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Navigating the PCB World: Key Terms You Should Know

Navigating the PCB World: Key Terms You Should Know

Demystifying the language of printed circuit boards!

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are the unsung heroes of modern electronics, forming the foundation for everything from smartphones to satellites. But navigating the world of PCBs can be daunting, especially when faced with a barrage of technical jargon. This blog aims to demystify some of the key terms you’ll encounter, empowering you to confidently communicate and collaborate with PCB professionals.

PCB basics –  Structure & Layers:

  • PCB: Your electronic device’s backbone, a flat board holding and connecting components through thin copper lines (traces).
  • FR-4 : The industry standard material, a composite of woven fiberglass and epoxy resin.
  • FR-3 : A paper material that is similar to FR-2 – except that an epoxy resin is used instead of phenolic resin as a binder.
  • FR-2 : A paper material with phenolic resin binder similar to FR-1 – but with a TG of about 105°C.
  • FR-1 : A paper material with a phenolic resin binder. FR-1 has a TG of about 130°C.
  • Trace: The actual pathway electricity travels on, etched from thin copper layers.
  • Via: Tiny tunnels connecting different PCB layers, enabling 3D connections.
  • Silkscreen: Your PCB’s roadmap, providing labels and component placement information.
  • Copper Layer: The foundation for traces, later etched to create desired pathways.
  • Ground Plane & Power Plane: Large copper areas serving as reference points for electrical signals and power distribution.
  • Pad & Annular Ring: Landing zones for component leads, ensuring secure connections.
  • Non-Plated Through-Hole (NPTH): Holes for mechanical support or alignment, not for electrical connections.
  • Thermal Relief: A special trace pattern around pads for easier soldering without overheating components.

Component Placement:

  • Component: Individual parts (resistors, capacitors) that, when combined, form your electronic device.
  • Surface Mount Technology (SMT): Components placed directly on the PCB surface, soldered for connection.
  • Through-Hole Technology (THT): Components with leads inserted through holes and soldered on the other side.
  • Component Footprint: The specific design on the PCB matching a component’s shape and connections.
  • Decoupling Capacitor: Stabilizes power supply near other components, providing extra power when needed.
  • Ceramic Ball Grid Array (CBGA) – A ball grid array package with a ceramic substrate.
  • BGA (Ball Grid Array): Integrated circuits with tiny solder balls for dense connection on the PCB.
  • CPLD & FPGA: Programmable chips offering flexibility in specific tasks or reconfiguration after manufacturing.
  • Jumper: A small wire or component creating an electrical connection between two points on the PCB.

PCB Manufacturing Processes:

  • CAM Files – Fabrication files in a format suitable for Computer Aided Manufacturing processes.
  • Computer Aided Design (CAD) – The interactive use of computer systems, programs, and procedures in the design process wherein, the decision-making activity rests with the human operator and a computer provides the data manipulation function.
  • Copper Pour: Large areas covered with copper for enhanced electrical conductivity.
  • Panelization: Grouping multiple PCBs on a larger panel for efficient manufacturing.
  • Solder Mask & Solder Resist: Protective layers preventing unintended connections and ensuring solder placement.
  • Stencil: A template for applying solder paste precisely onto the board during assembly.
  • Reflow & Wave Soldering: Techniques for creating secure connections between components using solder.
  • Silicon Wafer: The foundation for microchips and other electronic devices.
  • IPC Class: Standards categorizing PCBs based on performance characteristics.
  • Flex & Rigid-Flex PCBs: Flexible or combined rigid-flexible circuits for specific applications.

Design & Analysis:

  • Bill of Materials (BOM): A detailed list of all components needed for PCB assembly.
  • Design for Manufacturability (DFM): Designing PCBs for cost-effective manufacturing.
  • Gerber Files & Netlist: Electronic documents containing detailed design information and component connections.
  • Layer Stackup: The arrangement of different layers in the PCB.
  • DRC (Design Rule Check): Software verifying that the design adheres to industry standards.
  • Gerber Viewer & TDR: Tools for analyzing Gerber files and electrical properties of traces.
  • Electronic Design Automation (EDA): Software tools and processes used for designing and testing electronic systems.

Electrical Characteristics:

  • Impedance: Resistance to alternating current flow in a circuit.
  • ESR (Equivalent Series Resistance): Total resistance of a component to both DC and AC currents.
  • Crosstalk & EMI: Unwanted interference between traces or external electronic noise that can disrupt functionality.
  • Power Distribution Network (PDN): The system delivering electrical power to different components on the PCB.
  • Differential Pair: Two closely spaced traces carrying equal and opposite signals to reduce EMI.

Testing, Quality Assurance, and Compliance:

  • IPC: An organization setting industry standards for PCB design and manufacturing.
  • ESD (Electrostatic Discharge): Sparks of electricity potentially damaging sensitive components.
  • Fiducial Mark & Test Point: Markers and designated spots for precise component placement and electrical measurements.
  • Test Fixture: A dedicated setup for securely holding and testing PCBs or electronic components.
  • Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS): Directive restricting certain hazardous substances in electronics manufacturing.
  • AOI – (Automated Optical Inspection) – Automatic laser/video inspection of traces and pads on the surface of inner-layer cores or outer-layer panels. The machine uses cam data to verify copper feature positioning, size and shape. Instrumental in locating “open” traces, missing features or “shorts”.

Ready to confidently navigate the exciting world of PCBs? 

Whether you’re a seasoned design engineer, or a purchasing manager seeking informed decisions, This comprehensive guide has equipped you with the essential terminology to excel!

Unlock Your PCB Potential:

Head over to our products and resources webpages and discover how our commitment to quality and innovation can bring your PCB vision to life. Let’s embark on your PCB journey together!

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