Connect the Dots

Column from: Matt Stevenson

Matt Stevenson

Matt Stevenson started in the PCB industry in 1995, came to Sunstone in 2006 as quality manager, and progressed to vice president in 2019. He has extensive experience in the PCB industry and has proven his skill and dedication to Sunstone by continuing to grow the company’s revenue, partnerships, and lead excellent customer experiences. Matt’s knowledge of the process from sales to production to quality control provides him a unique view of how to keep Sunstone growing and ahead of our competitors, and his background places him as the most appropriate figure to manage Sunstone's messaging, branding, and value proposition. With eight years as quality assurance manager at Sunstone Circuits, he has proven himself to be an invaluable resource, excelling in managing the quality of the Sunstone product line, and is uniquely qualified to represent the Sunstone brand. Matt has earned two Bachelor of Science degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering from Colorado State University, as well as a master’s degree in business administration from Portland State University.

June 19, 2024

Connect the Dots: Designing for Reality—Lamination and Materials

As many of you have likely figured out, I am quite passionate about the subject of designing PCBs for the reality of manufacturing. I wrote a book about it and I participate in an I-Connect007 On the Line with… podcast series dedicated to the subject. This companion article will focus on multilayer lamination, keeping the bigger picture in mind: Realistic PCB designs should prioritize manufacturability and reliability of the PCB as well as meet the other design requirements. So, one must account for the production variables associated with individual manufacturing partners.
May 30, 2024

Connect the Dots: Designing for Reality—The Physical Manufacturing Phases

Designing for reality is focused on the art and science of PCB design and production. If you’re trying to make a PCB that stands out for being reliable, easy to manufacture, and meets all design goals, then you’re in the perfect spot. We’re here to break down the PCB manufacturing process while sharing essential tips for smooth design and production.
May 08, 2024

Connect the Dots: Designing for Reality—The Pre-Manufacturing Process

I have been working with Nolan Johnson on a podcast series about designing PCBs for the reality of manufacturing. By sharing lessons learned over a long career in the PCB industry, we hope to shorten learning curves and help designers produce better boards with less hassle and rework. Episode 2 deals with the electronic pre-manufacturing process. Moving from CAD (computer-aided design) to CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) is a key step in PCB manufacturing. CAM turns digital designs into instructions that machines can use to actually build the PCB.
April 11, 2024

Connect the Dots: Designing for Reality: Prioritizing Manufacturability

Realistic PCB designs should prioritize manufacturability and reliability of the PCB as well as meet the other design requirements. To do so, one must account for the production variables associated with individual manufacturing partners. Understanding and creating robust PCB designs, especially in terms of board manufacturing, requires a lot of attention to detail. When more detail is included in the design, the manufacturing process goes more smoothly, and process yields are higher.
March 07, 2024

Connect the Dots: Are You Ready for 2024?

After an eventful 2023, we are excited to begin 2024 with new partners, challenges, and opportunities. I see 2023 as one of the most exciting and significant years at Sunstone Circuits since I began my career with the organization. We joined forces with American Standard Circuits (ASC), an organization that excels in producing ultra HDI, metal-backed/core, RF/microwave, flex, and rigid-flex PCBs for diverse industries.
January 09, 2024

Connect the Dots: Five Best Practices for Designing Flex and Rigid-flex PCBs

Flex and rigid-flex PCBs represent exciting technology for designers. Suddenly, boards no longer need to exist along one plane—or along a flat plane at all. Designs can now conform to specific shapes or be bent during use, opening new possibilities for applications with space constraints or flexibility requirements.
December 28, 2023

Connect the Dots: Controlled Impedance and Calculations for Microstrip Structures

Modern high-speed and RF PCB design is an exciting field but comes with its own set of challenges. Signal integrity, performance, and crosstalk become major concerns. Designers for these types of projects need to learn how to control electromagnetic interference (EMI) and compatibility (EMC), which means utilizing some interesting math and calculations.
December 07, 2023

