PCB Design Fundamentals II: Fabrication

An Overview by a Materials Engineer

After completing the PCB Design Fundamentals I: Schematics course (you can read about that here), it was time for me to move on to the next course in the series: PCB Design Fundamentals II: Fabrication. Like the previous installment, this course is intended for electronics industry professionals of all kinds who seek to hone their understanding of the theory and practice of printed board design. The previous course focused on the preliminary aspects of design including preparing component and symbol libraries according to IEEE and IPC specs, programming the schematic sheets in the design authoring tool, and creating net classes and establishing design rules. IPC Design Fundamentals II: Fabrication builds on the concepts covered in the first course by introducing layout techniques necessary to complete real-world board designs. 

I will dive into these techniques momentarily, but first, I will remind the reader of my own previous experiences – while I had studied materials engineering for electronics in school, the majority of my previous work was focused around IC-level packaging and novel technologies. So, needless to say: I had not laid out PCB traces before taking this course! And while I have been studying the IPC board design standards that I manage, I lacked the ‘boots-on-the-ground’ experience of board design. I was excited to get started in PCB Design Fundamentals II in order to get my hands on the design authoring tool and start to route the mock-FPGA that we had been working on since PCB Design Fundamentals I. 

The journey to route that mock-FPGA was rewarding. The course started with an in-depth discussion of multi-layer routing and stack-up design that methodically incorporated PCB materials and how those materials effect design. Throughout the duration of the course, the lecture topics informed the next step in the design and layout of the class project. For example, after we discussed layer material selection in class,  we were then tasked with completing the stackup design for our project in the design tool. This back-and-forth across the didactic lectures and the hands-on portion of the course helped to cement these concepts. While the course was definitely weighted towards the practical, certain topics, most notably signal integrity techniques and discussions of signal lines, were borne out by a robust theoretical description that was interesting and accessible to everyone in the class, not only those with a strong background in materials physics or electrical engineering. 

When I say that the course was weighted toward the practical, I mean that the majority of my ‘on-the-clock time’ was spent distilling the topics discussed in class into traces and vias on the screen. I believe that this was an excellent usage of time, as it gave me an insight into the sheer amount of work that it takes to complete highly advanced board designs, especially while keeping in mind good signal hygiene, DFX rules, and the adherence to the myriad specifications put forth by standards bodies and industries around the world. At the end of the course, we had completed a fully-realized layout that was packaged and documented per the IPC-26xx family of standards. 

I cannot stress how enlightening this course was for me and will undoubtedly be for any electronics design or manufacturing professional who is either looking to refresh their board design skills or has never even touched a design authoring tool in their life. As my original intention of taking the PCB Design Fundamentals I and II courses was to better understand and communicate with my board design standards development committees, I can say that completing PCB Design Fundamentals II has thoroughly surpassed my expectations and helped me achieve my goal.