Use Rules-Driven Design To Meet Your Component Placement Guidelines

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: May 20, 2020  |  Updated: November 14, 2020
Use Rules-Driven To Meet Your Component Placement Guidelines

Modern PCBs require keeping track of a ton of design rules, and even more components. No one has time to keep track of every design rule under the sun. Other software companies make it difficult to force your design rules to apply to all of your tools, including your layout tool. Instead, unified design software can help you stick to your design rules and improve your productivity, ensuring that your finished PCB has the functionality you require.


A heavily rules-driven, unified PCB design suite for your circuit board.

PCB component placement guidelines are extensive and for good reason. Your components are likely the most critical portions of your PCB. Other parts of a PCB can be jury-rigged with copper wires and the like, but nothing can replace your components. They pass the critical data and signals around your board and determine whether your device will succeed or fail. Your PCB layout can follow the best PCB design guidelines around and still without components your printed circuit will not succeed.

Your circuit might have a PCB layout using traces, vias, and holes or it might stray into surface mount components and capacitors, but either way, you should have a strong CAD tool that can work with design guidelines to ensure your circuit board makes it through assembly to manufacturing.

Placing components such as vias on your board and connecting them together into a working device requires following specific design rules. But what do you do if you are still new to PCB design? What if you are building a PCB for an unfamiliar application, like high-speed components with special solder or vias needs? This is where your design software with built-in PCB component placement guidelines can make all the difference. The right design software package with standardized design rules can help you throughout the entire design process and increase your design productivity.

Standard Design Rules for Component Placement and Layout

Most PCB designers try to balance a beautiful aesthetic with required functionality when placing components on their PCBs. There are a few key ingredients involved in proper component placement. First, you need a thorough component library that gives you all the specifications you need to choose the right components. Next, your design software should check your component arrangement and routing against standard and custom design rules.

With any PCB design software suite, you’ll need to trust that your software can accurately layout components on your board while conforming to standard design guidelines. Capturing your schematic and its components as a layout becomes easy when all of these features are built to work together. Your design software package then needs to check your component and trace arrangement against your design rules to ensure you can meet your design goals.

Nowadays, you’ll have to choose between a PCB layout package that separates critical features into separate programs or a unified design platform. The choice is clear: only a unified design platform integrates all of these critical features and many more into a single interface. The workflow is consistent and errors are minimized because your design tools were built to interface with each other.

How Unified PCB Layout Design Enables Layout Success

Most PCB design platforms force you to flip back and forth between multiple interfaces just to accomplish basic design tasks. As soon as you hit a design roadblock, you’ll find that the only solution requires climbing a paywall. In comparison, a unified design package gives you all the functionality you need in a single design interface. You’ll be able to start arranging your components, check against design rules, and managing data across your enterprise immediately.

Screenshot of the design interface in Altium Designer

The complete design interface in Altium Designer

Design Rules For Modern PCBs

Designing PCBs has always required paying attention to important design rules. In the not-so-distant past, when data transfer speeds and frequencies were lower, and all your components could be surface mounted on one or two layers, design rules were not so numerous that they couldn’t be checked by an experienced designer rather quickly.

Fast forward to today, and modern PCBs have become complex, and the number of vias, component placement, and design rules required to ensure a PCB works properly is extensive. Not all design rules apply to every application, and keeping track of all the important design rules for your application can be a difficult task. Some design rules actually appear as constraints, further adding to the complexity of modern PCB layout and design.

Design rules can organize things from a pad, holes, vias, and traces to solder masks and the power plane or ground plane. Whether you’re keeping track of your power supply for signal integrity, or if you’re looking through your design to cohere it for wave soldering in assembly, you should have design software that enables you to create the design you need.

Using Design Rules For Component Placement and Layout

Design rules are critical to ensuring that your device can provide its desired functionality and meet critical industry standards. Your PCB layout and design software should be able to enforce component placement guidelines, routing constraints, and any other important rules throughout your design. The best PCB design software enforces these rules at all stages of the design process.

Screenshot of the design rules and constraints editor in Altium Designer

Editing design rules and constraints in Altium Designer

Component Layout in a Unified Environment

Capturing your schematic as a PCB layout is simple when these tools are linked within a single environment. Your component symbols and footprints are easily accessed from an integrated components library. Everything you need to create your circuit diagram and associated layout is present in a single interface, enhancing your design productivity and ensuring your device meets your specifications.

Once you move from your schematic to your layout, changes in one module synchronize easily with your other design module. A swapped component in your layout easily transfers to your schematic, and vice versa. Your design data also feeds into your simulation and analysis tools, and your PCB can be easily checked against design rules, allowing you to verify the functionality of your device.

Whether you’re working through PCB layout for a pad, vias, and traces or trying to manage your layer priorities on a high-frequency board with a ground plane, you’ll want to ensure that there are no integration hiccups from schematic to layout. You won’t even get the chance to worry about a solder joint or solder mask if your board can’t make it through prototyping without overheating.

Altium Designer: Component Placement and Layout in a Unified Environment

The design environment in Altium Designer is built to link all your design and analysis tools together in a single software program. Once you capture your schematic as a layout, your design remains seamlessly synchronized. You can define signal nets and routing directives directly in your schematic, and the rules-driven engine in Altium Designer enforces the relevant design rules across all design features.

Working in an integrated design environment allows you to access all the design tools you need in a single interface. Forget about getting stuck between multiple design interfaces with different workflows and separated features. You’ll have access to all the critical design features required to complete the entire PCB design process.

Altium wants you to be successful and provides you with the resources you need. Between webinars and podcasts provided by industry experts, the AltiumLive forum, and a thorough PCB design knowledge base, you’ll have plenty of support when you work with Altium Designer.

The best design tools will help you maximize productivity, and only Altium Designer gives you all the industry-standard design tools you need in a single package. The integrated design environment in Altium Designer links all your tools together into a single entity. If you’re tired of flipping between modules just to perform simple design tasks, then you need Altium Designer.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 2500+ technical articles on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, American Physical Society, and the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA). He previously served as a voting member on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee working on technical standards for quantum electronics, and he currently serves on the IEEE P3186 Working Group focused on Port Interface Representing Photonic Signals Using SPICE-class Circuit Simulators.

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