How to protect your PCB

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PCB design has come on a great deal In recent years and circuit boards can now be incredibly resilient (and in fact, as we have noted elsewhere on the site, even manufactured in bendable material).  Despite that, there is still one thing all designers need to bear in mind when it comes to their circuit boards.  Protection.

Despite this durability, if your circuit board is not adequately protected it might incur the kinds of wear and tear that can disrupt the circuit and therefore compromise the operation of the device itself.  And if your circuit board is intended for eventual manufacture, this is crucial in terms of the long-term viability of the product, beyond the pulsing heart of its circuit board.

Of course here at Hi5 we can advise on all aspects of circuit board design and manufacture, including protection.  But to further assist you, we have drawn up a 5-point list of some things that you should bear in mind, from the outset:

1 Stay abreast of recent PCB developments

Ahead of your own design, make sure you keep reading all of the relevant literature on PCB manufacture, to make sure you are abreast all of the most up-to-date developments.

You might, for instance, consider reading white papers, industry case studies, or perhaps internet forums so that you draw on the experiences of fellow PCB designers and learn from both their successes… and their mistakes.

That way, you are in a good position to see what has worked for other designers, and what might therefore work for you.  You will also be able to apply the very latest techniques to your own designs, including over-current and shock protection.

PCB protection2 Decide what level of protection is needed

Start with the very end product and then work backwards.  What is the final manufactured electronic product going to be?  Give some consideration to the functioning environment of that final product;  that will give you a start on the protection of the device, particularly around the connection points.

So ask some simple questions:  What will the PCB be used for?  What will the environment be for that device?  What are the likely risks to its safe function?  For instance, a product designed for industrial use will need higher levels of protection than a domestic product.  In the same way, a PCB for a remote control vehicle will need better protection than a device designed to sit on a desktop.

All of this will give you a better steer on the levels of protection needed for your PCB.

3 Research standards

As with any aspect of manufacture, there are various standards that the law will compel you to meet – whatever aspect of electronics engineering you are working in – and that will include protection of the circuit board.

You should also be aware that these will vary, dependent on local and international laws and markets.  It is also likely that safety checks will be made on the final product, when it may well be too late to bring in any adjustments to the design.  So be aware of the product standards in all territories you are looking to sell into.

4 What are the threats?

The two biggies you should always keep close to mind are over-current and over-voltage.  Be minded of the threats these can cause to any electronics device; over-voltage, for instance, has damaged everything from smart phones to the Hubble telescope.

So plan, and compensate, for such eventualities, especially if the device is likely to be exposed to lightening storms or motors.  Having said that, over-voltage can also be aggravated by anything from stockings to rubber training shoes.

5 Think about protection first

We’ve left this one to last but it is really to reinforce the point that whatever the final use you have planned for your PCB, you should think about protection from the very beginning.  For instance, leave space for your ESD, and provide optimal locations.  Such thinking will thereby ease the process for any engineers working further down the design and manufacture chain.

So, five points to get you thinking about protection for your PCB.  Try to incorporate this thinking into all your PCB designs and you will be safety-proofing your board, smoothing the process to the final manufacture of a solid and durable electronics device.


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