Adding electronic capability to an existing product or branching out into a new electronic product can be a great way to expand your business. Adding electronics can also be a nightmare of regulations, product development, and reliability issues. An experienced design partner like DEB Associates can get you into production with a reliable product without the painful learning curve.
Electronic components are often the weak link in products on the market today - just Google "Control Board Failure". It's a problem we are all painfully familiar with. Designing electronics to work reliably for a long time requires in-depth technical knowledge and design skill. Most of our experience is in the harsh environment of automotive, where electronics must take a beating and hold up for greater than 10 years of operation.
Where to start
Electronic design starts with an idea about what we want to accomplish. Gaining an understanding of the why behind the what can uncover new design synergies and feature opportunities. Creating a candidate design schematic and rough packaging layout helps to further refine the design concept. We generally do not favor trying to specify everything in detail at the outset of the project since it is the point of maximum ignorance in the scope of the project. We will inevitably learn things as the design process progresses that drive refinements and reveal new opportunities. We prefer to develop the design in layers of abstraction, successively adding more detail.
Schematic and Layout
The electronic design is composed of a Schematic and Layout. The schematic is the symbolic representation of the electronic circuits and how the components connect to each other. The component symbols contain embedded data about component descriptions, PCB footprints, and 3D mechanical models. Schematic information is compiled and transferred to layout view where components can be arranged on the PCB outline and interconnected with copper traces. The layout is sometimes referred to as PCB artwork. It creates image files used by the PCB manufacturer to photo image and etch the copper laminates used for PCB construction. There is no set way to arrange the components on the blank canvas of the PCB - it is up to the designer to arrange the components in such a way to get the best performance. The layout tool will tell you which pins need to connect to each other, but the designer must decide how best to arrange the components. The successful design starts with “floor-planning” where components are grouped and arranged in the available board space. Following floor-planning, each sub-group of components is arranged with respect to each other. Usually trace routing (interconnection of component pins) does not start until almost all components have been arranged.
Why is this tricky? The designer must consider power integrity, signal integrity, power dissipation, radiated and conducted emissions and susceptibility, electrostatic discharge, supply and signal transients since the layout can affect all these aspects profoundly. The layout contains what some refer to as the “hidden schematic” which are all the parasitic capacitances, inductances, common impedances, EM coupling, thermal coupling, and unintentional antennas. If these items are not recognized and managed in the layout design, even though all the connections between components are correct, the design may perform poorly or even not work at all.
We use Altium Designer to create new schematic designs and printed circuit board artwork. Existing design artifacts can also be imported from other tools when we are modifying a legacy design. Altium provides capability to import/export not only electronic design data, but 3D MCAD data as well. Once design is complete we can help you get your new design manufactured. Our lab is set up for board bringup, troubleshooting, SMT rework, test, and measurement.