The PCB Norsemen: A Simple Question Can Save You Time and Money

JohnSteiner_PCBMar19.JPGA PCB is a component like any other electronic component, except for the fact that it is not on the shelf waiting for you to buy it, but will be produced from scratch when you order it. In my eyes, it's the most important component, as it is the carrier or foundation in any electrical product connecting most other components. With this responsibility on “its” shoulders you might want to go that extra round before production, to make sure all data is correct and the design feasible. Poor design might lead to poor connection and failures—not the result you want.

Questions about PCB design are a "never-ending story." Strangely, after years of PCB production and development, lots of the questions and issues are still the same, just only affected by the changes related to PCB technology.

Rather Too Much Than Too Little
PCB designers and engineers who are not frequently designing might find it not only helpful, but crucial, to seek help one time too many rather than too little.

The consequences and costs of not asking can be high. My experience is that the earlier involvement, the better the product. When possible, involve the right team from when the idea for a product or printed circuit is hatched. When you have the right knowledge of PCBs onboard, you can make decisions based on knowledge and experience. This helps make sure the PCB process is as flawless as possible.

Get Another Set of Eyes
Design reviews allow others to check the features and function of the PCB design and inspect the interconnection of the various circuits. Don’t assume that everything is fine until you’ve had someone double-check your work. When a qualified official design review is performed, you might discover errors early in the process—ones that you might not have discovered until later in the production process, or even worse, not discovered at all.

Communicate and Look Outside Your Box
PCB design is a long and collaborative process, but when engineers get so focused on their part of the puzzle and forget to share information, errors and frustration might develop. Designers should be careful to communicate constantly, and above all, not just share thoughts and improvements with each other, but include every member of the project.

If you can avoid these common mistakes of narrowing down the involvement, you might be able to shave time and money off of your PCB design, and generate a more consistently high-quality project with a clear path from design to production.

These initial basic phases are usually related to function, technology, choice of materials, organization of layers and stackup, and electrical design requirements. The cost factor is not to be forgotten either. I have mentioned all this earlier in various contexts, and I am sure I will mention it hundreds of times in the future.

Search for Mistakes Like the Eagle Searches for Prey
However, here's a small sidestep focusing on the fact that when you as a designer have placed the last connection on a design, successfully ran a design rule check (DRC) without any error messages, and your design is still not optimized for production.

I have explained this numerous times. At this phase in the project, it's time to bring out the eagle eyes and study your masterpiece. Search for improvements and mistakes, as the eagle searches for its prey, to clean up your layout. This clean-up aims to improve the design for production and thus also improve the board itself and provide a better production yield. Better yields save time and money.

As a designer, it is important to know the most critical processes, and understand the consequences of your choices at each step, as these are crucial to obtain the best possible conditions for a successful PCB production. It will benefit and generate a more consistently high-quality project.

Here Are Some of My Related Tips
Some of these choices may be in your CAD software library. For example, how you have defined SMT pads in your pad-stack? I recommend that square/rectangular pads shall be defined with rounded corners (Figure 1). It is electrically good, as well as beneficial for PCB production, assembly, and soldering.


What to Look Out For
Improved Routing—How?

Improved routing by increasing the distance between conductors, vias, and pads where possible. Move the connections so they are centered (Figure 2). Figure 3 shows more samples where it is possible to increase distance between pads and traces, also between differential pairs. In all the samples, traces are too close to the mechanical drilled hole.


 How Do You Connect Neighboring Pads?

It should not look like a short circuit on the finished board (Figure 4).

Prevent Unwanted Flow of Solder Paste During Soldering/Vias That Are Not Covered With A Solder Mask
Move the via further away from the SMD pad, so you ensure that there is room for a solder mask in between the SMD pad and via pad. An alternative is to reduce the solder mask opening to be slightly bigger than the drilled via hole. Consult the IPC document IPC-4761 Design Guide for Protection of Printed Board Via Structures, to find the solution for your design. Or just ask.

Critical Signals That Require a Reference Plan

Make sure the connections are sufficiently far from neighboring pads so that they really get the desired reference copper plane below or above them (Figure 6).


Uneven—Unbalanced Copper Distribution Can Give Bow and Twist
Layer-to-layer copper coverage: Within several layers causing low pressure areas through the bonding process of the board. In Figure 7, all features in red are balancing patterns on the inner layers. On this 14-layer board there were a total of eight nearly similar layers.

Elmatica_Fig7_cap.jpg Same Net Spacing

Electrically nothing is wrong with this (Figure 8), but during automatic optical inspection (AOI) this will cause problems and delay in production. In the sample, the same net distance is below 45 mm. 


Unwanted Angles—Causing Acid Traps

 In these sharp angles, chemicals from the processes can remain and cause reduced or broken connections over time (Figure 9).

Some Parameters Can Be Set and Taken Care of During Post-Processing

Do you keep or remove unused pads and vias? There is no rule without exceptions, but my general recommendation is to keep pads on all layers for through-hole components and screw holes.

