How to Fix 5 Common Mistakes During PCB Prototyping Design

The way in which businesses design, develop, and manufacture products are always evolving—and the landscape of printed circuit board (PCB) design is no exception. Designing PCBs is an intricate process that requires highly skilled professionals dedicated to excellence in quality. From beginning to end, the process must be precise and detailed to avoid many of the common mistakes that are bound to occur along the way. This discussion summarizes five common PCB design mistakes and provides simple ways to avoid them.


Why Are PCB Prototypes so Important?

A PCB prototype is created from a schematic diagram drafted during the design and development process, before the final board is manufactured. The importance of PCB prototyping cannot be overstated. Prototyping is the foundation for comprehensive functional assessment and ensures businesses are providing the quality and performance consumers have come to expect from them.


The best consumer PCBs are rigorously tested for functionality multiple times to identify deficiencies as they relate to the desired final features, function, and performance. Comprehensive functional assessment includes corrective measures to fix deficiencies, additional development as needed, and a thorough analysis of the improvements the team will include in the next prototype as a result. Once the prototype has passed all internal testing and inspections, it is ready to be manufactured and made available to the consumer.


There are many advantages to PCB prototyping, but perhaps the most important advantage is enhancing the designer's and engineer's ability to detect and correct issues at the earliest stage in the process. This simplifies and accelerates the end product’s time to market. Time is also saved when you prototype in-house.


The 5 Common PCB Layout and Design Mistakes

Designing PCBs is an intricate process that requires highly skilled professionals dedicated to excellence in quality. From beginning to end, the process must be precise, detailed, and thoroughly documented to avoid common mistakes. While no one can be perfect, being aware of common mistakes and how to avoid them is the first line of defense against costly rework.


The following list is a simple guide to the most common PCB component mistakes that can occur during design, with tips avoid these common pitfalls.


1. Selecting the Wrong PCB Layout Technique for the Job

There are numerous ways in which to draft the schematic diagram for PCB prototypes—selecting the right layout technique from the start is key. Designers should draft complex designs for use in one or more devices, adding to the importance of precise layout. Some layout techniques are more efficient than others. Consider using an auto-router, which is now a common tool in most computer aided drafting (CAD) programs, to help maximize the efficiency of the layout.


2. Cutting PCB Design Reviews Short or Eliminating Them to Save Time

Cutting design reviews short or skipping them altogether is never worth it. Design reviews are one of the most vital steps in the overall workflow process. Peer reviews and independent reviews by subject matter experts are the best defense against the most common design mistakes.


3. Selecting the Wrong PCB Design Tool for the Job

Choosing the right tool for the job is one of the most important and fundamental principles in the successful design, development, and manufacture of PCB components. There are many electronic design automation (EDA) CAD software tools available for use today that vary in complexity and ease of use. Compare the features to determine the right design tool for the job at the start. Beginning the design process with wrong or inefficient design tool can create issues such as design delays and increased manufacturing costs down the line.


4. Lack of Effective Team Communication and Collaboration

The most efficient design team is a multi-disciplined team that represents expertise from relevant departments within the business. The design team must work with the software team and housing/enclosure team to ensure all subcomponents of the final product fit and work together. Proper communication methods should be identified in advance and the team held accountable to them throughout the design process.


5. Failure to Back Up the Work

Businesses use different software and varying data sets to achieve the desired outcome during the design process. The speed alone at which data is processed, changed, and stored by high-powered design software can be mind-boggling. Data can be easily lost in an unforeseeable power outage or with the click of the wrong mouse or keyboard button. To avoid this time-consuming mistake, save data often and take care when closing and opening windows and programs on the desktop.


PCBs are an integral part of the electronic products consumers have come to rely upon every day. Avoiding these five common PCB design mistakes will help reduce the chances of costly and ineffective PCB prototypes that can increase the time and expense of getting a final product to market.