constraints, so that the required specification is delivered at reasonable cost and on schedule. The critical criterion for communication is to create an environment where nothing is assumed. To achieve this, Optimum places

that OEM clients bring to a project.

rules integrity. Placement is typically the most critical phase. it will be built to IPC7351 standards and then verified by one of the other librarians before being added. and through weekly meetings where current projects are discussed and the team is updated on the market's ever-changing technologies. reports. 1 Tools Customers may specify a particular design software tool for PCB layout. 2. copper balancing. strategy has many benefits. -- EDA Tech Forum September 2007 The paper outlines the criteria upon which an OEM should make its selection of a third-party PCB design suo~lier. The last step in the design process is to run the outputs through automated design-for-fabrication (DFF) analysis software to ensure all outputs are correct and that nothing has been omitted. When one is not specified. Most of today's complex designs require a very large number of mechanical and signal constraints. You must use layout tools that are 'rules driven' and that accept complex and vast rule sets. core thicknesses. groups these into It three main categories. through metrics. by utilizing a project checklist on every design. Components are spaced to have proper clearances from each other. The flow is generally the same for all designs: mechanical definition. Comprehensive and fully documented design processes (ranaina from the use of consistent design strategies to approaches to ponent library maintenance). and outputs. -- Another critical part of the design process comprises comprehensive libraries of component datasheets. bypass capacitors are placed in close proximity to device pins per specification. application notes. and overall speed and efficiency. and the checklist in Figure 1 represents just one aspect of this larger strategy. Some rules are relatively basic. the database is sent back to the client's project engineer for approval. High quality and consistent library creation is the foundation of a successful layout process. planes and routing. What differentiates the top rank of design centers is how they approach each of these phases from the viewpoint of signal integrity. Our designer's handbook dedicates many pages to strategies for layer symmetry. all nets can be successfully connected to the fewest number of layers and 100% coverage for in-circuit-test (ICT) is much easier to achieve. Component fan-out is also important. Upon approval. manufacturability. manufacturability (fabrication. silkscreen. Time-to-market is a major issue. When Optimum receives the bill of materials. but when designing complex PCBs it is critically important to use the right tool for efficiency. assembly. we prefer the Expedition series from Mentor Graphics for complex designs. Once the design is complete and all the items on the project checklist have been satisfied. When databases do not enable sufficient care to be taken in the fan-out of high current signals. and impedances. power and ground groupings. Through proper via-to-via spacing rules. crosstalk. and efficiency. Optimum ensures that its layouts are consistent by having staff adhere to time-tested practices documented in its designer's handbook. Every competent PCB design center should have a similar process. an automated designfor-assembly (DFA) analysis must be run. Errors in creating component footprints can have catastrophic consequences. Tracking compliancy with all rules. so the best PCB design centers will demonstrate how they use checks and balances to keep layout libraries up-to-date and error-free. we put together a very comprehensive output package that consists of all the files needed for manufacturing. Layer stack-ups are also fundamental to an effective structured layout process. and materials technology. Once the placement is complete and approved by the client's engineering staff. design practices. a designer can interactively place and route a layout according to his or her personal style. and database reliability. it would be difficult to complete many complex PCBs within today's ultra competitive deadlines without proper Cornerstones The following design example highlights key techniques and processes based on Optin~um'sapproach to signal integrity. A comprehensive companion designer's handbook is also essential to producing creative designs that still meet well-defined standards and practices. Even with highly skilled and efficient designers. and a postdesign rule check is essential to design validation. A sufficiently detailed infrastructure will ensure that larger vias are used and stitch in as many as reasonable to minimize inductance and maximize current capacity. placement. verifying all component spacing and land patterns for correctness. The typical design process begins with a project request and definition. A well-constructed fan-out I >>> coiztinued 011 izextpage . 1. Staff with appropriate technical and communications skills. one result may be that large tantalum capacitors and voltage regulators have only one small via stitched to the plane layer.termination circuits are placed appropriately at the source or load. Once all the rules are built in the database. but many are so complex that tracking compliance by hand is virtually impossible. Where a part is identified as new... it is passed along to our library group in the form of a request to identify or create any missing component footprints not already in our master library. and manufacturers' application notes are reviewed and implemented for the best fit. and designers must have sufficient time to ensure that the board can be routed and assembled in the most efficient manner. I license. and test). Any EDA layout tools can be used to design a board.

In short. Initial DRC performed and issues resolved. creates job hours. e -feedback. even weeks off cycle times. . impedance models.zip. / Sales receives P O notification. Finalized database created and sent t o customer. A poorly designed PCB can be wrought with EM1 problems that can take considerable time to locate a n d remedy . . route channels and edit required Designer completes routing of differential. planes.zip and ODE++ created.c TECH FORUM s TESTED COMPONENT TO SYSTEM ODA b Sales places input on server. Fully placed design sent to customer for Working with an external PCB design center can be a program savior or a stressful endeavor. Crosstalk and inductive coupling can cause problems that may not even show up until the product is in full production. Having tools such as Mentor's Xtreme PCB allows us to have multiple designers working on the same design simultaneously in a real-time environment. \ tools. electrical and schedule specifications. a great product can be killed by poor PCB design layout. . Conclusion Designer reviews customer data.-feedback. fab.if they can be fixed at all. net classes edit required then major parts and finally all other parts. The three keys to selecting a competent. Library builds and verifies required parts and sends t o designer. customer review ----feedback. documented processes and equipped with the state-of-art tools to ensure that the design layout meets the customer's mechanical. clock and other constrained critical routes. quality PCB design center are creative designers working within the constraints of comprehensive. j-approved. start r consideration for ICT. approved. Send for review. Once the project is complete. assy. send t o customer Designer generates all required outputs. sends required parts data t o library team for land pattern creation and VPL for models generation. Designer has kick off meeting with engineer. continue verify edit required 1 - I L a p p r o v e d . mechanical definition.dra: ep v o ----feedback. Designer enters stackup. and places filled out project Design manager reviews data and assigns job t o a designer. continue route edit required 4 - __I Designer completes routes and finalizes planes definitions. Concurrent design flows with high capacity interactive routing tools allow you to shave days. designers can be confident in the integrity of the database and that the manufacturing outputs will match the original specifications. I Optimunz Design Associates 1075 Serpentine Lane Pleasanton C A 94566 USA I FIGURE 1 Layout flowchart . Selecting the wrong house can result in issues far more insidious than just missing your market launch date.