Connect the Dots: Best Practices for Ensuring PCB Design Manufacturability

It makes sense to optimize your board using design for manufacturability (DFM) techniques. But applying DFM best practices can be confusing without formal training. The results are designs that are often incomplete, poorly designed, or too complex. When these issues arise, your PCB manufacturing partner rejecting the design can be considered a best-case scenario because it means they have your back. If your design is simply dropped into an automated queue without concern for manufacturability, the output can be a batch of unusable boards.
October 26, 2023

Connect the Dots: Choosing the Right CAD Tool

Every profession has its tools. Painters use brushes, mechanics have socket wrenches, and parlor magicians have long sleeves. For PCB designers, the tool of the trade is CAD software. Designers spend hours, days, or weeks in their CAD tool for each circuit board design. They thoroughly check each connection, plot every through-hole, and carefully place components. This process inevitably reveals that not all CAD tools are created equally.
September 21, 2023

Connect the Dots: Best Practices for Prototyping

PCB prototyping is a critical juncture during an electronic device’s journey from concept to reality. Regardless of a project’s complexity, the process of transforming a design into a working board is often enlightening in terms of how a design can be improved before a PCB is ready for full production.
September 05, 2023

Connect the Dots: Best Drilling Practices for Better PCB Manufacturing

Drilling is one of the most fundamental steps in the printed circuit board manufacturing process. Until the advent of the through-hole, PCBs were all single-sided with traces and components located on one side. With double-sided and multilayered boards so common now, a PCB without holes doesn't seem like a PCB at all. The drilling process creates the holes that connect the different layers of the PCB. Those holes allow for the connection of components. In fact, without holes, a double-sided PCB is just a coaster.
July 26, 2023

Connect the Dots: Playing the ISO ‘Game’ for Better Quality

If someone asks at your next backyard barbecue, “How is work going?” it might not be gripping to say, “I am improving processes to realize efficiencies based on the ISO 9001 framework.” Unless, like me, they are also an ISO nerd. While that’s what I’m doing at work, perhaps a more engaging answer would be, “We have turned quality improvement into a game that everyone on the production team can participate in.”
June 21, 2023

Connect the Dots: Avoiding Five Common Pitfalls of Parts

Ill-fitting parts can frequently cause delays and cost overruns, and undermine PCB performance, durability, and overall quality of the board. These poor results can be avoided. Here are five methods designers can implement to avoid common, parts-related manufacturability pitfalls.
May 18, 2023

Connect the Dots: What is an Annular Ring?

Let's learn about annular rings, because a greater understanding can help ensure that your PCB designs successfully become physical boards. The annular ring is the space between the drill hole and the edge of the pad—a specified minimum gap around the drill hole. Don't get the impression that an annular ring is a separate part. The term is used to describe the portion of the copper pad that remains after a hole is drilled through the pad. The annular ring of a pad is measured from edge of hole to edge of pad.
April 27, 2023

Connect the Dots: Top 5 High-profile Activities for Production Excellence

For electronics manufacturers, consistently producing quality products is the baseline for success. Even as pressures created by supply chain disruptions and labor scarcity persist, organizations need to focus on continuous improvement to remain competitive. In this effort, manufacturers should challenge themselves by constantly seeking to make operations run better, increase profitability, and improve the customer experience. By focusing on activities that move the performance needle, organizations can attain a higher state of production excellence.
March 27, 2023

Connect the Dots: The Power of Forward Thinking

Innovation is everywhere we look these days. From Apple’s air tag luggage tracker to robot vacuums to gadgets that will feed our pets, innovative electronic devices are changing how we live. Though these devices serve a wide range of needs, they all have two things in common: They need innovators to imagine them and printed circuit boards to make them operate. My experience and expertise keep me focused on the PCB manufacturing component of innovation, but it is important to sometimes step back and look at the bigger picture.
March 01, 2023

