Elementary, Mr. Watson

Column from: John Watson

John Watson, CID, has been in the electronics industry for 40 years, with 20 of them being in PCB design. With a career started in the U.S. Army in the early 1980s, where he worked as an electronics technician on top-secret military systems. In the early 1990s, the electronics industry changed how repairs were done, going from a component level to board level. With that, John reinvented himself, moving into the PCB design and engineering field. With an extraordinary career that has placed him on the cutting-edge of technology with top-rated companies around the world, John is a highly sought-out consultant, writer, and speaker. But his real passion lies in mentoring and teaching—especially the next generation of PCB designers and engineers—and reminding them that they are the builders of dreams. As of March 2022, he is referred to as Professor Watson at Palomar College in San Marcos, California.

July 23, 2024

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Mechatronics—The Swiss Army of Engineering

Many folks in my age group raised on a farm always carried a pocket knife. My choice was a Swiss Army Knife. It was a versatile, multi-functional pocketknife manufactured by Victorinox and Wenger and is renowned for its compact design. What was nice about the Swiss Army Knife was the array of tools that fold out from its handles. Whatever job you need to accomplish, the Swiss Army knife can handle it.
June 20, 2024

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Cultivating a Culture of Collaboration

About three years ago, I wrote a column, “PCB Design—It's a Team Sport,” which discussed the importance of collaboration and working as a team. At that time, we were under restrictions due to the COVID pandemic and were coming to grips with our new roles and struggles as PCB designers. I opened my column by stating, "Our entire industry had to reinvent how we did things. It's during the difficult times the most valuable lessons are learned." While 2021 seems like another lifetime ago, those lessons still linger.
May 29, 2024

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Pushing Design Boundaries

Overconstraint: What a concept. Our first thoughts would be: What are we hurting by overconstraining a design? Isn't it better to be safe than sorry? What is meant by overconstraint? It means to apply excessive constraints. In engineering and mathematics, it's used when there are too many simultaneous equations to result in an exact solution. For example, fitting a line to many points is overconstrained because a line cannot be drawn simultaneously through all of the points. In PCB design, overconstraints always occur, including dimensional, electrical, manufacturing, and timing constraints. The list goes on.
April 08, 2024

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Why PCB Design Enthusiasts Should Attend IPC APEX EXPO 2024

With the change of the seasons and baseball's opening day, we have the additional advantage of IPC APEX EXPO, starting this week in Anaheim, California. IPC APEX EXPO is a prominent event in the electronics manufacturing industry featuring technical conferences, professional development courses, networking events, speakers, and an exhibition showcasing the latest advancements in electronics manufacturing equipment, materials, and technologies.
March 28, 2024

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Ensuring Design Integrity

Back in February, many of us watched the "Big Game." It reminded me of the saying, “It's not how you start that is important, but rather how you finish." It is perfectly okay when you are talking about sports, you get off to a bad first half and need to recover in the second half. However, when it comes to PCB design, this is not a good practice. If things start badly, they usually don't recover. They continue down that same path, costing more money and losing design time.  
February 20, 2024

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Know the Tradeoffs With Embedded Designs

One of my great joys as a grandfather of eight is spending time with them at the park. It doesn't take too long until I'm getting stuck on a slide that is too small for me or on the seesaw, with me on one side and them trying to lift me. At that point, they learn some harsh lessons in physics and how heavy Grandpa really is. A seesaw is a relatively simple device, but it’s a great way to explain a rather complex concept in PCB design: design tradeoffs. Each decision made throughout a design comes with inherent pros and cons.
December 28, 2023

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Consider Physics When Designing Non-traditional Geometries

Electronics have profoundly impacted society, shaping how we live, communicate, work, and entertain ourselves. Nearly every aspect of our lives is affected by electronics in some way. If you want proof, sit and watch people in public; everyone is on a screen. The communication revolution alone has transformed our lives, enabling instant global connectivity. Some would argue these advances come with their distinct disadvantages.
November 16, 2023

Elementary, Mr. Watson: William of Ockham Meets Printed Circuit Boards

William of Ockham was a significant figure in medieval philosophy who lived from 1285 to 1347 and was an English Franciscan friar, philosopher, and theologian. William of Ockham is most famously known for formulating the principle of Occam's Razor, also known as the principle of parsimony. In simple terms, Occam's Razor is a problem-solving rule suggesting that when you have multiple possible explanations, the simplest one is usually the best. The most straightforward solution that fits all the facts without adding extra assumptions or complications.
October 12, 2023

