Practice Makes Perfect: How to Test Electronic Components during PCB Design
When I was younger, well much younger, I had dreams of one day being a pro athlete. I wanted to be the guy who scored the winning touchdown, knocked in the winning run or hit the buzzer-beater. Although I never made to the professional level, I did have some success and I learned a lot. The most important thing was the results you achieved were strictly tied to your preparation. In other words, if I wanted to do well in the game I had to test myself by practicing.
I’m still using those skills, though: in order for your PCB to function as intended, you need to test your design. By testing electronic components on your circuit board before manufacturing you can be sure that it will perform as you intended with your design. In addition, using a multimeter can be quite helpful!
The most successful teams that I played on had coaches who stressed the importance of practicing as if you were playing in an actual game. It is one thing to shoot baskets alone, but it is something else to make them when you are being defended. The same difference exists between simulating your circuit board's schematic without the physical and material restrictions of the actual circuit board and testing PCB components.
Is Testing PCB Components During Design Necessary?
Although this is a very important design step, schematic simulation does not guarantee the functionality, reliability or even manufacturability of your design. Applying good design for manufacturing (DFM) practices will help you ensure that your design can be manufactured. However, there are additional steps you can take to test functionality and reliability during design.
The reasons for performing a schematic simulation of your electronic circuit are to:
Determine Component Parameters: Primarily voltages, currents, and impedances.
Verify Circuit/System Operation: Check inputs/outputs, and signal levels.
Make Changes and Correct Errors: Replace components, or make design changes.
Save Costs: By not having to buy components or materials for your circuit test.
But what if you knew that one of your board's electronic components would fail at some point once it is in the field? You would either replace the component or change your design to remove the source of the failure before manufacturing the board. A design tool like a power distribution network (PDNA) allows you to evaluate parameters of your PCB as if you were using electronics testing equipment, like a multimeter, on the actual board.
Performing tests with a multimeter on your PCB electronic component during design will not only make sure that your boards will function properly and be reliable but also save costs if changes have to be made.
How to Test PCB Components During Design
The use of a PDNA provides a united design and analysis environment for your printed circuit board design. You can perform power distribution analysis over the entire board or only specify predefined areas. Additionally, voltage gradient overlays give the power to look at voltage drops on the ends of all traces; including vias. You can also look at current density on your traces to make sure there are no potential undercurrent/overcurrent issues.
This ability to look at a component’s incoming and outgoing traces can be used to determine the component’s specific parameters. Employing these capabilities during design is akin to a successful practice where you can follow it up by moving to fabrication and assembly confident that your board will perform as designed.
The ability to gather thermal, signal, and power integrity, current density, and trace impedances during design is a significant benefit to the Printed Circuit Board design process. Not only are you able to perform design for manufacturing (DFM) checks, but you can also test the board’s electronic components, both of which can save development time. With the right PCB design software such as Altium Designer®, PDNA and other smooth design methodologies are available to you.
For more information and tips on PCB testing and how to make corrections that will avoid post manufacturing problems, contact an Altium Designer expert.