Board Design & Layout
This service is the process of turning design schematics into a PCB layout. PCB design and layout is a critical piece of any hardware design and takes a knowledgeable person to complete properly. The location of ground and power planes, the width and path of electrical traces, along with other items could be done many different ways for the same schematic. Each of these different design methods would generate a difference in board operation. Our experienced PCB designers know how to design a board to minimize noise, optimize efficiency, and deliver reliability. At Thomas Instrumentation, we typically assist customers in one of two ways:
PCB Layout from Design Schematics
Often times we work with customers who have hired us to design a product and at least complete a working prototype. In these cases, we start by working with the customer to define the physical constraints of their product. Some clients require very precise physical specifications including board dimensions, mount hole locations, methods of interconnection to other boards or peripherals, etc. Once these items have been defined, we can complete a PCB layout which can be sent to PCB houses for actual boards.
PCB Layout from Existing Layouts
At times, customers have hired us to produce their separately designed boards from pre-existing PCB layouts. In these cases, we only verify the layout is something we can produce and that there are no obvious errors. Typically, we also urge customers to let us do an in-depth review of the layout. The extra review time lets us check for correct part package types, check for inefficient or noisy traces, and verify solder pad sizes and cuts.
Thomas Instrumentation utilizes the Cadence OrCAD product line for all board design and layout efforts. We use OrCAD Capture to create a digital schematic and a bill of materials for the customer’s product. The OrCAD Layout program is then used for the physical layout of the PCB. OrCAD Layout generates the Gerber files necessary for purchasing real boards and it has an automated error checking feature to verify our work. These Gerber files are always submitted to our PCB house’s error-checking website as a way to double check our efforts. Once the files pass both tests, they are sent to the appropriate PCB house for production of a solder stencil and bare boards.
Since Thomas Instrumentation almost never creates a PCB layout without manufacturing the product, our designers typically start creating a surface mount line program at this point. Our designers utilize the Aegis Software suite to get all production areas ready to manufacture the boards. The CheckPoint tool is used to clean the bill of materials and maintain an accurate revision history for a product. The CircuitCAM tool is then used to digitize the PCB layout into a specific program for our surface mount machines. CircuitCAM is also used to create through-hole kit lists that our assemblers follow for placing any through-hole parts. Once these functions are completed, we are ready to build prototypes and/or production boards.