Elementary, Mr. Watson: IPC Standards, A Love Story

In the fall of 1998, I was a novice in the printed circuit board design field, beginning a two-semester course at a community college in San Marcos, California. Although I was shifting my career from an electronic technician to a PCB designer, I sat nervously as the class started, and the instructor began handing out several paperback-bound books that looked more like a pamphlet on steroids. Those “textbooks” were my introduction to IPC standards. Unbeknownst to me, those basic standards became my reference for every design I would do moving forward.
September 14, 2023

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Flex Designs—The Future and Beyond

Electronics are continually evolving, driven by innovations in printed circuit board technology. Flexible PCBs have emerged as a revolutionary force, reshaping the PCB industry and influencing the design and functionality of countless electronic devices. Some believe that flexible PCBs are a relatively newer technology, but as we will see, that is not true. Since I’m an instructor, here’s a short history lesson on how we got here and what we can expect.
August 21, 2023

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Circuit Simulation, SPICE, and AI

According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s flight time limitations and rest requirements, a commercial pilot is restricted to 36 flight hours in a week, 100 hours in 28 days, and 1,000 hours in any calendar year. But before these pilots even start flying the friendly skies, they spend considerable time in a flight simulator. In the same way, PCB design and circuit simulations provide the same advantages: a controlled, safe environment for testing a circuit without the considerable overhead of fabricating and assembling the PCB.
July 17, 2023

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Honey, I Shrunk the PCBs

As an industry, we live in our own version of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” PCB designs are shrinking smaller and smaller with each design spin. Our industry demands the latest and greatest, where innovations coming off the line must be smaller and sleeker and have all the latest new functions, which, as we know, determines the fit and form. Miniaturization and integration are growing trends with electronics.
June 15, 2023

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Where Have All the PCB Designers Gone?

What are the biggest challenges in PCB design? Now, that’s a loaded question, but one that I’d like to talk about. Before I do so, I think it’s helpful to talk about challenges themselves, how we view them, how they affect us, and what we do about them. What one person perceives as a challenge may not be a challenge for another person. Challenges can vary based on individual circumstances, goals, values, and strengths or weaknesses. Some folks avoid challenges or never expect to have issues, but this is entirely unrealistic.
May 15, 2023

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Slash Sheets a ‘Smorgasbord’ of Materials

Slash sheets touch on materials, one of my favorite areas of PCB design, and what I refer to as “the buffet of the PCB world.” After all, this smorgasbord of materials comes in an endless variety, with differing balances of reinforcement and resin, from different manufacturers and vendors, and from a variety of sources. Add the possibility of out-of-date or deteriorated panels, and it makes ensuring the quality of your next PCB design a real hit or miss.
April 21, 2023

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Responsible PCB Design Must Go Beyond RoHS

In the field of PCB design, a massive paradox exists. No doubt, the PCB industry is a fascinating field. The ever-changing design environment faces constant and more complex challenges to make products smaller, faster, and cheaper. There are endless ways that electronic innovation changes lives for the better, as seen when advanced medical systems provide patients a new lease on life. But there also is a downside, an unfortunate side, to PCB design, and it has bothered me for some time. There is a massive amount of new PCB products hitting the market, especially in the consumer marketplace. But what happens to the "obsolete" products that are discarded, known as e-waste? This dark side of the PCB industry is not spoken about in social circles, but with innovation comes some negative.
March 23, 2023

Elementary, Mr. Watson: If Not You, Then Who?

I have had the opportunity to do a considerable amount of traveling. Over many visits to the Philippines, I noticed a distinct lack of nursing homes, and learned that it is a common practice for children to take care of their parents. They even have a designated term for this practice, ma alaga, roughly translated as "take care of." This practice leads to some fantastic outcomes in the culture, resulting in each age group taking care of its own, with a beautiful overlapping of different generations. What a great concept.
February 16, 2023

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Turning Your Career up to Eleven

In the 1984 classic rock documentary “This Is Spinal Tap,” guitarist Nigel Tufnel proudly demonstrates an amplifier whose volume knobs are marked from zero to 11 instead of the typical zero to 10. From that movie, we get the phrase, “Turn it up to 11.” It’s a lesson of seeing a limit and exceeding it. So, here’s a rather personal question: What is your level 11? You are the only person who can answer that question, and I hope you will, both in your personal life and in your career.
January 30, 2023

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Advanced Packaging Not a Passing Fad

