Some say that PCB design is a form of art, and for a good reason. When it comes to your PCB layout, there’s a ton of freedom and a wealth of creativity available to do things your way. And this is also what makes your PCB layout process so difficult. There’s no universal “right” way, and so you’re left with rules of thumb, tribal knowledge, and the flow of your intuition to put the pieces together. But this doesn’t mean it is entirely wild west. There’s still the reality that you’ve got a small shape to put all of your components and a set of physical boundaries applied. So how can you maximize the enjoyment of your PCB layout process? It starts with your PCB part placement.
Becoming a Layout Artist
There’s a reason why they say PCB design is 90% placement and 10% routing. You’ll likely be spending 90% of your time placing and nudging where your components will call home. And the good news is that 90% is probably the most enjoyable and creative part of the entire electronics design process. But getting started can be overwhelming, and frustrating if you don’t know some basic guidelines.
The first time I attempted to place all of my parts I had no idea what I was doing, and it made me a bit nervous. Unlike designing a schematic, which is all based on mathematics, my PCB layout was an entirely different beast. I had an empty canvas, and it was up to me to decide where things needed to go (kind of). But where in the world was I supposed to start? I suddenly missed all of the precision and exactness that a schematic provided.
I made a handful of mistakes, of course. I had a couple of integrated circuits and thought I would toss them right next to each other. Only to find out that when it came time to route all of the pins I had run out of room. Small mistakes like this can bloom into a huge mess down the road, and I found myself having to start over from scratch until I got things right. When doing your part placement, you always have to be thinking ahead, asking yourself questions like:
- Does that chip have enough room to comfortably connect all of its pins? And are there other dependent components I might need to place around my ICs to minimize the length of my routes?
- Are there certain blocks of circuitry that I might want to group together to keep my board layout organized? There’s a ton of functional blocks you can split your PCB layout into if you look for them.
- Is there a specific way that I need to place my components so my board can be manufactured? I’ve read that there can be issues with soldering and tombstoning components if you place them wrong.
The more layouts under my belt, the more comfortable I started to become with answering these questions. That’s not to say that my PCB layouts became a routine, far from it. Rather, I was able to understand the physical limitations and boundaries that a physical board presented while I was in my creative flow. That’s the real power of the PCB layout process, using both your mind and your intuition to create something beautiful, and functional. And we can show you how to do this in a free EAGLE First Flights webinar.
Define the Walls and the Rules
Give a board layout to 100 different engineers, and you’ll get 100 different layouts back. This is the beauty of part placement, and what makes it our most favorite part of the PCB design process. But there are still questions to keep in mind about the four walls bounding you. How flexible are they? Are there alternative avenues around them you haven’t explored? And are there specific manufacturing constraints you need to keep in mind?
The answers to these questions take time and plenty of practice. But sooner rather than later, you’ll find the PCB layout to be your favorite part of your electronics design journey. Join us for a free EAGLE First Flights webinar where you’ll learn how to master your PCB layout by learning how to:
- Efficiently Place Parts. You’ll learn the best way to place parts on your board that takes into account the unique constraints of your design. From there it’s easy to swap out packages on the fly for your needed variations.
- Speed Up Your Part Placement. It’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel on each new layout. If you’ve designed a masterpiece in the past, then we’ll show you how to easily reuse those blocks of circuitry in your current project.
- Define Your Polygons. At the end of the day, all of your signals need to find ground. You’ll learn how to quickly slice and define polygons on your board layout to create a common ground plane.
We’ll be hosting this live webinar on May 9th at 2 pm EST for 30 minutes. That’s plenty of time to see how the pros layout, and spend some time practicing your own creative layout flow.