Connect the Dots: Medical Technology—How PCBs Help Save Lives

PCBs power all sorts of innovative devices, everything from virtual reality headsets to drones, but our industry isn’t all about fun and games. Advances in practical technology have also changed the face of manufacturing and logistics. But none of these breakthroughs have been more life changing for the average person than in the areas of health, wellness, and medical treatments. PCBs have become the backbone of all effective, efficient, and safe personal health medical devices. Electronics and computer technology are enabling medical breakthroughs that help identify and treat illness more quickly and accurately, as well as provide advanced monitoring for patients during recovery.
February 09, 2023

Connect the Dots: Demystifying Multilayer PCBs

As handheld and wearable technology become vital tools for industries ranging from health services to law enforcement, innovation increasingly coincides with PCBs getting smaller. For these devices, multilayered PCBs offer requisite functionality for boards occupying a small space. Multilayer PCBs enable more circuitry, components, and functionality to fit in a smaller space compared to single-layer or double-sided PCBs. Without them, miniaturization would be much more challenging and many of our coolest projects would rapidly become too clunky and unwieldy.
January 12, 2023

Connect the Dots: The Recipe for Customer Service Success

Here at Sunstone, we are 100% committed to both keeping our employees safe and doing well as a company, but each of us, like you, deal with life struggles and changes differently. We continue to concentrate on the current best practices for keeping our employees safe while keeping quality work as a top priority; providing a remote work option for our employees has been one such effective strategy. It brings me great joy to report that, so far, we have effectively maintained both the health and employment of all our employees. As I was recently reflecting on this, I wanted to ask Al Secchi, our global customer support and sales manager, what he has learned professionally these past two years.
December 09, 2022

Connect the Dots: Managing Solder for Fewer Heat Sink Failures

Heat sink failures can be difficult to detect, especially when the failure rates are low. But even if the volume of failures is low, those costs quickly run into thousands of dollars. One of the primary causes of heat sink failure is inconsistent soldering of thermal pads. Given the cost of reliability problems, finding a path to improvement is crucial.
October 19, 2022

Connect the Dots: The ABCs of Clean Schematics

The production team is always excited when the first shipment of boards for a new electronic device comes back from the PCB manufacturer. Anticipation builds as the engineer connects the first set of components, puts everything together, and gets ready for that first test. But when something goes wrong—a tiny pop, a sizzle, a puff of smoke or nothing happens at all—the mood can turn from excitement to frustration. Where did the process go wrong? Here, Matt Stevenson provides several commonsense tips for avoiding these types of situations.
September 22, 2022

Connect the Dots: Examining the Benefits of Laser Direct Imaging

One of the most amazing advances in PCB manufacturing technology has been the advent and usage of laser direct imaging (LDI) technology. For PCB manufacturers, this technology has been a game changer, helping to reduce costs, speed production, and improve quality. Though the LDI revolution began more than 20 years ago and usage of film for image transfer has reduced by half in that time, there’s still room for more PCB manufacturers to invest in this powerful tool. As an image department team leader and ISO process owner, Trina Taylor has seen firsthand the benefits of laser direct imaging for both my team and our customers.
August 16, 2022

Connect the Dots: Controlled Impedance—The Devil is in the (Math) Details

Controlling impedance is critical to signal integrity and board performance in devices powering everything from high-speed digital applications to telecom and RF communication. It is common practice for designers to include impedance-related notes with their PCB designs and rely on the manufacturer to determine the proper trace parameters. This inherently passive methodology often leads to delay, cost overrun, and even batches of useless boards.
August 11, 2022

Connect the Dots: Caution—Yield Ahead

Manufacturing yield is a key measure of quality in PCB manufacturing. Measured as a percentage of good parts relative to the total produced, achieving 100% yield rates is extremely challenging for anything but the simplest PCB designs. Most PCB manufacturers produce less than a 95% yield, eating the cost of discards and re-designs. PCB manufacturers can take steps to improve yield rates. It is possible to achieve over 98% yield rate by addressing common manufacturing errors, improving safety and quality in tandem, and integrating a Lean approach to all processes.
June 21, 2022

