Oh the Boards You Will Make: Tips for Beginners in Design & Electronics

Created: March 23, 2018
Updated: September 25, 2020

Integrated circuit placement

If there was ever a time to begin thinking about beginning your career as an electrical engineer, the time is right now! With the rise of so many electronics hardware startups, the advancements in circuitry and pcb design software, and the emergence of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, you’ve found yourself on a large and fast wave of industry.

With the upbringing of so many companies and possibilities, the job market is very hot and yields plenty of room for up-and-coming professionals. Conversely, the market for homemakers with nothing more than a napkin sketch of an idea for a device has never been more accessible.

This homebrew style of electrical engineering is the type of world I envision the future to be. Individuals with no experience and nothing more than a garage and the power of the internet can produce phenomenal products and solutions. So let's dig in to these tips for beginners in design and electronics!

Your Printed Circuit Board Designer First Steps

Taking on any large problem (let alone problems in electronics) is usually no easy feat. Breaking down these problems into smaller, easier to chew pieces will always result in a much more attainable task.

So how are we to begin this journey into the field of electronics or more specifically, PCB layout? By breaking these great big concepts down into their individual parts. To assist you in this endeavor, we’ve compiled a list of fundamental concepts that will ease you into the seemingly large and seemingly scary world of PCB design.

Tips for Beginners: Know the Theory Behind Electronics

A firm understanding of electric theory is essential in your beginning steps as a designer. As electrons flow from a positive charge to a negative charge (say from a positive and negative terminal in a battery), we can classify and calculate the quality of these ‘flows’. We use current, voltage, and resistance to measure and quantify.

Current is simply the number of electrons flowing through any two points of the circuit (noted as I). Voltage is the potential difference between these two points (noted as V). Resistance is the measure of, well, the resistance between the two (noted as R).

If we imagine a pipe that has water running through it, current is the amount of water within the pipe (say if we are measuring from the beginning to the end). Resistance might be measured if there was a small clog in the pipe that still allowed some amount of water to run through. Voltage would be observed if we measured the difference in pressure of the two ends with the clog still affecting.

The relationship between each value above is defined by the infamous Ohm’s Law where V = I x R. Not getting terribly caught up in the depth of Ohm’s Law, let’s move on!

Ohm’s Law
A basic understanding of Ohm’s Law can provide you with all you’ll need to get started with circuit design.

PCB Components and Integration in Designs

With the basic understanding of how electrons flow through a electronic circuit, we can begin to introduce basic electrical components into our repertoire of knowledge.

There are a handful of beautiful discoveries that have been bestowed to the electronics community over the decades and that we find ourselves lucky enough to be able to reap from. We owe it to pioneers who spent their whole lives studying and discovering these small, seemingly insignificant electronic component that make up all modern day devices (such as the one you are using to read this).

Of the many components out there, we’ll focus on resistors, capacitors, transistors, and integrated circuits. These are the integral parts of today’s circuits.

  1. Resistors: As they may imply, resistors simply act as a resistance to the flow of the electrons between two points.

  2. Capacitors: Acting like a short-term storage of energy, capacitors can act as sort of a buffer power supply in circuits. In effect, they can sometimes be used as a protection of sorts from a noisy power supply.

  3. Transistors: These might be the trickiest components to understand at first, but are arguably the most important of them all. Keeping an eye out for future articles dedicated to how transistors work, we will simply say that transistors act as a sort of a switch. This switch lets in larger amounts of current once a smaller, primer amount of current is introduced. This is potentially useful when creating logical circuits capable of performing calculations of sorts (but this is just one of many!).

  4. Integrated Circuits: These very small and complex chips are essentially just larger circuits that have been shrunk down to the size of a coin (or smaller). They can perform a lot of the same functions that a ‘normal’ sized circuit can, but often require peripheral reference components; components that won’t operate well under a tiny version of itself (capacitors are a good example of this).

Again, without diving too deep into these four (among many) components, we simply just need a brief understanding of what they do when beginning our journey.

Reading Schematics for Design Success

With a handful of ingredients defined, we can begin to mix and match them together in unique and complex ways in order to end up with a (delicious) recipe! These recipes are also known as schematics.

Schematics are simply the drawn-out recipe of a fully functioning circuit. They tell us how our components are placed and connected together in order to give us a clear idea of what the end circuit will be.

Forgoing the fact that we might not have a clue as to how to design a schematic, understanding what a schematic accomplishes will lead us to be able to design our own.

A great way to start understanding these suckers is to simply start looking at them! The internet holds thousands and thousands of schematics of varying complexity that you can download and start rifling through today.

Schematics stacked on top of each other
With components acting as the ingredients, schematics act as the recipe to mix them all together.

The path toward creating and testing your very own electronic device will be greatly assisted by the technology available to you today. In PCB design, software such as Altium Designer can give you a library of predefined components, a power source, a clean work surface, even a way to test out your schematics without soldering a thing.

Check out the latest and greatest software that can assist and ease your efforts or talk to an Altium Designer expert today.

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