The PCB is the most important component of your design

-November 12, 2016

Like all new technologies, it took a while for engineers to accept and promote the PCB. In the 1960s, Zeneth used to brag about using point-to-point wiring (Figure 1). Now everything is done with a PCB. For years the PCB was relegated to unsung hero status in electrical engineering. Managers considered PCB layout a trivial manufacturing problem, not a concern for a design engineer. But as digital circuits got faster and RF circuits got put on PCBs, the circuit board became the limiting factor in many designs. Computer-aided design (CAD) helped engineers design the boards, but the CAD autorouters often caused even more problems.

Figure 1 This 1948 Motorola VT-71 "Golden View" 7-inch television set used point-to-point wiring (Source: Wikimedia/Westernelectric555).

The centrality of your PCB

My mentor, Big John Massa, taught me the centrality of the PCB to a design effort. Massa was always looking for new ways to design and build circuit boards. When our peers were talking about instruction-caching architectures in 68020 chips, Massa was talking about circuit board layout programs and overnight prototyping.

Massa noted, “In my 40 years doing electronics, it’s always the circuit board that is the holdup and the limiting factor of every project.” You don’t just make a pile of schematics for a living. You have a higher obligation to see that those schematics turn into something that can be built and sold.

The modern PCB is not just a schedule killer, it’s a critical component that has precise design requirements. The operating frequencies and rise- and fall-times of the signals in electronics are faster and faster. So the PCB has become more and more important.

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