Connect the Dots: Bringing PCB Quoting Into the 21st Century

Here we are in the 21st century, technology abounds across all sectors, and it continues to grow. Advances in wearable technology, vehicles with driver assistance features, and integrated smart home electronic devices continue to drive demand and innovation in the PCB industry. The product development teams tasked with taking these technologies from design into reality are often stuck using procedures from the last century.
June 02, 2022

Connect the Dots: The Benefits of a Parts Library

To be effective at PCB design and layout, individuals need to become proficient with the different tools of the trade. Parts libraries are among of the most important. PCB design and prototyping is a critical component of electronic product development. Being faster to market has always been a competitive advantage and a focus for electronics manufacturers. With persistent marketplace uncertainty and supply chain disruption creating delays, in-house PCB design offers a way to accelerate electronic product development projects.
April 26, 2022

Connect the Dots: Leaning into Lean Manufacturing

The worst part of the global COVID pandemic brought unpredictability and uncertainty to an otherwise stable PCB Industry. Like many in the board business, Sunstone faced increasing demand from essential businesses while also dealing with inconsistent employee availability and social distancing guidelines that slowed the manufacturing process. We knew immediately that even though the status quo had worked to this point, the situation was not temporary, and the operation would have to adapt.
March 31, 2022

Connect the Dots: Six Key Considerations for Designers New to PCB Layout

Demand continues to increase for boards used in consumer electronics, intelligent machines used in manufacturing, and smart devices for health services applications. Our industry needs more smart people designing PCBs to help drive artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives and power the Internet of Things (IoT), which is why we are welcoming new designers into the fold every day.
February 24, 2022

Connect the Dots: The PCB Design Secret Sauce for RF Applications

Design and manufacture of PCBs for radio frequency (RF) technology is a unique animal. RF had been considered a niche, thought of only in terms of television broadcasts, commercial airline phones, and military radar systems. Now, light industrial and consumer applications ranging from remote meter reading to home security systems are just the tip of the RF iceberg.
January 20, 2022

Connect the Dots: Everything You Wanted to Know About Electromagnetic Interference

EMI is another of those TLAs (three letter acronym) that the PCB industry is notorious for. You hear it all the time, referring to electromagnetic interference. The devices we create are, in the context of this conversation, bundles of boards, chips, and cables that produce and are affected by EMI. When current flows through wires, traces, or circuits, some of the energy is propagated through the air in the form of electromagnetic radiation. This also takes place within a closed design—creating disturbance voltages throughout the conductors in your device.
December 16, 2021

Connect the Dots: Best Practices for Solder Mask Application

Today’s PCBs increasingly have to operate in challenging conditions. Whether it’s an iPad hot to the touch after several hours of gaming or a drone slicing through smoke and debris to monitor a wildfire, boards need protection from the elements. That’s where solder mask comes in. Solder mask coats your whole board (apart from the solder pads) so the PCB doesn’t react with the atmosphere and lose chemical properties through oxidation. It also prevents contamination from dust and debris that may settle on the board and create shorts. Solder mask prevents bridging between features during wave reflow assembly, limits external conductive influences and helps ward off voltage spikes.
November 12, 2021

Connect the Dots: Diving Into the Chemical Processes of PCB Manufacturing

I have always been fascinated with chemistry and chemical processes. My first degree was in chemistry and my first job out of college was in the PCB manufacturing shop in the analytical chemistry lab. During my initial tour I was so surprised with just how many chemical processes there were in PCB manufacturing. I discovered that some of the most critical elements of PCB manufacturing involve chemical processes. Chemicals clean the copper in preparation for the coating that prevents oxidation, and again to remove contaminants before solder resist application.
October 28, 2021

Connect the Dots: Finding Value in Gerber Files

Converting to Gerber is one way to perform a double check of your PCB design that can pre-answer questions from your manufacturing partner and pre-solve problems with the boards themselves.
September 23, 2021

Connect the Dots: Designing PCBs for Electronic Hardware Products

We asked an expert what factors designers should consider as they lay out their boards.
August 11, 2021

