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Sooner or Later, Your PCB Design Layout Will Need Rework

Created: February 6, 2018
Updated: September 25, 2020

Typical UK fifties semi detached rendered house with extended porch

I woke up last Saturday morning eager to get started on my latest backyard project. First, a trip to the hardware store for supplies, and then spend the rest of the day working on the project. Or at least I thought that I had it all planned out until my wife reminded me that I had promised to help her with some other chores. The proverbial rug of my weekend project was yanked out from under me by the classic “honey-do” block.

Since I had, in fact, made that promise it was completely my fault, but that didn’t help me to feel any better. My problem is that I don’t like to change directions mid-stream. Are you like that too? Do you hate having to take a detour because of road work like I do? And most importantly, do you absolutely hate changing a PCB layout as much as I do when you’ve been working on for several days and all that work is lost?

As fun as it might be though talking smack about those who force us to work late and ruin our perfect designs to incorporate their changes, it wouldn’t be the most productive use of our time. Instead let’s talk about ways that we can prepare for design changes, both emotionally and in the design. We’ll also look at how we can prepare for design changes in our layout tools as well. We all know that those changes are going to come, let’s make sure to prepare for them.

Design Changes are Inevitable for Your PCB Design Layout

Whether they’re referred to as design changes, engineering change orders (ECO’s), or rework, they all mean the same thing; scrap a bunch of your hard work in order to incorporate changes. Out of the hundreds and hundreds of designs that I’ve worked on in my career, there have only been a few that have not had changes of some sort done to them. Design changes may be required to accommodate new specifications, or someone may have made a mistake.

Not only can this affect your design schedule, it may also have a huge effect on your motivation. When you design a board you typically put a lot of yourself into the design. You invest your time and your creativity in order to make that design as perfect as it can be. Then when that design gets changed, it can be very difficult to deconstruct what you’ve done. As a designer, sometimes you need to “check out,” of the design process until you can re-engage your creative energy.

Group of arrows with one red arrow veering off from the main group
Design changes are inevitable, be prepared for them

How Can You be Prepared for Design Changes?

Since design changes are inevitable, here are some ways that you can be prepared for them:

  • Check up front for anticipated design changes: When you start a PCB design layout, work with the entire design team and find out what stage is the design in. Find out if they consider the design to be complete or if they are expecting to make changes along the way. If they are expecting changes find out what areas are expected to change. This way at least you can put off working on those areas until the changes come through.

  • Leave some space: Whenever possible, leave yourself some space in the layout. If the circuitry demands a tight placement for signal integrity purposes, then you won’t have a choice. If possible though, leave some room for “feature creep” so that your layout won’t be impacted as much by future changes.

  • Accept the fact that rework happens and it isn’t a reflection on you: One of the biggest problems is that we invest so much of ourselves in our designs that it becomes difficult to make a change. Take a deep breath then and let that frustration go. Rework is an important part of the design process and it isn’t ever going to stop. Once you can embrace that, you will find that it is much easier to make changes to your design.
Picture of PCB layout
Using PCB design tools that are up to the task of rework will save you a lot of frustration

Use PCB Design Layout Tools That are Up to the Task of Rework

Another way that you can be prepared for changes is by using PCB design software that will help you instead of being a hindrance. The first thing to consider is access to new library parts. If your design needs to have new or updated parts for your design changes, you can waste a lot of time if you aren’t able to access the latest components and PCB footprints data.

A schematic capture application will allow you to make your changes quickly without having to do a lot of manual edits to reconnect your circuitry. Once your schematic changes have been made, the schematic should communicate easily within a unified design environment with your layout. If you have to jump through a lot of hoops in order to synchronize your schematic and layout, you will have again wasted a lot of time.

Your layout tools need to quickly complete the changes and finish the design. With this kind of power and versatility in your PCB design tools, you will be able to mitigate a lot of the apprehension that can accompany a design change. For the advance library tools as well as a powerful schematic and layout tools combined together in a unified design environment then PCB design software, like Altium Designer could be the choice for you.

Your PCB design process is just as much methodology as it is ideas. If you want to know how to make your process as intuitive and easy as possible, talk to an expert at Altium.

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