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Common PCB file errors and how to avoid them

It's testament to the extraordinary quality of modern design and manufacture that PCB file errors are so rare in modern electronics, but that doesn’t mean you should kick back and leave things to chance.

Ensuring that your processes are robust and effective is the best way to maintain PCB design standards... and keep us all one step ahead of the game.

Communication is crucial in avoiding file errors

Taking an idea from concept to launch offers any number of opportunities for communication to break down and errors to occur, which is why it's important for designers to use the least technical language possible when dealing with clients. Avoiding industry jargon seems like a simple thing, but it makes a huge difference to the quality of communication and builds trust between client and designer.

Including a .readme text file and mechanical outline with the quote and the Gerber/drill files is a critical step and further ensures that errors in communication are avoided. It's also a useful tool that gives the client the chance to check that everything that was requested is included in the design.

Some of the most common PCB file errors

Although, as we said, PCB file errors are much less common in modern design, there are some areas where they can creep in, so it's up to the design team to double-check these potential issues:

• Drill size - as component size isn't standardised it’s important to specify hole size on your PCB designs to guarantee correct mounting. Failure to comply with this step can cause unnecessary and costly hold-ups in the manufacturing process.
• Overlapping drills - although it’s not impossible to create an effective design with overlapping drills, it slows the manufacturing process down, puts a strain on the drill that can lead to breakage, and should be avoided if at all possible.
• Silkscreen - more information in the design files is always better than less, so don’t omit silkscreen files or assume that they’ll be included if the file is left empty.
• Gerber file errors - Gerber files are the digital blueprints for your design, so double-checking for missing or incomplete files, badly labelled or incomplete files is critical for avoiding manufacturing errors.
• Edge tolerances - leaving enough space from the edge for ground planes and circuit traces will help to avoid shorting with any metal casing – an easy to overlook but important design feature.
• Solder resist pads - missing pads is a simple design error and should be noticed when checking the Gerber files, but sometimes solder resists can be imported along with components from a different layout. This leads to resist pads being stacked or placed incorrectly, and that can cause problems like exposed traces.

There are two very simple ways to avoid these kinds of errors – only use companies with a record of excellence in design and customer service, and double-check all the design files with a viewer that you can download online. If you’re aware of the potential issues and take these steps, PCB file errors can be minimised or eradicated, which means that you get from concept to market efficiently and without headaches.

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