Connect the Dots: The Split Planes Challenge

Losing track of voltage in your PCB design can lead to explosive problems. Your CAM tool will not manage split planes for you.
July 21, 2021

Connect the Dots: The Board Thickness Challenge

Size constraints, functional requirements, and environmental factors can make selecting PCB thickness difficult. Here we will examine best practices for choosing board thickness that results in quality, highly functional PCBs.
June 10, 2021

Connect the Dots: There is No ‘Final’ Frontier for PCB Design

Our ongoing mission: To explore more manufacturable designs, to seek out higher-quality boards and enhanced functionality, to boldly design PCBs that no one has designed before.
May 17, 2021

Connect the Dots: A Closer Look at Surface Finish

The final surface finish of a PCB is an important consideration. This coating between your components and the bare board is applied to ensure solderability and protect any exposed copper circuitry. Selecting the right type of surface finish can be daunting, and for good reasons.
April 13, 2021

Connect the Dots: The Power Behind the (PCB) Throne—Power Supply Design Tips

Delivering the required power to each component on a PCB can be a complex challenge. Designers have to manage converting AC to DC while also delivering the correct voltage and current to each component. A well-designed PCB results when the designer takes power supply seriously—paying close attention to the effects that power delivery can have on surrounding components, such as through heat management or signal interference.
March 11, 2021

Connect the Dots: IoT is Changing How We Design PCBs

Demand growth is fueled by business as well as consumers, with pandemic-accelerated healthcare and industrial machinery applications leading the way. IoT devices of every stripe will continue to improve and add functionality while also becoming smaller, lighter, and faster.
February 10, 2021

Connect the Dots: The Case for Expansive Parts Libraries

PCBs are the foundation of every electronic device, the home for the components that make up your assembly. Those integrated circuits, connectors, headers and passives are what makes it function. How it needs to function determines whether standard components alone can make it work.
January 19, 2021

Connect the Dots: Design Tips to Avoid Part Fit Problems

“Will my parts fit on the board?” That seems like it should be a rhetorical question that needs no answer but reality tells us, as you transition from the design stage to manufacturing, issues with parts fit are one of the most frequent causes of delays and cost overruns. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson share six tips for ensuring parts will fit on your board.
December 09, 2020

This Month in Design007 Magazine: Connect the Dots—Is 2020 Really Coming to an End?

As we approach the end of 2020, we are able to look back on one of the most challenging years that I have ever experienced. Throughout these trying times, Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson were consistent in their desire to share knowledge with everyone. Matt shares a synopsis of the topics they shared from the perspective of a PCB manufacturer.
January 15, 2020

Connect the Dots: Design Tips for Layout

As a PCB manufacturer, Sunstone Circuits receives hundreds of PCB layouts represented in Gerber format every week. As you might expect, they’re not all created equal. Some of the layouts check every box and roll straight into manufacturing, while others need work before they can be sent to the production floor. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson share some best practices.
November 11, 2020

Connect the Dots: The New Recipe for Customer Service Success

How are you holding up these days during the pandemic? Each of us is dealing with life struggles and changes differently. With this in mind, Matt Stevenson asks Al Secchi, global customer support and sales manager, what he has learned professionally from the pandemic and how to serve customers.
October 19, 2020

Connect the Dots: Unraveling the Mysterious BGA Routing Mess

A ball-grid-array (BGA) device can be a daunting component to route, especially in fine-pitch arrays featuring solder ball counts in the hundreds and pitch values as tight as 0.5 millimeters. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson describe how you can take the mystery out of BGA routing and create a PCB design that can handle all those pesky narrow spaces.
September 21, 2020

Connect the Dots: How to Know If a CAD Tool Is Right for You

The tool that defines PCB designers is our CAD software, and many discover quickly that not all CAD tools are created equally. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson answer the question, "How can designers find the right CAD tools to fit their particular methodology and needs?"
August 12, 2020

