A printed circuit board is a circuit whose components and conductors are contained within a mechanical structure.


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A printed circuit board integrates components and conductors: PCB MEANING

What is a PCB? A printed circuit board is a circuit whose components and conductors are contained within a mechanical structure. Conductive features include copper traces, terminals, heat sinks, or flat conductors. The mechanical structure is made of insulating laminated material between layers of conductive material. The overall structure is plated and covered with non-conductive solder mask and printing screen for electronic component legend location.

The printed circuit board is constructed of alternating layers of conductive copper with layers of non-conductive insulating material. During manufacturing, the inner copper layers are etched leaving intentional copper traces to connect circuit components. Once laminated, the insulation material is etched to the copper layers and so on until the printed circuit board is complete.

Components are added to the outer layers of the printed circuit board when all the layers have been etched and laminated together. Surface mount parts are robotically applied and through hole parts are placed manually. Then all the parts are soldered onto the board using techniques such as reflow or wave soldering. The final assembly is plated after the solder mask and legend print screen are applied.

History of printed circuit boards in today’s landscape: PCB MEANING

Before we can get to answering what a printed circuit board is, it is best to understand where PCBs come from. It’s been a tremendous journey into HDI designs with hundreds of holes and PCBs whose electrical connections are powering everything from smartphones, heart rate monitors to rockets. The process from the wiring board to flexible PCBs and wherever technology takes us in the future has been fun.

Before printed circuit boards, electrical circuits were built by joining individual wires to components. The conductive paths were achieved by welding metal components together with wire. Large circuits with many components contain many wires. The number of cables was so great that they could become tangled or take up a large space within a design. Debugging was difficult and suffered from reliability. Manufacturing was slow and required manual multi-component soldering for its wired connections.

Network rules for design are established as the schematic is drawn


Eliminate the need for cables by routing networks with copper on the layers of printed circuit boards. Work from the schematic the placement of components and the connection of pins along the layers of the card with careful placement of networks. Get started with auto-routing and use manual routing for important networks. Altium Designer offers auto-routing to help with routing of multiple networks.

Evaluate cables vs networks in today’s circuit landscape.

Consider the pros and cons of designing with proof cards

Consult your schematic to assess layer stacking needs.

Then read about how to get your layer stack right.

Get started with routing once the components are placed.

Apply best routing practices after auto-routing goes the distance

Once you have considered network counting within your schematic and determined the routing needs for your design, consider the design rules and limitations.

Printed circuit boards use schematics to position and route components: PCB MEANING

Today printed circuit board software provides schematic capture for the purpose of defining circuits and their components for printed circuit board design. PCB designers work from the schematic to organize the components on a virtual card whose dimensions have been specified by the mechanical engineer on the design team. Components are placed and routing occurs following design rules to mitigate noise through ground plane and impedance planning.

Today, electronic products have numerous demands from flexible PCBs to surface mount components to complicated PCB assemblies. A manufacturing process will be significantly enhanced with software that can accurately keep track of holes, tracks, and materials in an organized and secure manner. In addition, the elaboration of the electronic devices will be made easier with the capture of schematics that can easily translate the data files during the design process.


PCB designers consult with circuit designers to determine best practice for component placement, layer stacking, network specifications, and base material selection. Procurement and supply chain enter the picture for material sourcing. Component libraries within the tool incorporate sourcing and pricing information along with electrical parameters. Manufacturing vendors are committed to matching material definitions for layer stacking with practical manufacturing processes.

Capture the circuits in your schematic tool.

Start With Ancient Wisdom: The Best Schematic Software Simplifies Schematic To PCB Synchronization

Use EDA software with shared libraries.

Sharing Unifying a Complete Collection: PCB Library Management

Integrate the dimensional and electrical restrictions of the product.

Unify and customize layouts with consistent and flexible custom rules and queries

To find out your footprints and sizing limitations, use Altium’s unified environment to incorporate them into the design.

Design PCBs in the Altium Unified Environment

PCBs will become more technologically intensive as the years go by. Luckily, design software is continually improving to make designing easier. The least of your concerns when designing the PCB should be how to accurately convey the holes in the card, where the copper foil lies, or how to apply solder paste to the manufacturers. The more layers your card has, the more you will need the gold standard in CAD software for your copper standards.

Altium Designer has all the tools you need within one unified platform to design and build your printed circuit board. From schematic capture to production release, mechanical sizing and sketch to card design and component footprints, Altium has you covered. Rules can be set during schematic design to define high speed tracks for impedance control. Components can be selected from a shared library so that physical and electrical considerations can be incorporated into selection for later success.

Define differential pairs in schematic capture with statement directives


You no longer need to worry about the details of the circuit you captured on your schematic showing up in the design. A PCB and all its associates such as substrate, copper, holes, layers and traces will be a process to manufacture. However, it doesn’t need to be a freaky process when you have easy-to-read and accurate software outputs.

Altium’s unified environment incorporates the PCB design tool so designers can follow the networks that lie in the schematic. Use the directives within the schematic capture to communicate design constraints with your PCS designer. Card geometry designed with your mechanical equipment is easily imported into Altium’s PCB layout tool. The component libraries are linked and consistent throughout the Unified Design Environment. Impedance calculations follow specifications defined in the schematic.

Get your schematic right the first time with the Altium tool.

Use the design rules in the Altium schematic.

Create component footprints to place on your PCB.

Define component placement with the IPC Compliant Footprint wizard.

Connect components with routing capabilities.

Map networks to connect components with routing modes

Check the PCB fit with your mechanical equipment.

Validate fit of form and function with MCAD integration

Altium Designer’s unified environment provides all the tools you need in one place. Starting with the schematic in the project directory, its design is captured and its networks are defined.

The rules and restrictions that can be configured here will be presented in the PCB design environment leaving a report for the PCB designer. Mechanical drawings are easily imported into the unified environment so the geometry of the card starts from its origin.

Component libraries are shared rather than ad hoc across different EDA tools for the same card. With library components linked throughout the job, your circuit designers can select quickly accessible parts early in the design cycle, making PCB design important the moment it is released for manufacturing.

Routing networks are sophisticated with unified tools for impedance calculations. Planes are adjusted in advance in the layer stack manager so that high speed signals can be routed on the stripline adjacent to the ground plane.

Don’t let the days of printed wiring boards go back to your PCBs. Let powerful PCB design software handle your PCB hard work for you. Altium Designer is the best tool on the market to design and produce your printed circuit board for today’s electronics market.


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