DFM: The PCB Designer as Arbitrator


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You abruptly snap awake. With a shock, you realize that you’ve fallen back asleep and now you’re going to be late to work.

Quick! Get cleaned up and hope that no one notices that big tuft of hair on the back of your head that won’t lie down as it should. You throw your clothes on and tiptoe across the bedroom in the dark, only to be rewarded by a squeal of pain as you step on the dog’s tail. Sleepily, your spouse asks, “What’s going on?” You growl a response that sounds similar to the dog’s..

There’s no time for breakfast, so on the way to work you pull into the nearest fast-food drive-through where the cheery mood of the perky young lady behind the window doesn’t help your half-asleep dourness.You try to act like a human, grumbling a half-hearted “thanks” as you drive away, only to realize after you get on the freeway that your order is wrong. It’s too late to turn around, so you throw the breakfast slider down your throat just to get something in your stomach, which now feels like it is lined with cement.

As you walk into the office, you get some puzzled looks and a few stifled giggles. All of which you ignore, until the guy in the cubicle next to you says, “Hey, did you know that your shirt is inside out?” The day hasn’t started out very well and the last thing you want to deal with this early is a conflict. But when you see your design engineer approaching from one side and your manufacturing engineer from the other, you know that there is no escape. Welcome to the battlefield.

The Role of the PCB Designer: Appeasing Two Superpowers

We’ve all had mornings like this (to my embarrassment, I actually was told one morning that my shirt was on inside out), and then to get stuck between design and manufacturing requirements while the project is demanding results can really jump-start a migraine. But that’s the job. Our role as a circuit board designer is, at least officially, to produce the best possible board design that we can. But realistically we have a lot of hats to wear, and one of the most difficult is to serve as arbitrator. We are the no man’s land between two superpowers at war with each other: design requirements and manufacturing requirements. It is our job to come up with an amazing board design that satisfies both sides of this struggle. So let’s look at how we can best serve that purpose.

Design engineering is usually a combination of electrical and mechanical engineers. Although these two groups can have their own dramatic conflicts between each other, they will usually end up working together because they ultimately serve each other’s needs. But the manufacturing engineering requirements usually come from a completely different department or from an outside manufacturing vendor. To put it simply: The design team will probably be much more concerned that their design is functioning as intended as opposed to how it gets built. On the other hand, the manufacturing team’s concerns aren’t the function of a design; it’s making sure that the design fits their criteria so that they can build it. This doesn’t mean that either one of these groups are the bad guys. But they each have important needs that we circuit board designers have to meet.

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