Why PCB Design is a Worthwhile Skill

Read this article to know why PCB design is a worthwhile skill to have to today's age. Know the benefits it offers professionally and personally and which all industries look for such skills.

The notion of "tech skills" covers an awful lot of ground today. From general savvy with household items and personal electronics, to know-how relating to online tasks, to specific skills like web design or app development, there's a lot that falls under the tech umbrella. But one particularly hands-on tech-related skill we don't see talked about as much is PCB design — something that can be worthwhile for a number of reasons.

What is PCB Design?

As a general primer for those who might not know much about the topic, we'll note that PCB stands for printed circuit board. These are the small, thin boards on which various components are placed to facilitate and transfer electronic signals. One of the clearest examples of a PCB in action is your keyboard: Whenever you press a key, a PCB beneath it sends the signal to your computer such that the keystroke is communicated and the proper letter or symbol appears. This is useful as a particularly direct example, but we should note also that PCBs are present in most of the electronics we commonly use today.

PCB design is simply the process of piecing these circuit boards together. It involves conceptualization, layout design (often in the form of digital rendering, which we'll get to below), testing, and ultimately physical fabrication. Through this process, a PCB built to serve a specific function for a particular device is brought into being.

How Can You Design a PCB?

Once upon a time designing a PCB was actually a fairly unsophisticated process. People could sketch out designs, either by hand or in makeshift computer programs. And once a design was completed, the board would have to be pieced together by hand. This meant acquiring material for the board, cutting it down to size, drawing out the design, and soldering components into place as needed. To describe it in a phrase, this version of PCB design is more of a hardware project than some might expect, involving hands-on, physical engineering.

PCB design is different today though. Now, you can layout a PCB on your computer, through a software program or even an application on your desktop. This makes the process both simpler and more complex, in a way. On the one hand, making digital alterations is a lot easier than any alternative, and you can sometimes even start your design based on a template or open-source blueprint. On the other hand, so much more is possible with digital rendering that you may find you wind up diving into some fairly complex designs.

Overall though, the answer is simple: You can design a PCB through the requisite software, and this has made the practice a lot more widely available to people who are interested in learning this skill.

How Can You Produce the Product?

Designing a PCB digitally is one thing, but the points above don't necessarily explain how the end product is produced. As mentioned, the more old-fashioned way of building a PCB involves hands-on engineering. Now, however, a digital rendering can be sent away for professional fabrication.

This is thanks largely to PCB to Gerber converter mechanisms, which basically turn PCB renderings into a Gerber file — the standard for fabrication. Through this conversion, your software-based design can be transferred to a producer of your choice, who will then turn the design into a working, physical product. This can be accomplished through various means, including, increasingly, 3D printing. But in the end, you'll gain access to a working PCB based exactly on your own rendering.

What Can You Make?

Naturally, another question that might come to mind as you consider PCB design might be what you can actually make. That is, beyond the PCBs themselves, what might you actually be hoping to create them for? What electronic mechanisms would sound PCB design enable you to piece together?

The answer is that really, with enough practice, creativity, and know-how, you could make just about anything. We actually wrote years ago about how to make your own solar mobile charger and included PCB design as one of the steps involved. On the other hand, some people who dabble in crafting PCBs wind up building their own computers, or customizing day-to-day electronic accessories. In a sense, the sky's the limit.

That doesn't mean that learning PCB design will enable you to build your own iPhone or other high-end modern tech devices. But you may be surprised how many things you can piece together once you have PCBs down.

Why Customize Electronics?

Having covered how modern PCB design and fabrication work, and what you can create with these skills, the last question to address is why you'd go to the trouble. And the first answer is simple: creativity and curiosity. Some simply like the idea of building their own devices or are curious about how they might upgrade a version of something they already have. If you're the type to take an interest in electronics, you might simply like to have the ability at some point.

Beyond basic creativity and curiosity though, the real answer comes down to customization — not just at the outset but even as you continue to use whatever device it is you're making. As one write-up on people who build their own computers pointed out, one of the major benefits is being able to customize a machine and upgrade internal hardware whenever you want — something that can't typically be done with a pre-built machine. Having this level of control over your own electronics is very appealing to some, and is arguably the main reason to explore PCB design as a skill or hobby.

In Conclusion

PCB design can be a very handy skill to learn. While it's absolutely not for everybody, it's something that can be done more easily today than at any time in the past. With the right software, a plan for fabrication, and a bit of knowledge regarding how this all works, you can start putting together your own circuit boards. This in turn can enable you to create or alter electronic devices as you see fi


Author: Umesh28 Sep 2020 Member Level: Gold   Points : 10

This is a nice article about latest techniques going on and in use in PCB designing and manufacturing industries.

PCB boards and their layouts revolutionised the electronic industry long back when the manufacturers switched from the discreet component mountings to the mounting of the components on a PCB. So PCB is nothing but a miniature replacement of so many wires and connections which were once going from component to component through lug strips and all those clumsy strips and solder points. The solid-state devices and their miniaturisation necessitated for making more fine and versatile PCB layouts which can easily contain a number of components on a single board. Now there are multiple layer PCBs which have enormous potential for holding the small IC chips and devices and for heat dissipation even heat sinks are comfortably mounted on these PCB boards. The PCB technology has reached a quite advanced stage and replacing an IC chip or another small component requires special tools and a skilled person.

Software aided PCB layout making programs and the said PCB to Gerber converter technology has added new dimensions to this area where using the sophisticated softwares the engineer can do a variety of designing tasks for a project or new gadget where there are some specific size and specification required for a particular PCB so that it can fit in that small space in that gadget which itself might be a microdevice like a wristwatch. So PCB designing is now something of very advanced nature due to miniaturisation as well as need to understand and visualise as 'which component is to mounted where' to make the device energy-efficient and also spread the heat dissipation evenly and quickly to the vents provided or heat sinks provided in those microdevices. It is definitely a challenging job but those who understand the purpose of a particular design for obtaining a result out of it can surely successfully venture in the area of PCB designing.

As I have some experience of working with PCBs long back when they were just introduced in the industry and what I learned was that a PCB is a very powerful accessory as it gives us the flexibility to keep our components in the preferred ways and in most technically favourable ways saving space as well as giving the assembly a neat and elegant look. A good PCB designer would keep the crucial components in such a way that in future if some emergency repair is required, in the particular part which is susceptible to failure, then it might be replaced easily. So, there are many considerations while designing a PCB board.

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