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By Tim Haag
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Tim's Takeaways: 'Sparks' to the Rescue in RF Design
Do you ever watch old military TV shows or movies, specifically those featuring naval vessels such as battleships, destroyers, or submarines? Well, I do, and I’m betting that I’m not alone.
In a lot of these old shows, the captain of the ship refers to the radioman as “Sparks.” This tasty little sobriquet dates back to the early days of radio when radiomen were traditionally nicknamed “Sparky” or “Sparks” due to their early use of spark-gap transmitters. In those old TV shows and movies, the radioman, Sparks, was the go-to guy to get the job done.
It probably wouldn’t occur to some younger people that there used to be a time where we couldn’t just pick up our cell phone and call someone halfway around the world. But in those days, it took the powerful resources of a ship or submarine to power those early radios, and the guy with the know-how to make it all work was good-ol’ Sparks.
In today’s world of PCB design, we are also dealing with radio, specifically radio frequencies that we classify as RF design. And just as with the early days of radio where Sparks the radio specialist was in demand to get the job done, we now need RF specialists to help us get the job done. The specialists in demand today are circuit board designers like you who working together with electrical engineers to create the intricate designs required for RF circuits.
You are Sparks, the go-to specialist who will take care of business. But this isn’t standard PCB design; this is RF design with different, unusual design requirements that require specific design tool resources to complete the design. So, let’s take a look at some of the common requirements of RF design, and what specific design software enhancements are needed to help PCB designers to better accomplish their task.
One of the first things that will help the PCB designer in the RF world is the ability to manually modify their components on the fly as needed. Often the quickest way to get the desired shape in an RF component is to simply do a manual change to the part, and RF specific design tools offer the designer this flexibility. Changes in a pin shape, moving a pin, or adding fill should be able to easily be done at the component level.
RF specific design tools will also feature many routing enhancements. Among those is the ability to add via fencing automatically. It is very helpful for the designer to be able to specify an area either by selecting a pre-existing object to use as a fence template or by manually drawing in the fence shape that the design tool will then fill in with vias. These via fill algorithms will usually include the ability to specify the via part to be used, the net, the spacing and how many rows of vias are required.
To read this entire article, which appeared in the December 2016 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here.
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