As it is said, necessity is the mother of invention. That is precisely the situation when we are discussing the PCB design industry. We are living in what can only be described as the golden age of Electronics. The advancements and innovations are growing by leaps and bounds. Never in history has the field of electronics grown at such a fantastic rate. The advance integration packages field is one of the fastest-growing and most exciting.
January 12, 2023

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Designing For a Higher Purpose

John Watson asks the question to PCB designers: Why do you do what you do? It's a question someone asked him recently and the answer was clear. In this column, John shares a personal journey of a friend whose life was changed in an instant because of the efforts of so many, including a PCB designer. This story should give us all pause to consider the magnitude of what we do. The "puzzle pieces" of a PCB design become a working model for consumer products that affect even our most basic senses. Read on to learn more about the "why" behind his passion for PCB design.
December 15, 2022

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Art of the PCB

After finishing the statue of David, Michelangelo—Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the High Renaissance—was asked how he had created such a beautiful work of art. He said, “The sculpture was already complete within the marble block before I started my work. I merely had to chisel away the superfluous material.” After decades of being in the industry and seeing countless designs, it’s still amazing to me to see the exceptional beauty of a well-done PCB design. For designers, each PCB begins as a blank canvas; not knowing what the final product will look like, we walk a fine line between engineering and artistry, often producing fascinating results.
November 10, 2022

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Is Your Bathroom in the Kitchen?

Several years ago, a report came out of St. Louis of a strange apartment on the market. It was in the community of Central West End. With a small floor plan of only 200 square feet, the entire bathroom was placed right in the middle of the kitchen. Well, that's interesting. It gives new meaning to the studio apartment. Well, with closer examination, there are several convenient features available, so here's my point: In this story lies some fantastic lessons for us as PCB designers. In real estate, it's pretty uncommon to find the bathroom in the kitchen; but metaphorically speaking, it's done all the time in a PCB design (ouch).
October 13, 2022

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?

I recently had the opportunity to work on a rather critical PCB design project during what should have been the final design review. Unfortunately, after presenting my well-organized PowerPoint presentation, I asked the most challenging question to the group of assembled engineers and managers, “So, what do you think?” As we went around the room, nearly every comment started with something like, "You know what we could do..." Ideas flew around the room, fueling a full-blown brainstorm. Unfortunately, what followed could best be described as organized chaos. The result was that several of the suggestions took the product back to re-design, and what was supposed to be the final steps didn't happen.
September 08, 2022

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Anatomy of Your Component—Footprint, Part 2

Have you ever gone to a buffet hungry and looking forward to digging in? You grab the plate and start down the food line, picking things as you go. Halfway through, your plate is stacked up with food, looking very similar to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then you get to the good stuff at the end of the buffet, but there’s no room on your plate. At this point, you probably feel much like that with the first part of looking at our footprint, but rest assured, although your plate is already full, the good stuff is still waiting for us. I have saved the best for our second offering.
August 17, 2022

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Anatomy of Your Component—Footprint

I hate to disappoint you if you expect to get everything about footprints from this modest column, but a short search online results in a long list of technical standards and books on this subject. So, I will only hit the surface of the discussion. I have often spoken about the parent-child relationship principle in PCB design. In this series, we have learned that we can see how that "relationship" is supported directly by the information in the component itself. As a short review, the parent-child relationship is where you use an input of data, material, or parts (parents) as the foundation or resource for another item or document (child).
July 13, 2022

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Anatomy of Your PCB Component, Part 2

In the start of my series of the anatomy of a component, I discussed that the component has two major divisions. The first is information that consists of name, description, parametric information, sourcing (part choices), and the datasheet (Figure 1). Next, the component comprises symbol, PCB footprint, 3D model, and simulation models. I gave the example of the dissection of the frog, with an analogy that every part has a purpose. In the same way, each part of our component has a distinct purpose in our PCB design, including our models.
June 16, 2022

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Anatomy of Your PCB Component, Part 1

One of the classes I dreaded the most in school each year was biology. This was because I knew it was only a matter of time before I would face the rite of passage for most high school students: dissecting a frog. It wasn’t something I ever looked forward to. We had to go through the same educational exercise and maybe with the same apprehension for most of us. But my point in bringing up the painful experiences of our high school years is, although it was difficult, I did learn a powerful lesson: Every part has a purpose.
May 12, 2022

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Five Pillars of Your Library, Part 5—Traceability

We have reached the end of this series regarding the five pillars of the component library. We now have a robust library that provides the required resources for the ever-changing industry. Above that is having a flexible library to grow with the company. The final pillar is traceability. Why is traceability so essential and considered a pillar of our library? Read on for details.
April 14, 2022

