Tim's Takeaways

Column from: Tim Haag

Tim Haag is a senior PCB designer with many years in the industry, supporting and training users, and managing various design groups.

Based in the Pacific Northwest, Tim previously spent almost 14 years as the customer support manager for Intercept Technology and 6 years with InFocus as an Engineering Services Manager.

June 13, 2024

Tim’s Takeaways: One for the Archives

Well over 10 years ago, I was looking for a new hobby to fill in the gaps of my free time. As a kid, I used to build all kinds of models, including cars, tanks, airplanes, and rockets. Many of those assembly skills helped shape my career in PCB design and manufacturing. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to return to my roots and revisit the world of model building.
April 04, 2024

Tim’s Takeaways: The Art of Technical Instruction

What does it take to become a PCB design instructor and be successful? This question is especially relevant in the rapidly changing landscape of printed circuit board design and layout. Our industry, like many others, is dealing with a lot of change. Turnover is chief among those changes as newcomers step into the positions left open by those retiring. There is the constant escalation of technology that triggers continual enhancements of standards and processes that designers must keep up with. It is evident that our industry needs good technical instructors to carry this load.
February 08, 2024

Tim’s Takeaways: PCB Design and Manufacturing—Let’s Work Together

I have spoken with many different companies, and have found that adherence to manufacturing requirements in PCB layout varies quite a bit. On one side are those design groups that don’t exercise a lot of caution when it comes to manufacturing requirements. These are often designs produced in lower numbers, and error-free yields aren’t their primary concern. The boards are manufactured knowing they will require a lot of manual cleanup to get working units finished.
November 30, 2023

Tim’s Takeaways: Take It From Scotty, Simple Really is Better

I am, at heart, a die-hard “Star Trek” fan. When I was a kid, I was all about phasers, warp drive, and cool stuff like that. However, these days, I tend to put a higher value on production and storytelling. But like any fan (I’m avoiding “Trekkie” because, frankly, it’s kind of embarrassing), I have certain moments from the hundreds (if not thousands) of hours filmed for the various TV shows and movies that are among my favorites. One of those moments is in “Star Trek III, The Search for Spock,” when our heroes steal the Starship Enterprise from space dock.
October 05, 2023

Tim’s Takeaways: Human Ingenuity and the Rigid-flex PCB

Although the development of the printed circuit board is a story rich in historic and scientific significance, in general it can be said that the creation of PCB technology was fueled by necessity. The roots of our industry go back a hundred years to when electronic products were hand-built with point-to-point wiring connections. As you can imagine, this manual process was very tedious and time-consuming. However, with the introduction of the circuit board, radio and other electronics, manufacturers were able to simplify and speed up their processes. As this new technology matured, the circuit board printing process—and the materials used for substrates—evolved rapidly, making PCBs ideal for military and other advanced applications.
August 03, 2023

Tim’s Takeaways: How I Learned Advanced Design Strategies

If there is one thing that helped my career in printed circuit board design more than anything else, it would be my time working at a service bureau. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted with the different captive shops I’ve worked for in larger companies throughout my career. Over the years, these organizations have provided the opportunity to lay out boards for computer systems, test equipment, display hardware, and much more. But in all those captive shops, the board types have usually been pretty much the same, which stands to reason when you consider the type and range of products sold by each parent corporation. The service bureau, however, was a different story.
June 08, 2023

Tim’s Takeaways: Batter Up—Stepping Up to the Substrate

Imagine being a rookie stepping up to the plate for the first time. Consider the incredible focus it takes to evaluate the situation and correctly anticipate the trajectory of a ball traveling toward you at around 90 mph. At the same time, you must block out that every move you make is being scrutinized by thousands of park spectators and millions of TV viewers. The pressure must be unimaginable. People step up to the plate every day to perform their jobs. While not staring down a pitch, they are sizing up their own skills, experiences, and untold variables to achieve the best possible result. Their need to “hit it out of the park” in their job is just as important as it is to a major league baseball player.
April 07, 2023

