The PCB Design Process Methodology and Application

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: November 9, 2020

Your next great idea probably started on a piece of notebook paper. How do you go about taking your great idea and turning it into a real design, and eventually into a finished product? There are a number of ways to approach your new design. Any new circuit board can be very complicated, but the right PCB design process methodology helps you get through the design process quickly.

PCB designers follow a general PCB design process methodology, and there are some important things to consider in your schematic and layout before you get started. Who will be using your circuit board? Where will it be used? Which aspects of its environment will affect its functionality? Thinking about the answers to these questions can help you avoid common problems in PCB design process methodology and determine the right PCB design process methodology for your next idea.


A unified PCB design package with the best tools for implementing the right PCB design process methodology for your next circuit board.

PCB designers used to be forced into using multiple programs with a rigid workflow to create a schematic and PCB layout. Now, innovations in PCB design software allow PCB designers to create a PCB design process methodology around complex key features in their circuit board layout. Powerful routing tools, schematic simulation features, and ECAD/MCAD collaboration features help keep PCB designers productive and building advanced printed circuit designs.

Once it comes time to layout your circuit board, you’ll need to adopt a methodology that ensures your signals remain free of common problems, your board is manufacturable, and that you have followed important design rules. The right PCB design software with design rule checking features throughout the schematic and layout phases will help ensure your printed circuit boards can be manufactured properly and will function as designed. You can take advantage of the functionality and power of PCB design software applications—such as Altium Designer—to create advanced printed circuit designs with ease.

Schematic Design: The First Step in the PCB Design Process

Once you’ve got a basic idea for your board, it’s time to start creating schematics that show how components are connected throughout your printed circuit board. Your schematic is the first document you will create when you want to create a real model for your entire product. Your schematic will show all connections between components (both single-ended and differential) that will appear in your circuit board.

Having access to components sets the stage for placing the components on the schematic and for wiring the circuit. Well-structured and detailed design notes also assist with determining signal integrity and power integrity faults with the design. Your PCB design process methodology begins with selecting and sourcing components, followed by creating schematics that show electrical behavior.

Screenshot showing components links in Altium Designer

Selecting components for your schematic in your PCB design software

Simulation-Driven Design in Your Schematic

Some designs will require simulations as an application of the PCB design process methodology, especially if you are not using well-known circuits, making creative use of active components, or working with proprietary components. With the right simulation package, you can evaluate circuit functions before you create your PCB layout. This can help you explore the effects of transients in your interconnects and components, address undershoot/overshoot, and plenty of other performance aspects of your circuit board design.

Some components, like printed circuit antennas or external antennas without impedance matching or filtration, will require simulations to design an appropriate impedance matching network to support circuit board signal integrity. You can take a simulation-driven approach to help you design supporting components to ensure signal integrity before you finalize your schematic. This PCB design technology will help prevent some unnecessary redesigns after you start laying out your PCB layout.

Altium Designer schematic layer organization

Schematic organization helps you create the right PCB design process methodology.

Your Printed Circuit Board Layout Process

After you create schematics and verify electrical functionality with simulation tools, you need to define your layer stack, which will show the arrangement of signal layers, each power plane, and each ground plane. When you’re ready to start arranging components and route traces throughout your PCB layout, you can define routing rules and constraints within your PCB design software on any of the key features in your printed circuit design. These design rules and constraints can be defined around specific industry standards that govern manufacturability and functionality. This helps ensure that you do not make any errors while creating your PCB layout.

Get to Fabrication with Post-Layout Simulations and Documentation

As you create your PCB layout, your PCB design software should check your routing and layout against the design rules and constraints you define. This helps you catch errors early and prevent them altogether. When you’ve completed your layout, you can use post-layout simulations to verify signal integrity before you create manufacturer deliverables for your fabricator.

PCB design process methodology in Altium Designer

Create your manufacturing deliverables within your PCB design process methodology.

Create Your PCB Design Process Methodology in Altium Designer

The unified design rules-driven environment in Altium Designer lets PCB designers easily create schematic drawings, a PCB layout, and manufacturing documentation in a single environment. After configuring your printed circuit board workspace, layers, grids, and design rules, your design team can arrange components and route traces throughout a circuit board layout. The PCB Editor supports the 32 signal layers, 16 internal power plane and ground plane layers, and 32 general purpose mechanical, special, and non-electrical layers. Altium Designer displays attributes for all layers in a color-coded workspace. You’ll have the best PCB design technology on the market when you use Altium Designer.

Stay Productive with Unified PCB Design Software

Because your PCB design process occurs within a seamless, unified environment, your team can easily move from creating a project to full-scale production. Every function in Altium Designer is built on a rules-driven engine, allowing PCB designers to apply design rules to a project and ensure electrical functionality. Moreover, Altium Designer provides tools for automatically compiling extensive manufacturing documentation, including Gerber files, design notes, and bills of materials. The key features in Altium Designer can be viewed in extensive tutorials, and you'll have access to plenty of schematic design and PCB layout resources to create your board.

3D Printed Circuit Board model interface in Altium Designer

Integrated 3D modeling for printed circuit board design makes Altium Designer stand out from the rest.

No other PCB design software platform gives you this many tools in an easy-to-use interface. For your PCB designing tutorial, Altium gives you access to on-demand webinars, design tutorials, and the AltiumLive forum. You’ll have the tools and resources you need for successful printed circuit board design in Altium Designer.

Altium Designer on Altium 365 delivers an unprecedented amount of integration to the electronics industry until now relegated to the world of software development, allowing designers to work from home and reach unprecedented levels of efficiency.

We have only scratched the surface of what is possible to do with Altium Designer on Altium 365. You can check the product page for a more in-depth feature description or one of the On-Demand Webinars.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 1000+ technical blogs on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, and the American Physical Society, and he currently serves on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee.

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