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Five Pillars of your Library, Part 4—Review

I trust that you have been enjoying this series on the five pillars of your library. Now that we have a single library managed using our revisioning, and we have lifecycle schemes organized so that we can easily find something in the component category, family, and subfamilies, we are now ready to look at one of our library's most vital principles and pillars: reviewable.
March 10, 2022

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Five Pillars of Your Library, Part 3—Architecture

Before I continue with the series of the five pillars of your library, I want to do a little review. Although every library is different, the five pillars are consistent with any sound library. You place these pillars to support a specific building section in building construction. To pull one out requires the remaining ones to hold the total weight above. So, each of these supports is needed for your library to succeed. You cannot choose which of them you intend to follow; to pull just one out results in the toppling of the others.
February 17, 2022

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Five Pillars of Your Library, Part 2—Managed

The 1972 classic movie “The Candidate” tells the story of Bill McKay (played by Robert Redford), who was running for the state senate. Although he was a long shot and an underdog, McKay ends up surprising everyone with an incredibly close win. After the concession speech of his opponent, a vast mob surrounds McKay. He fights through the crowd, trying to reach his campaign manager Marvin (played by Peter Boyle). Finally reaching him, McKay pulls Marvin aside into a hotel room, sits on the bed, and after several seconds of silence, finally asks a very intense question “So, what do we do now?” The campaign manager looks bewildered, so McKay asks the question again, “What do we do now?”
January 13, 2022

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Five Pillars of Your Library, Part 1

I have recently had some great conversations with many of you, and the same question keeps coming up: What does it takes to have an excellent component library? So, I have decided to kick off the new year by taking a deep dive into your PCB component libraries and looking in detail at the five pillars of your library. So along with taking the tree and the decorations down and making your New Year resolutions, let's resolve to take an honest look at our component libraries and get them in order.
December 12, 2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: PCB Data Management and Security

As a grandfather of six grandchildren, one of my great joys is spending time with them. There is nothing better than spending an afternoon at the park and especially playing on the teeter-totter. It's all fun and games until grandpa gets on one side, and they try to lift me. Then the harsh reality and a teachable moment in leverage, balance, and just how heavy grandpa really is hits pretty hard.
November 11, 2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: We’ve Never Done It That Way Before

The September edition of Design007 Magazine discussed the theme of collaborating and working with a team. In that issue, I wrote a feature article called “PCB Design Is a Team Sport.” After that edition was published, I had several follow-up questions and conversations with individuals; they agreed on the importance of teamwork but felt that it's easier said than done. It's challenging because of the inherent problem of team members accepting or handling change very well. Change it's a word that sends shivers down the spine of some. You know those sort of individuals. They're easy to identify. The ones that constantly remind everyone, "We never did it that way before." As if how we did things in the past was so much better.
October 14, 2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: First, Component Shortages, and Now Hot Dogs?

When I considered the title for this month’s article, I seriously considered calling it "From the Frying Pan Into the Fire" because I’m sure you’ve noticed recently that the component shortage problem has only worsened—we’re now seeing other supply lines breaking down.
September 16, 2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Danger of Rogue Libraries

For PCB designers, the most common part of the library is the collection of components used in the PCB design process. But, I have seen some libraries have other information, including a resource area, a group of documents, standards, and articles. So basically it can have anything you want.
September 29, 2021

Elementary Mr. Watson: PCB Design—It's a Team Sport

One of the hard lessons of this past year was about the value of the team and collaboration. I have repeatedly heard how many of us have a newfound respect and appreciation for the teams we work with inside our companies. Out of necessity, we had to find new ways to collaborate.
August 12, 2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Epic Fails with Design Rules

Various sciences, including physics, mathematics, chemistry, are significantly involved throughout the PCB design process, rules that can sometimes be bent but not broken. However, the rules that designers break and ignore altogether and very often are the design rules.
August 05, 2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Managing Risk in PCB Design

PCB design is like bungee jumping. With the complexity of a PCB design, the intricate details, and various steps, it's rather easy to make mistakes. Those mistakes, many times, do not show up until it's too late and the board has gone off to fabrication and assembly. By the way, a good rule is not to use your assembly house as your quality control team for PCB designs.
July 18, 2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Time to Market, from Ludicrous Speed to Plaid

Mel Brooks may have something to teach us about going "ludicrous speed" in getting our designs to the finish line. John Watson explains.
June 10, 2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Trust but Verify

