PCB Designers for SpaceX and Beyond: Yesterday’s Fiction, Tomorrow’s Reality

Created: February 5, 2018
Updated: September 25, 2020
SpaceX Dragon orbiting the earth

I’ve wanted a career in engineering for as long as I can remember. There were people who could MacGyver something out of nothing and I wanted to be one of those people. I’m sure that watching science fiction on TV added a lot to that. I mean, who wouldn’t want to manipulate technology and control immense power like “Scotty” on Star Trek? I found out that I’m not alone in those dreams—apparently, Scotty was the inspiration for much interest in engineering.

Back then science fiction was not the staple of entertainment that it is today, my parents only tolerated my interest in it. Who would have guessed that those of us who dreamt about spaceships would one day be on the forefront of designing them? Here we are though, and to say “the sky’s the limit,” has never felt more achievable. Many amazing technologies are being designed now such as driverless cars, robotics, IoT devices, and spacecraft.

It takes more than dreams to design this level of technology though. To design tomorrow’s technologies in today’s industries is going to take designers who can step up into new challenges. A thorough knowledge of their field is an obvious requirement, but these designers also need to be flexible enough to not be boxed in by that same knowledge. It will also take designers who can use the tools of the trade to be able to make one small step a reality.

Designers who are Knowledgeable

SpaceX, one of the most recognizable brands designing tomorrow’s technologies, is a good sample for the kind of knowledge and experience that PCB designers should be equipped with when reaching for the atmosphere. Designer positions look for designers with experience in RF design as well as designs utilizing high pin-density components. Designers with experience in PCB CAD libraries and configuration management are also highly sought after.

Further experience being sought after includes mixed analog and digital designs, experience with power supplies, different high-speed design techniques, and understandings of design for manufacturability (DFM), specifications, standards, assembly, and testing principles. What an earful! It sure sounds like they are wanting the moon, but I suppose that’s not a bad thing if you are in fact aiming for the moon with your products.

Futuristic tunnel entrance
Designing tomorrow’s technologies will require out of the box thinking

There’s much more that goes into PCB design than simply having the knowledge and experience to make your designs function, though. Oftentimes, design problems will force you to think of creative solutions to problems you’ve never encountered directly before. Being able to communicate effectively and problem-solve will keep your designs rocketing forward.

Designers who are Flexible Enough to Think Outside of the Box

Obviously, designers of emerging technologies will need a wide range of knowledge and experience; however, the distinguishing feature of many of these designers tends to be in their abilities to think and act proactively. Letting a simple error in your design hinder the testing and prototyping of large-scale projects can be easily avoided with the right foresight and design for stability.

PCB design methodologies are what you’ll need to be focusing on most, here. Knowing exactly how your tools function, and how well you can utilize everything available to you for a quick and solid design without having to backtrack, reach into separate tools, or try to manage the organization of multiple software functions.

For any of these emerging technologies and especially for space flight, PCB designs will need to get smaller, more robust, and yet handle more functionality. This will require different materials and higher density designs. To build these designs will require advancements in the fabrication, assembly, and test processes. It is the PCB designer who will need to be able to adapt to and champion these new methodologies and processes in order to create their next level designs.

Computers, designs, and routing over a background of Earth
Advanced design tools will be needed to conquer the design challenges of tomorrow’s technologies

The Next Generation of PCB Design Tools Will be Necessary for the Challenges of Space

We already know how design cycles are being compressed in order to meet the overall product needs, and that is a trend that will only intensify. With the need to co-design multiple board projects for these emerging technologies, the need for tools that can provide design solutions is becoming more and more important. A designer whose fluent in the latest design tools and can understand how to optimize their methodology for speed, security, and potency is pivotal.

To help keep the design on schedule and the engineering team focused, PCB CAD tools now feature the ability to work within a unified design environment. This allows the design group to work on all phases of the design within the same environment without having to interface between different schematic and layout tools. CAD tools also now give you the ability to design multiple system boards at the same time within the same environment.

Enhancements in PCB design software will give you the edge that you need when working on tomorrow’s technologies, and for features like a unified design environment and multi-board designs, Altium Designer® has just what you need.

Don’t let the wrong software environment keep you slow and trudging along. Upgrade your workflow and start building for tomorrow by talking to an expert at Altium.

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