Tim’s Takeaways: Tribal Knowledge—Not the Villain You Thought

There’s a lot that can be said about the pros and cons of tribal knowledge in the workplace and there really is more than one definition. To put it simply, tribal knowledge is information or skills known by an individual or group that is not known outside of that group. One of the trademarks of this definition is that it’s commonly used to describe functional—but undocumented—knowledge essential to the operation of an organization. Of course, this is a broad generalization and just one definition of tribal knowledge, but it will do for our purposes.
January 18, 2023

Tim’s Takeaways: Threading the Needle Through Advanced Packaging

Last week my wife started a new project that required a trip to the craft store for supplies, and she invited me to join her on this errand. This is not the first time I’ve faced this scenario; do I choose to follow her around the craft store pushing the miniature cart that will, by the time we get to the register, barely contain all her chosen fabrics and materials, or stay at home and watch TV? Thankfully, by this point in my life, I’ve learned which is the right choice, so we hopped in the car and headed down the road to the craft store.
November 22, 2022

Tim’s Takeaways: What More Do We Need to Know?

Although it’s been more years than I care to admit, I still remember very clearly the class on careers that I was required to take in junior high school. On a table in the front of the class were several boxes filled with all sorts of different job cards that a student would search through to learn about different professions. Each card listed the schooling and experience required for that particular job, its expected responsibilities and duties, and an estimated salary. Our assignment was to choose a handful of these cards that interested us, study them, and then list the reasons why we would or wouldn’t pursue those jobs as a career. As you might have guessed, I blew the assignment.
October 06, 2022

Tim’s Takeaways: Success Begins With a Little Confidence

Bruno Gaido was a young radioman-gunner portrayed by Nick Jonas in the 2019 movie “Midway.” An early scene shows a Japanese bomber trying to sink the USS Enterprise by crashing into it with his plane. The scene shows the bravery of Bruno as he ran across the deck of the ship and jumped into the rear seat of a parked airplane, using its guns to shoot back. His shooting damaged the bomber just enough to force it off course, thereby saving the ship just as the bomber crashed into the Bruno’s plane, cutting the plane in half and made it spin around. We can learn a lot from the confidence of Bruno Gaido.
August 04, 2022

Tim’s Takeaways: Manufacturing Documentation—Keep the Builder in Mind

It was the end of May, which among other things, meant that the Major League Baseball season was once again in full swing (pun intended). While my wife was happily settled into the couch with her Seattle Mariners cap, T-shirt, blanket, and coffee mug cheering on J.P Crawford and the rest of the team, I re-watched “Field of Dreams,” and was again mesmerized by the voice that speaks to Kevin Costner’s character: “If you build it, they will come.” As circuit board designers, it’s probably not all that unusual to hear similar voices speaking to us, especially after staring at a layout for hours, and hours, and hours. But in our case, the message is typically a little different, and sounds more like, “If you document it correctly, they will build it.”
June 02, 2022

Tim's Takeaways: Today's Preparations for Tomorrow's PCB Designs

What skills actually prepare you for your future career? Tim Haag reflects back on an eighth grade typing class that baffled those around him because "everyone knew that I had absolutely no aptitude for any sort of literary or language skills." Yet, despite his atrocious spelling skills, Tim excelled in typing and those newly-honed skills served him well as he began to learn about laying out circuit boards on various computer design systems. It was one random decision amongst so many others. What was it for you?
March 22, 2022

Tim's Takeaways: Gremlin Avoidance Tactics to Improve Productivity

Sometimes I am really envious of those who work with steel, on a construction site, or even tilling the earth. All of these are tangible activities; you mold the steel, or build a house, or harvest a crop. Instead, I work in electronics. Most of the time it is a good life, but every now and then a nasty little gremlin will pop up its ugly head and mock you. It could be a circuit that just won’t give you the performance that you need, a short that you can’t find, or worst of all, an intermittent problem that just won’t go away.
January 27, 2022