Allow unused via pads to be removed if there is no risk for low pressure area. Do not remove all unused via pads in local areas where there is a high proportion of vias, such as typical BGA areas. BGA areas may require higher temperatures during soldering. This can promote delamination.

Teardrops or Snowmen?

My general recommendation is to enable this feature.

I have been working with PCBs for decades. In the past year, I have held numerous seminars and webinars, talked to customers, improved designs, scrapped designs, helped students, made hundreds of drawings, explained the basics, experienced advanced technology and materials, and pushed the PCB design to its limits. 

However, even as advanced as the technology might currently be, sometimes it's great to get back to the basics, ask the simple questions, and before thinking about the cool and advanced features, make sure that what you are thinking of designing, actually is designable. Just ask, and you will get an answer. And make sure the source is reliable, because that's what you expect from your PCB.

This column originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of PCB007 Magazine.



The PCB Norsemen: A Simple Question Can Save You Time and Money


Questions about PCB design is a "never ending story." Strangely, after years of PCB production and development, lots of the questions and issues are still the same, but only affected by the changes related to PCB technology.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Building an Ability To Expect the Unexpected


How do you find techniques and strategies to transform a business plan developed in the boardroom, into a living strategy implemented into the company core and mindset of every colleague? And how do you do it when times are hard, as we experienced in 2020?

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Don't Forget AABUS


The most important thing is to know a standard and how to use it. Here is all you need to know about AABUS, what it means, how to handle it, and basically a list of issues that needs AABUS.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Attacking the Loophole That Does Not Exist


When producing PCBs, we follow IPC standards for Qualification Performance and Acceptance from design, through production, to customer incoming inspection and acceptance. However, there is always a way of writing a standard and a different way of interpreting it.

View Story


The PCB Norsemen: Leading by Going the Extra Mile


This year has been far from normal. Here, Didrik Bech shares how "doing a little extra" often can change a lot, as well as his experience of how to attract new colleagues, welcome them, train them, and include them in the company's culture and style/methodology of leadership.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: So Much More Than Just Through Vias


As most people know, component holes are still highly necessary for components that require them, and clean lead-through-holes (vias) have increased in necessity over the last 30 years. John Steinar Johnsen explains how the challenges with smaller diameter vias, perhaps depth-controlled, have increased and are, in some cases, challenging for those who produce PCBs and have to assemble and handle solder components.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: A Path to Successful PCB Fabrication


In the PCB fabrication process, there can be multiple actors involved. How can you ensure that all these actors are cooperating to maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative effects of the pillars of PCB fabrication? It might sound like an insurmountable task, but Didrik Bech shares a path that can increase your chances of success.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Leadership Styles for Success


Leadership is the foundation of a successful business. Elmatica CEO Didrik Bech looks deeper into the various styles of leadership and shares his experiences and opinions.

View Story

PCB Norsemen: The Importance of Quality Management


Most companies have a quality management system, but the important factor is not if you have one; it's about how that system is implemented in your company's values, strategies, and goals. Didrik Bech explains how you can use your QMS as a competitive advantage and shares five top reasons for having one.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: It’s All About Being Prepared


COVID-19, known globally by now, and buzzwords like social distancing, isolation, home office, antibac, and lockdowns, are humming in every ear. Raymond Goh explores how this will impact the electronics industry and how to respond. Humans tend to stick to habits. Will the same happen to PCB production?

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Can Better Guidelines on Cosmetic Failures ‘Save’ Functioning PCBs?


Every year, fully functional PCBs are scrapped due to cosmetic “failures” that are not approved. Is this right, or do we need to make an even more precise set of rules on how to handle this? Jan Pedersen shares his thoughts on the issue.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: What Are the True Benefits of Going Digital?


2019 might have been the year when the trend word digitalization really kicked off and transitioned from being a buzzword to aligning with keywords and concepts as AI and IoT. Didrick Bech explores the future of digitization, which is already here.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Automotive Standard Elevates the Excellence of Electronics


IPC-6012DA (currently in WAM1) was the first automotive standard for printed boards; it also needs to expand to cover all types of rigid printed boards. To meet the PCB needs in the automotive industry of today and tomorrow, we have started to collect information and identify the types of printed boards not covered by the existing standard. One finding in the research is printed boards used for LED headlights and taillights, which have two requirements not covered; these are described as metal-core printed boards and high-power printed boards.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: New Trends in the PCB Industry at productronica 2019


Working with PCB technology and standardization as I do, it is always interesting to see the new trends and where the PCB industry is moving. Changes tend to happen at a slow pace; still, I visited productronica this year for dedicated meetings and expected to learn about new processes and production equipment. What hit me was the different manufacturing focus between Asia and Europe. 5G applications and smartphones—both making an impact in the news as a high focus in Asia, where most of the production is placed—were hardly mentioned at productronica 2019. However, I picked up on other new trends in the PCB industry.