Over many years, I have seen some elaborate PCB library systems. However, the best ones were those not based on the size but rather the quality of the information. That old axiom is definitely “not quantity but rather quality.”
May 13, 2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Paying the Price To Be a PCB Designer

Today, the electronics industry is flourishing with innovations and technologies. The result is that the “good” designers are left in the dust. Truthfully, our industry doesn't need more good designers; rather, we need great designers—those who can face any challenge and instead of cowering in the corner, looks at the task at hand and says, "Bring it on."
April 13, 2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Keeping Counterfeit Components Out of Your Library

To know whether anything is wrong, you must first know in detail what is correct to follow the standard or pattern. This principle could not be more true when handling our components in the library.
February 11, 2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Printed Circuit Board Design

John Watson addresses continuous improvement by examining the PCB design process.
January 22, 2021

Elementary, Mr. Watson: 2020—The Year that Taught Us Resilience

Yes, 2020 was a challenge. It's during those times that we can learn some significant lessons if we allow them.
December 17, 2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Demystifying Bypass Capacitors

As PCB designers, we work under the simple rule of cause and effect, and a PCB design can quickly become a petri dish for the butterfly effect to flourish. One of those areas that can quickly snowball into major problems is your PCB power distribution structure. When it goes wrong, it usually goes very wrong and has significant issues throughout your design.
November 18, 2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Density Feasibility Putting 10 Lbs in a 5-Lb Bag

Whether on a customer, a system, or a PCB level, it’s essential to understand the final objective and how you intend to get there and meet the customer need at the forefront of any project. In this column, John Watson addresses density feasibility and more.
October 15, 2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Location, Location, Location

When it comes to PCB design, one of the most overlooked principles is component placement. Similar to a home, the component location has a considerable impact on the quality and is the real value of a PCB design. John Watson examines five rules to follow when it comes to component placement.
September 10, 2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Overcoming PCB Designs Pitfalls

When starting every PCB design, the hope is that we can navigate through any pitfalls that arrive. Unfortunately, many times, issues happen that you do not handle correctly; they fall through the cracks and end up in your PCB design. John Watson explains how that is when the real problems begin.
August 06, 2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: How to Ruin Your PCB Design in 4 Easy Steps

John Watson has seen firsthand how quickly PCB designs can “go off the rails” by not following a few simple principles. In this column, he looks at four practices that can easily ruin your PCB design.
July 09, 2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: PCB Components Naming Conventions

How you accurately analyze and identify certain information has a direct connection to the overall success of your PCB designs. In this column, John Watson focuses on the conventional naming scheme for the schematic symbol and footprint to prevent headaches and ulcers later.
June 11, 2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Collaboration in the PCB Design Process

The past few months have been trying for everyone, with many of us working from home. However, there are still the underlining principles of collaboration to step into a role to finish the necessary tasks to keep a project moving forward. John Watson, CID, explains.
May 28, 2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Reinventing Yourself

When COVID-19 first hit, many businesses were forced to close, and we immediately saw its impact on the service industry. Whatever challenge you’re facing, John Watson emphasizes that it’s time to hit the switch on reinventing.
April 16, 2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Positive Side of COVID-19

With the recent COVID-19 outbreak worldwide, most of us have been forced to reshuffle how we work, live, and play. Something like this has never happened before in our lifetimes, and it is scary and challenging, but difficult times develop resilient people. John Watson shares some of the positive things he has already noticed come out of this situation.
March 12, 2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Are We There Yet?

Anyone who has taken a road trip with children knows the question, “Are we there yet?” very well. This question also applies to PCB design. If you are not careful, your PCB project could easily go off track and you could lose sight of what you are doing (objective), why (motivation), how (process), and when (schedule). John Watson emphasizes the importance of these fundamental questions.
January 15, 2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: Rebuilding Trust When Things Go Wrong

When you look at the long list of steps involved in designing a PCB, it can be somewhat overwhelming and sometimes pretty easy to miss something. Be assured when things go wrong, they go very wrong. In his debut column, John Watson shares some tips for rebuilding trust when things go wrong.
January 02, 2020

Elementary, Mr. Watson: What You Need to Know About a PCB Design Career

Never stop learning. Why? Because the industry never stops changing. Those that continuously stay in that state of learning are the ones who succeed. The old saying “Knowledge is power,” often attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, has never been truer. Fortunately, there is never a lack of things to learn. Don’t ever become apathetic about learning. Make a point of keeping a running list of ideas or subjects that you want to research, and then purposely set aside time in your week strictly to study and learn about these things anywhere you can.
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