Tim's Takeaways: The Misadventures of High Voltage and Other Related Problems with Power

If you’ve read my column before you know how much of a fan I am of aviation, especially when it comes to older airplanes. You can imagine how ecstatic I was when 11 years ago my wife gave me the greatest gift of all; a half-hour ride on a fully restored WWII B-17 Flying Fortress. This plane was the real deal folks. A four-engine heavy bomber stuffed with gun turrets, narrow and cramped crew areas, and the cold hard metal of unforgiving hardware that could give you a serious bruise on the forehead if you weren’t paying attention. From wingtip to wingtip, the “Liberty Belle” was saturated with a rich ambiance of history that emanated from every one of her nearly 400,000 rivets that held this aircraft together.
November 24, 2021

Tim's Takeaways: Say ‘No’ to File Hoarding: Data Management Tips

There are a lot of different types of “collections” in life that need managing, and like my proliferating pile of tax paper publications, they all need their own eloquent solutions to keep from getting out of control. Take for instance the amount of data that is generated during the design of electronics. The first thing to consider in our world of PCB design is just how much data there is that needs to be managed. From a casual overview it may not seem that extensive, but let’s break the average design down into its four separate pieces. This gives us the schematic, circuit simulation, PCB layout, and analysis, and that is just a generalization. Designs often have more pieces than that in them, especially when you consider the depth of system level design.
September 24, 2021

Tim's Takeaways: The Collaborative PCB Design Process—A Necessity for Efficient Manufacturing

Circuit board design used to be a more complicated and lengthy process than it is now with the need to build scores of test circuits, develop multiple prototypes, and toiling with manual design operations. The one good thing about all of this time was that it gave ample opportunity for everyone to be involved.
July 14, 2021

Tim's Takeaways: Some Timely Advice

Who inspires you to be a better designer? For Tim Haag, he finds motivation in the story of Bert Christman. Read on for how this daring Navy pilot's life relates to advice in the world of circuit board design.
May 21, 2021

Tim's Takeaways: DDR Routing, and Other Big Fish in the Lake of Technology

Tim's fishing story relates well to designing circuit boards. Intrigued? Read on, he explains how "there's always a bigger fish."
January 25, 2021

Tim’s Takeaways: Conquering Layers of Challenges in PCB Stackups

When he first started laying out printed circuit boards many years ago, Tim was working for a computer systems manufacturer whose PCB designs were all multilayer boards. While there were a great many things that I learned during my time working there, it also fostered one bad habit; He became accustomed to relying on being able to use multiple layers for routing instead of planning a more efficient layout. Here, he breaks it all down.
November 13, 2020

Tim’s Takeaways: PCB Vias, ‘You Have a Go’

Do you remember the old TV show “Stargate SG-1?” With the exhortation of “SG-1, you have a go” from their commanding officer, the stargate would instantaneously transport an intrepid band of heroes to new and exciting locations each week. Tim Haag details his realization that the stargate is nothing more than a giant via in space!
September 09, 2020

Tim’s Takeaways: Thermal Management for PCB Designers—Staying Out of the Fire

If there’s one thing in life that really feels the pressure of being in the hot seat, it’s the PCBs that we design. But PCB designers often feel a lot of pressure while doing their work, which puts them squarely in the hot seat. Tim Haag shares four techniques in thermal management for PCB designers.
February 14, 2020

Tim’s Takeaways: Clearing Up the Buzz

My first “real” job in the world of electronics was working at a Radio Shack store back in the late ‘70s. It was a step up from flipping burgers, but it didn’t last long. However, there was one notable aspect of that job; I was there during the time that Radio Shack introduced its first personal computer—the TRS-80. Although it is practically unimaginable now, in those days, there wasn’t much in the way of personal computing available for the general consumer.
May 29, 2020