View Story


The Laminate Market: What Will the Future Bring?


PCBs have been manufactured more or less the same way since we entered the industry in 1972, but the circumstances surrounding the boards have changed. The PCB Norsemen have addressed the copper situation several times in our columns as well as the component crisis affecting the PCB industry. Now, we’re experiencing external factors—such as Brexit and the trade restrictions between China and the U.S.—that are affecting the industry and causing delays due to raw material demand and prioritization by huge market players.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Avoid Failures in PCB Production With Compliance Control


Failures and reliability in the printed circuit industry are usually considered in the context of quality claims and non-conformity. This is a logical approach; however, there is a new context where these aspects are under close scrutiny, namely compliance—especially in the defense industry. Failing to understand import and export compliance for every country you deliver to and from will, at some point, result in challenges in your supply chain with potentially severe ramifications.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: From Wooden Huts to Homemade Go-karts—It All Starts With Design!


Whether building the coolest go-kart or the most sophisticated electronic hardware, the story is the same: It starts with design. And for designers and manufacturers, early involvement and commitment between all the involved parties in a product development process diminish the risk for mistakes and misunderstandings.

View Story

What Is Reliability Without Traceability?


High reliability and compliance are hot topics at conferences all over the world. If you are a supplier to industries like defense, automotive, medical, and aerospace/space, high-reliability and regulatory compliance are strict demands for electronic device manufacturers. This column discusses how high-reliability demands enforce the need for traceability, and at what level the traceability should be.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Merging the Best of Both Worlds—Young Superheroes and Knowledgeable Wizards!


Companies that dare be true to themselves, trust their employees, and provide direction, freedom, and responsibility to their most important asset—namely, their employees—are more likely to succeed. However, we can all rattle behind these positive words and agree with these statements. The real question is, “How do you actually create and sustain an environment that motivates and attracts people—especially millennials—in the wave of Industry 4.0?"

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: My Flexible Story—Flex Circuit Development Through the Decades


Senior Technical Advisor Jan Pedersen is celebrating 26 years at Elmatica. In this column, he shares his thoughts from his long experience in this exciting industry, and talks about those things that have changed a lot in the past few decades, and the others that haven't.

View Story

A PCB Broker’s Guide Through the Galaxy of Automation


A smart factory is defined by its ability to harness manufacturing data flowing throughout the enterprise and then convert that data into intelligent information that can be used to create improvements in productivity, efficiency, savings, yields, automation, enabled traceability, compliance, and reduced risk of errors and rework. All of these items are crucial factors when manufacturing printed circuits.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Technology’s Future Comes Together—A Great Slogan for Us All!


“Technology’s Future Comes Together” was the theme of this year's IPC APEX EXPO, which is quite suitable during these changing times. I guess we all need to come together, especially the automotive industry.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: PCB Standards for Medical Device Applications—A Hard Nut to Crack!


With digitalization, AI, and IoT, the traceability and transparency to how a PCB is produced will be even more important. We must rule out the PCBs that follow the standards to the ones that do not. The day will come when you or someone you know might need a medical device, and you want to make sure it does its job correctly.

View Story


Digital Specs for Automated Manufacturing: Find the Missing Link!


Automation and connected smart factories are the new manufacturing trend. Industry 4.0 and the Internet of things (IoT) continue to enter PCB manufacturing. However, if we continue down the same path with specifications and requirements written on electronic papers and unintelligent production files, human interpretation is still crucial to avoid mistakes. CircuitData could solve this problem because having one language for automated smart factories is the future!

View Story

PCB Norsemen: The Solution to the UL Challenge—Industrial Awareness


Writes Jan Pedersen: The solder-limit subject has been a "hot potato" for a quite some time, with many discussions around the new requirement from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) that UL’s Emma Hudson brought to attention in early 2018.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Lean Challenges—Standard vs. Non-Standard Products


Writes Didrick Bech: People tend to treat standard and non-standard products in the same way; however, they represent two parallel product segments and consequently different challenges for your Lean manufacturing process, especially in relation to production and logistical operations. When you fail to differentiate the processing of standard and non-standard products, not only is the Lean manufacturing process disrupted, but you also introduce a variety of production, financial and logistical challenges.

View Story

The Velocity of Technology— What Does It Really Mean?


PCB Norseman, Jan Pedersen: Driving a car is probably one of the areas where the user comes in direct touch with the technology development. And we understand the speed when we see how fast we get new versions of smartphones and other gadgets. But in what direction are we going?

View Story


Industry 4.0, AI and CircuitData


PCB Norseman, Andreas Lydersen: As automation works its way onto the shop floors, it still struggles to replace humans in the supporting roles, such as designers, purchasers, brokers, and back-office staff. Where automation on the shop floor replaces humans in doing repetitive manual tasks, the supporting roles (at least some of them) require intelligence to understand and utilise information.

View Story
Copyright © 2021 I-Connect007. All rights reserved.