Accurate Gerber Files Are Mission-Critical for Smooth PCB Manufacturing

Gerber files can reveal design issues ahead of the quote process and ensure your manufacturer has everything needed to produce your boards correctly. After consulting with Engineering Support Specialist Eric Haugen, we explored some best practices for making sure that Gerber files are accurate.

Speed is a critical component of the PCB manufacturing process. I spend the bulk of my day receiving files from customers and giving them back quotes in return. Rare is the day when a customer finishes off a quote request with, “Hey, take your time. I’m in no hurry.”

Sunstone Circuits processes dozens of rush quote requests every day, and I can assure you that we do not like sending them back for more information from the client because crucial information is missing. And I’m pretty certain our customers don’t like getting their quote requests sent back, or worse yet, producing boards that don’t work because a key design element was not relayed to us.

Sometimes, this happens for an unavoidable or unforeseeable reason. Other times, it’s purely a function of being in too much of a hurry to measure twice and cut once. We get it; it’s hard to take your foot off the gas when your production lead or your boss is tapping their fingers on your desk.

An important thing to remember when you’re deciding whether or not to hit the pause button is that your fabricator cannot read your mind. Before you hit send on a quote request, take five minutes and be sure you are sending something that’s usable for your manufacturer.

Especially if you’ve been working on it for a long time, viewing your design in the native CAD tool can be overwhelming. You have been zoomed in, looking at tiny details for days or weeks. It seems so close to finished, but this is exactly when you should lean back and look at the big picture.

Converting to Gerber provides you with an uncluttered view of your board design. You can see each layer lined up. This can reveal all sorts of issues that will slow the quote process, such as one layer being scaled while others are not or one layer being metric and one not. Converting to Gerber also offers a double check that can pre-solve problems related to an esoteric naming convention, text on silkscreen layer showing up on the copper layer, tolerance issues with traces, and misaligned drill holes.

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

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2019

Accurate Gerber Files Are Mission-Critical for Smooth PCB Manufacturing

05-30-2019

Gerber files can reveal design issues ahead of the quote process and ensure your manufacturer has everything needed to produce your boards correctly. After consulting with Engineering Support Specialist Eric Haugen, we explored some best practices for making sure that Gerber files are accurate.

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Connect the Dots: Preparing for Tomorrow’s Technology Today

05-16-2019

At a recent Sunstone Circuits planning summit, Matt Stevenson, VP of sales and marketing, and I led a wide-ranging discussion about emerging technologies and how they will impact PCB manufacturing. The following is an abridged transcript of this conversation.

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MakeHarvard 2019: Bigger and Better!

04-18-2019

Sunstone Circuits was eager to return to MakeHarvard as a sponsor and creator of a competition category this year, also serving as both mentors and competition judges. If you were there, you saw us—we were hard to miss in our bright orange vests. As mentors, we were out and about helping students and answering questions.

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Connect the Dots: Exploding PCBs: Don’t Lose Track of Voltage in Your Design

04-01-2019

Managing split planes? Your CAM tool will not do it for you. We see this almost every day—not exploding PCBs, which pretty rare—but rather problems created by having more than one voltage on a power plane layer. From where we sit, this is one of the more insidious and costly challenges facing PCB designers.

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Connect the Dots: Selecting the Right Board Thickness—A PCB Designer’s Balancing Act

02-21-2019

Choosing wisely is critical for PCB quality and performance, but it can be tricky depending on size constraints, functional requirements, and environmental factors. While we sometimes have a general idea about assembly requirements or how the board will be used, there can still be a lot of unanswered questions as we begin the manufacturing process. After all, there’s a big difference between a PCB going into a drone and a PCB that will be part of a submersible drone and needs to be the size of a tennis ball, withstand intense heat or cold, and function forty fathoms below the surface.

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Connect the Dots: Key Guidelines for Clean Schematic Designs

01-08-2019

The smoke has not even cleared, but they already know what the problem is. It was supposed to be a celebratory moment for the team, plugging in the first board from the initial shipment. Instead, the room is as silent as a morgue. The engineer knows that they put the capacitor in place. However, on closer examination, it is not close enough to the IC pad to make a difference. Everyone turns to the PCB designer. “But I put it right where the schematic said to!” they say. The fix is easily implemented. It takes 15 minutes to produce a new design. Unfortunately, the break room already has an ample supply of coasters, and that’s all this batch of boards can now be used for.

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2018

Connect the Dots: Six Tips to Ensure Parts Fit on Your Board

12-12-2018

One of the most frustrating mismatches with alternative through-hole parts occurs when the land pattern matches, but the pin size is off. If hole sizes are too tight, pins may not fit through the holes, or if they do go into the holes, they may not solder well. Solder will need to flow through the gap between the pin and the hole barrel. If there is not enough space to allow enough solder mass to flow through the hole, the circuit board will absorb heat from the molten solder and cause the solder to solidify partway up the hole. This is called a cold solder joint and can result in a premature failure of your circuit.

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Connect the Dots: New Landing Design to Reduce Thermal Pad Failure

11-16-2018

You’ve finally finished your design. All the traces are correct and the IC landings are to the manufacturer’s specifications. A short run of test boards performs perfectly. For best results, you select a reputable domestic board house for production and a quality assembly shop to do the soldering. When the finished boards arrive, everything looks great. You’re in high spirits and congratulate yourself on a job well done. Then the reports start coming in.

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