Tim's Takeaways: Realizing a Higher Standard for PCB Design


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There are a lot of standards in our lives. In the late fall, many of us switch from daylight savings time to standard time. Someone’s favorite team or athlete often sets the standard for a higher level of performance, and I personally think that Sean Connery set the standard for James Bond. On Saturday mornings, my wife and I even have our standard breakfast that we cook. And of course, there are three-bazillion standards that are in place regulating what we eat, wear, drive, and live in as well as how we design PCBs.

But did you know that there was another definition of “standard?” In years past, colorful flags or banners of identification called “standards” were carried by military organizations into battle to serve as a rallying point for the troops and to mark the location of the group commander. It is believed that this practice originated back in ancient Egypt, and later on the Roman empire made battle standards part of their vast armies. Eventually, the battle standard was formalized during the Middle Ages by the armies of Europe with the standards displaying the commander’s coat of arms.

Carrying a standard may seem silly in today’s era of technological warfare where any such display that identified your commander’s location would surely guarantee a quick missile strike in return. But back in the days of Napoleonic battle tactics involving swords, bayonets, muskets, and cannons, it was important to know where to look up at for your leadership in all the dust, smoke, and confusion of the battle.

With this thought in mind, perhaps we can breathe some fresh life into how standards are often perceived. Let’s face it; standards can be a real annoyance when you are just trying to get the job done: What size should this via be? Check the standard. What do you mean I used the wrong trace width? Check the standard. How should I document this process? Check the standard. Like the colors that were carried into battle, today’s standards can still offer us the ability to identify authority, lead us in the right direction, and even offer protection. If we can just get over our annoyance, perhaps this fresh perspective will illuminate standards in a new light.

Identification of Authority

To the untrained eye, one circuit board may look pretty much like any other, but as we know, there are major differences between them. Not only are they different in purpose and design but also in how they are manufactured for specific industries. If you are designing medical equipment, for instance, you will have to meet many different regulatory requirements from organizations, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), World Health Organization (WHO), and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), among others. If called upon by any of these regulatory organizations to provide specific information on how your equipment was manufactured, you need to be ready to provide the required documentation. This documentation can include the quality control processes that were used during assembly as well as component and material traceability records.

To read this entire column, which appeared in the September 2019 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.

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