Connect the Dots: The Nuts and Bolts of Electrical Testing

In this column, Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson explore the world of electrical testing. They examine a variety of testing methods, what options to look for in a PCB manufacturer, and how to ensure that you're getting the best value out of the electrical test options available to you.
July 15, 2020

Connect the Dots: Reassessing the Risk of Offshore PCB Manufacturing

Offshore board production has long been considered an effective way to reduce the cost of producing electronic devices here at home, but those savings often demand a higher tolerance for delivery issues and come with lowered expectations for quality. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson explain.
June 06, 2020

Connect the Dots: The Power of Forward Thinking

Innovation comes in many forms and from more places these days. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson discuss how innovative electronic devices all contain PCBs, and share pro design tips for bringing new products to the market.
May 29, 2020

Connect the Dots: Picking a Prototyping Strategy

No matter how simple or complicated your electronic project, PCB prototyping is part of its journey from concept to reality. This process of turning the design into something physical can teach you a lot about what needs to be tweaked and improved before your PCB is ready for full production. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson explain how before you can prototype, you have to design.
April 04, 2020

Connect the Dots: Increased Focus on Health and Wellness Transforms the PCB Industry

Our increased focus on health and wellness drives technology advancement for personal devices and those used in the delivery of healthcare. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson explain how this trend also drives both PCB production innovation and a long-overdue update of the employer/employee relationship.
March 16, 2020

Connect the Dots: The Seven-year Etch

PCB etching seems like a simple task on the surface, but quite a few things can go wrong during this process. Adhering to best practice and continuous improvement is a must to help avoid issues with your finished board. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson share their design tips for a better etching process.
February 06, 2020

Connect the Dots: Design Tips For Layout

As a PCB manufacturer, we receive hundreds of PCB layouts represented in Gerber format every week. As you might expect, they’re not all created equal. Some of the layouts check every box and roll straight into manufacturing, while others need work before they can be sent to the production floor.
January 22, 2020

Connect the Dots: A Penny for Your Thoughts on Copper

You're probably thinking: “Bob can’t possibly write an entire article dedicated to the use of copper in PCBs.” To that, Bob says, “Hold my beer.”
December 19, 2019

Connect the Dots: A Penny for Your Thoughts on Copper

Copper is the primary metal for standard PCBs. And while standard PCB capabilities depend on what materials are used and how they are constructed, copper is the go-to choice. Bob Tise explains some of copper's applications, advantages, and challenges.
November 06, 2019

Connect the Dots: Build Quality Into Your Boards and Processes

To the procurement clerk, a PCB may seem like it is just a line item on a bill of materials (BOM) or parts list during the production of an electronic device. At Sunstone, we know differently. The PCB is the building block for all of the components and parts in your electrical project.
October 09, 2019

Connect the Dots: A Proactive Approach to Controlled Impedance

You can save time, money, and effort if you are aware of the impedance math when you sit down to design your board. Gain this awareness by using a good impedance calculator, and you can build the right tolerances into your design. Impedance testing becomes a double-check of your work instead of the tool you rely on to tell you if your documentation is correct. Documenting impedance requirements properly is more onerous than most people realize. Though it seems simple, PCB documentation is a details game that often leaves knowledge gaps for your manufacturer.
September 03, 2019

Connect the Dots: Managing Global Supply Chain Uncertainty

We are well into the second year of tariff-centric trade policy, and one thing appears certain—uncertainty is here to stay. Though most of the media focus has been on cars and steel or consumer prices and corporate profits, the enduring challenge for both the electronics and PCB industries has been maintaining reliable global supply chains.
August 01, 2019

Connect the Dots: Five Best Practices to Ensure Manufacturability

When you send your design for manufacturing, your partner does not know what type of device the board will be part of nor the conditions in which it will have to perform. It’s common for harsh environments or exposure to mess up a board’s performance. If you call out materials that will not tolerate the end-product’s operating environment, bad things can happen—such as a smoking board, for example. Be sure your board can tolerate thermal stress or solder joints risk breaking and damaging components.
July 09, 2019

