Why You Should Take a Modular Approach to PCB Design for Internet of Things Applications

Created: April 7, 2017
Updated: July 27, 2021

Nerdy scientist soldering

As engineers, one of our worst nightmares is doing the same pointless thing over and over again. Adopting a modular design philosophy for Internet of Things PCBs will save you from that monotony. Optimize your design process and save time, money, and sanity, by reusing your PCB designs. Read on to find out more!

While in college I did several projects with Arduino boards. I started with the basic Arduino Uno, but later bought several different Arduino shields for various projects. The standard design of Arduino has helped them become one of the top entry-level embedded system platforms. Arduinos are often used to prototype IoT devices, which are mostly modular. Since the IoT is inherently extensible, PCB design for IoT devices should be as well. Adopting a modular PCB design for your IoT PCBs will help you design more efficiently, and reduce manufacturing costs for your PCB module.

Internet of Things
The Internet of Things!

Optimizing Workflow

I once interned in a testing lab where I ran the same test on a broken machine every day for 4 months. My supervisor hoped I could find some kind of correlation in the data I collected, but there was none. That machine is still being tested by some poor intern, spitting out bad data. With a traditional design mindset, you’ll end up doing the monotonous work of designing 10 similar boards, for 10 similar products. I may wear monotone colors, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy monotony. Extensible design means producing one board that works for all 10 products. You can benefit from this design philosophy by streamlining your PCB’s design, tailoring, testing, and sales.

  • Design - What do a WiFi toothbrush and a WiFi chair have in common? Yes, they are both useless, but that’s not what I was going for. They both use similar components, maybe WiFi, RFID, etc. Most IoT things will include fairly predictable features that use predictable components. So, instead of designing a PCB module for a toothbrush, and then a PCB module for a chair, make one that does both. Then you’ll have supplied two bad embodiments with a single board.

  • Tailoring - So, what if your customer now wants to make a WiFi shoe? It will probably have similar functionality to the WiFi chair, but different structural requirements. Well, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to make some alterations so your basic board will work. However, it’s often easier to change an existing board than to make an entirely new one.

Business man looking at factory
Taking a modular approach to your IoT designs lets you be efficient and chill.
  • Testing - It’s much easier to test 20 of the same board than to test 20 unique boards. Though, it is easier to test 20 unique boards incorrectly. Do you really trust those guys in Quality Assurance to rigorously test such a wide variety of boards? Just make the designs as close to each other as possible and reduce the risk.

  • Sales - Would you enjoy using a new design program every couple of weeks? No? Well, embedded systems engineers won’t like it if you make them use a new board every couple of weeks. If you make your design standardized, like Arduino’s, embedded systems engineers will choose it simply because they already know how it works.

No one really enjoys doing more work than they have to unless they’re just a huge nerd. Okay, lots of us are huge nerds, but let’s save ourselves the extra work anyway. Modular PCB design will save time and work from design down to sales.

Nerdy scientist soldering
Doing the same repetitive tasks is the worst!

Optimizing Cash Flow

If you need to convince your manager to let you start with an extensible design, send them this section.

Optimization in the design process automatically translates to cost savings in man hours. Time not spent rehashing the same old designs is time spent designing boards for new useless products. Another major cost saving area is in board manufacturing. Manufacturers dislike fabricating low quantities of board designs, a preference they show with high pricing. The more similar your PCBs are, the less they’ll cost to manufacture. A modular PCB design is the way to go!

Your PCB design software should help you keep old designs with a new fangled feature called “save.” However, CircuitStudio® has a somewhat more advanced “comparator” feature that can help with a modular approach to design. With the “comparator” function allows you to compare different designs against each other. This makes tailoring modular designs and adding features from one design to another a breeze.

Life is short, don’t waste developing the same over and over. Modular PCB design will help you use your designs and time more efficiently. It will also help your company save money in man hours and manufacturing costs.

Has modular PCB design left you with lots of time on your hands? Chat with an expert at Altium.

Check out Altium Designer® in action...

Powerful PCB Design

most recent articles

Back to Home