Tim's Takeaways: Navigating Industry Expectations

While some expectations are normal—and, well, expected—in the workplace, there are also those that do more harm than good. Tim Haag unpacks negative expectations and shares suggestions for improving communication in the workplace, as well as positive expectations that you can set for yourself.
March 24, 2020

Tim’s Takeaways: Working From Home—5 Tips for Newbies

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many people who have worked in an office environment for their entire career have suddenly found themselves shifted to working remotely. At first, this may seem like it isn’t that big of a change, but it may be a bigger deal than you realize. Tim Haag, who has worked from home for over 17 years, shares five tips for making the most of this situation and working successfully from home.
October 09, 2019

Tim's Takeaways: Realizing a Higher Standard for PCB Design

To the untrained eye, one circuit board may look pretty much like any other, but as we know, there are major differences between them. Not only are they different in purpose and design but also in how they are manufactured for specific industries. If you are designing medical equipment, for instance, you will have to meet many different regulatory requirements from organizations, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), World Health Organization (WHO), and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), among others.
July 10, 2019

Tim's Takeaways: Clear Communication Takes the Cake

Whether baking a cake or building a circuit board, it’s all about clear communication. If the person writing the recipe had not made the choice to clearly communicate what their intentions were for baking that cake, I would have been lost. A missing ingredient here or an incorrect oven temperature there and my birthday surprise would have ended up in the garbage in the same way a successfully built circuit board starts with clear communication from the designer. Circuit board manufacturers want to create a perfect PCB for you, but they can only do so to the extent of the instructions that you give them.
June 20, 2019

Tim's Takeaways: Rules Keep You from Crossing the Line

Driving rules are designed to keep drivers between the lines of traffic instead of crossing over those lines into dangerous situations. Similarly, design rules are also intended to keep PCB trace routing between the lines instead of crossing over them as well. But you might be surprised how many people refuse to use the full potential of their DRCs to protect themselves, and in some cases, refuse to use them at all.
April 08, 2019

Tim's Takeaways: I Think I’ll Go for a Walk

Many years ago, my boss at a PCB design service bureau had his own unique way of encouraging us to take a break. He would come through the design bay and call out in his deep baritone voice, “DARTS!” and we would all follow him into the break area for a quick game. In addition to the benefits of taking a break, forcing our eyes to focus in and out as we threw a dart was a great way to relieve us all from the eye strain of older CRT monitors.
February 28, 2019

Tim's Takeaways: A Job Worth Doing

I get it. We PCB designers are made of the kind of tough stuff where we will work ourselves to death if given the chance. But in our all of our efforts, are we really doing it right, or could we somehow be doing it better? Let’s take a moment to consider some other ways that we might help ourselves to improve.
October 10, 2018

Tim's Takeaways: Contract Positions—Go the Extra Mile

For newbies just entering the industry or experienced designers who have always worked for a corporation, the transition to contractor can be a real culture shock. The allure of working from home and setting your own hours can quickly be replaced by the realities of chasing jobs and wondering where your next payday will come from. However, there are some wonderful aspects of working as a contractor that can make it very worthwhile.
August 17, 2018

Tim's Takeaways: Where Have All the Designers Gone (and Who Will be Taking Their Place)?

We have a lot to pass on to the new designers. We must stress the importance of understanding of the roots of our industry and why this design knowledge is important. I have worked with many designers who don’t understand anything about the output of their design files. They go through a procedure, hit a series of commands, and presto: The design files are all wrapped up in a neat little zip file ready to go out to the manufacturer. That’s all well and good, until something breaks or a manufacturer has a specific question. It would be a great thing to make sure that the designers of tomorrow understand what a Gerber file and an aperture list really is.
June 04, 2018

Tim's Takeaways: Hiring the Right PCB Designer

Like the rest of you, I’ve had times of unemployment, when your daily job is looking for work. You find yourself writing and then rewriting your resume, searching online forums and job search sites, and applying to every job that you can find. I’ve also hired people, and I know what hiring managers face. But hiring managers may be hurting their companies by drawing up a list of expectations so tight that highly qualified people may be slipping between the cracks.
April 17, 2018

Will Cool Technology Attract the Next Generation of PCB Designers?