Connect the Dots: The Future of PCB Manufacturing Doesn't Belong to Robots, but to the Users

Is the world ready for the consequences of rapid automation? Will the use of robots displace entire categories of workers? Can artificial intelligence really “think”? How will manufacturing, including PCB manufacturing, be affected by all of these smart robots? These questions actually come from a pamphlet published in 1955: "The Age of Automation: Its Effects on Human Welfare."
May 30, 2019

Connect the Dots: Accurate Gerber Files Are Mission-Critical for Smooth PCB Manufacturing

Gerber files can reveal design issues ahead of the quote process and ensure your manufacturer has everything needed to produce your boards correctly. After consulting with Engineering Support Specialist Eric Haugen, we explored some best practices for making sure that Gerber files are accurate.
May 16, 2019

Connect the Dots: Preparing for Tomorrow’s Technology Today

At a recent Sunstone Circuits planning summit, Matt Stevenson, VP of sales and marketing, and Bob Tise had a wide-ranging discussion about emerging technologies and how they will impact PCB manufacturing. The following is an abridged transcript of this conversation.
April 09, 2019

Connect the Dots: MakeHarvard 2019: Bigger and Better!

Sunstone Circuits was eager to return to MakeHarvard as a sponsor and creator of a competition category this year, also serving as both mentors and competition judges. If you were there, you saw us—we were hard to miss in our bright orange vests. As mentors, we were out and about helping students and answering questions.
April 01, 2019

Connect the Dots: Exploding PCBs: Don’t Lose Track of Voltage in Your Design

Managing split planes? Your CAM tool will not do it for you. We see this almost every day—not exploding PCBs, which pretty rare—but rather problems created by having more than one voltage on a power plane layer. From where we sit, this is one of the more insidious and costly challenges facing PCB designers.
February 21, 2019

Connect the Dots: Selecting the Right Board Thickness—A PCB Designer’s Balancing Act

Choosing wisely is critical for PCB quality and performance, but it can be tricky depending on size constraints, functional requirements, and environmental factors. While we sometimes have a general idea about assembly requirements or how the board will be used, there can still be a lot of unanswered questions as we begin the manufacturing process. After all, there’s a big difference between a PCB going into a drone and a PCB that will be part of a submersible drone and needs to be the size of a tennis ball, withstand intense heat or cold, and function forty fathoms below the surface.
January 08, 2019

Connect the Dots: Key Guidelines for Clean Schematic Designs

The smoke has not even cleared, but they already know what the problem is. It was supposed to be a celebratory moment for the team, plugging in the first board from the initial shipment. Instead, the room is as silent as a morgue. The engineer knows that they put the capacitor in place. However, on closer examination, it is not close enough to the IC pad to make a difference. Everyone turns to the PCB designer. “But I put it right where the schematic said to!” they say. The fix is easily implemented. It takes 15 minutes to produce a new design. Unfortunately, the break room already has an ample supply of coasters, and that’s all this batch of boards can now be used for.
December 12, 2018

Connect the Dots: Six Tips to Ensure Parts Fit on Your Board

One of the most frustrating mismatches with alternative through-hole parts occurs when the land pattern matches, but the pin size is off. If hole sizes are too tight, pins may not fit through the holes, or if they do go into the holes, they may not solder well. Solder will need to flow through the gap between the pin and the hole barrel. If there is not enough space to allow enough solder mass to flow through the hole, the circuit board will absorb heat from the molten solder and cause the solder to solidify partway up the hole. This is called a cold solder joint and can result in a premature failure of your circuit.
November 16, 2018

Connect the Dots: New Landing Design to Reduce Thermal Pad Failure

You’ve finally finished your design. All the traces are correct and the IC landings are to the manufacturer’s specifications. A short run of test boards performs perfectly. For best results, you select a reputable domestic board house for production and a quality assembly shop to do the soldering. When the finished boards arrive, everything looks great. You’re in high spirits and congratulate yourself on a job well done. Then the reports start coming in.
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