If I had the opportunity to design some boards that went into medical detection equipment like my new blood pressure cuff, I would be extremely motivated to do that. Maybe what we should be focusing on is not just playing with the new toys, but showing the younger generation different ways to think about how they can improve upon these new toys.
March 19, 2018

Customer Support: What do PCB Designers Really Want?

First, let’s throw a leash around the elephant in the room. That’s my way of saying, “Here are some things that designers want, but we in the support business just can’t give it to them.” The first one that comes to mind: Customers have asked, manipulated, and even tricked me in their attempts to get free software.
March 06, 2018

Tim's Takeaways: Good Support Isn’t Just for Customers

I have been working in PCB CAD tools customer support for years and years, and it isn’t that often that the tables are turned and I have someone who is supporting me. I’ve got to say, it was a pleasure being the recipient of some quality support.
October 09, 2017

True Design Efficiency: Think Before You Click

At the captive shops that I’ve worked with, where the designers were more involved in the entire design cycle and had better access to the corporate libraries, staff engineers, etc., the story was often the same. Some designers would jump into the deep end of the pool of design without any thought to drowning while others would be so busy lacing up their life preservers of preparation that they would take too long getting out of the shallows and into the depth of their design. So, what’s the best approach here?
September 07, 2017

Tim's Takeaways: It Really Wasn’t My Fault

I once received verbal instructions from an engineer who directed me to make a certain change. I didn’t think anything of it. Many months later, this same engineer told me that there were troubles with the board and all its successive versions because of the change that I had made. He ended up making it right in the end. But in hindsight, what could I have done to save myself a couple of months of suspense and worry?
August 16, 2017

Tim's Takeaways: Stepping into the Great Unknown

Many years ago, I was given the opportunity to switch my career path from senior circuit board designer to CAD systems administrator. I wasn’t certain that I wanted to give up the comfort of being a designer; after all, I had been one for a long time. But I knew that this transition would help my overall knowledge base of everything CAD-related, as well as better position me in my quest for a management position. So, I pulled the trigger and accepted the new job even though the idea of stepping into the great unknown like that was very intimidating.
April 05, 2017

Tim's Takeaways: Design Tools of Tomorrow--A Real 'Marvel'

Imagine if you could interact with your design as a hologram floating in front of you the way Tony Stark did in the movie "Iron Man." Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could pick a section on your holographic design with your hands and expand it to the point where you could peer into it, spin it around, and manipulate it as you desired? Want to push a trace down to a different layer? Just give it a nudge in the right direction and the holographic display changes it to the next layer. Don’t like the way a certain area fill looks? Then just grab it with your fingers and pull it out and throw it into the virtual garbage can.
January 03, 2017

Tim's Takeaways: 'Sparks' to the Rescue in RF Design

Just like the early days of radio where Sparks the radio specialist was in demand to get the job done, we now need RF specialists to work together with electrical engineers to create the intricate designs required for RF circuits. You are now Sparks, the go-to specialist who will take care of RF design business.
May 16, 2016

The Basics of Hybrid Design, Part 2

In the first part of this series, we discussed the basics of hybrid design from the PCB designer’s perspective, and here we will continue that discussion.
April 25, 2016

The Principles of Hybrid Design, Part 1

What exactly is a hybrid design? We are seeing more and more of our customers exploring the world of hybrid design, and we are getting new customers for whom hybrid design is their sole focus. The world of hybrid design is growing and we have lots of hybrid-specific functionality built into our software that helps designers conquer the unique hybrid design requirements.
June 16, 2016

The Basics of Hybrid Design, Part 3

The world of hybrid design is growing, and we have lots of hybrid-specific functionality built into our software that helps designers meet and conquer the unique hybrid design requirements that they are faced with. And yet many designers out there (and I used to be one of them) have no idea what is meant when people start talking about hybrid design.
May 12, 2015

Tim's Takeaways: The Utility Belt

The utility belt is a great thing to have. Batman would be long dead without his, and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor would be useless without his. But for a circuit board designer, a utility belt is equally important. All of us at one time or another will have questions about the CAD system we use, and one essential tool to have in your utility belt is a list of people you can go to for help. At the top of this list should be your CAD system’s friendly customer support staff (like me).
April 08, 2015

DFM: The PCB Designer as Arbitrator

Design engineering is usually a combination of electrical and mechanical engineers. Although these two groups can have their own dramatic conflicts between each other, they will usually end up working together because they ultimately serve each other’s needs. But the manufacturing engineering requirements usually come from a completely different department or from an outside manufacturing vendor.
November 05, 2014

Tim's Takeaways: Blink and You Will Miss It

Tim Haag writes, "Friedrich Nietzsche said, 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger.' Well, that adage certainly proved to be true in my situation. If I hadn't been ripped from my secure position and forced to contract for a short season, who knows how my future would have eventually unfolded. And if it hadn't been for that brief season of hardship, would I have had the strength and flexibility to succeed later on?"
September 10, 2014

Tim's Takeaways: There Are No Stupid Questions

Many of us who have been designing boards for years have had to deal with annoying questions from "the kids." You know who I mean: The rookies, newbies, greenhorns, or puppies just starting out in their design careers. We've all had to answer questions like, "Why is library development so important?" or "Why is solder mask green?"
July 09, 2014

Tim's Takeaways: Design Rule Checks - For Your Protection

Columnist Tim Haag writes, "I have designed multitudes of PCBs over the years, but I have a confession to make: It can be hard for me to run that final design rule check. I know that it is important, but at the end of a long design cycle, I just want to be done. I don't want to redo anything, and I sure don't want to look at my own errors. Do any of you feel that way?"
June 04, 2014

Customer Support: Not Just for Customers Anymore

Columnist Tim Haag writes, "In my role as the customer support manager, I have seen plenty of examples of customer support. But my point here is not to focus on customer support as a function of a support technician. Instead, I want to explore the concept of how we should all strive to provide the best level of customer support in our jobs, no matter what we do."
July 09, 2014

Design Rule Checks - For Your Protection

Columnist Tim Haag writes, "I have designed multitudes of PCBs over the years, but I have a confession to make: It can be hard for me to run that final design rule check. I know that it is important, but at the end of a long design cycle, I just want to be done. I don't want to redo anything, and I sure don't want to look at my own errors. Do any of you feel that way?"
September 10, 2014

There Are No Stupid Questions

Many of us who have been designing boards for years have had to deal with annoying questions from "the kids." You know who I mean: The rookies, newbies, greenhorns, or puppies just starting out in their design careers. We've all had to answer questions like, "Why is library development so important?" or "Why is solder mask green?"
November 05, 2014

Blink and You Will Miss It

Tim Haag writes, "Friedrich Nietzsche said, 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger.' Well, that adage certainly proved to be true in my situation. If I hadn't been ripped from my secure position and forced to contract for a short season, who knows how my future would have eventually unfolded. And if it hadn't been for that brief season of hardship, would I have had the strength and flexibility to succeed later on?"
December 24, 2014

Like it or Not, You're a Role Model

"During the years that I built my skills as a circuit board designer, many people helped shape my character. Some were impulsively brilliant at laying out a board, while others were steady and consistent in their approach to work, dotting every 'i' and crossing every 't.' But they were all patient with me, answering my questions, showing me the ropes, and setting good examples for me to follow," says Columnist Tim Haag.
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