25 years ago PCBs were very much designed 'by hand', using narrow black tape on a piece of mylar. The tape represented the copper traces of the 'design' and was photographed after which the film was used for the manufacture of the boards. Since about the middle of the '90s, the rise of the computer has ensured that this process has now been completely replaced by a digital CAD process. But it was (for the most part) these same engineers who designed the printed circuit boards using the – at the time generally costly – design software. They knew from experience very well what could and what could not be manufactured and where the potential difficulties were. Nevertheless, “check plots” were still quite common – the designer received the production films one final time to check everything before the circuit board manufacturer commenced production.
In recent years the PCB design software packages have become considerably more capable and much more affordable (some are even free) and the design of circuit boards at many companies is not really a specialist's job any more. More frequently the designer of the circuit also designs the board. Eurocircuits increasingly see fewer 'production-ready' designs in the CAD data that they are supplied and have observed that there is a growing gap in the necessary knowledge. The designer, more or less, assumes that the data that he or she supplies is completely correct and that the circuit board manufacturer will interpret their PCB-data correctly. This is however not necessarily the case and then something is likely to go wrong of course. The board that was made is then useless and the customer is disappointed and has to resupply the data, which hopefully will be interpreted correctly the second time around.
There must be better a way, and Eurocircuits prove that, using the free online tool set that they have been offering for a few years already and that is continually improved upon. The PCB Visualizer plays the main role here: the visualization of the design before it is even manufactured. A quick list of the advantages of the PCB Visualizer:
- It shows how the systems at Eurocicruits interpret the supplied data.
- It does that without the need to place an actual order.
- You can therefore check beforehand whether your design will be manufactured as you intended it to be.
- Using the PCB Checker, a tool built into PCB Visualizer, you can see immediately whether and where the problems in your design are, so that you can resolve those.
- You can see beforehand the critical parts of the production process using the tool Plating Images.
- Using the PCB Visualizer you can see immediately whether your circuit board meets the production specifications that you have selected or whether, for example, you have selected drill diameters that are too small. You therefore don't have to wait for feedback from the manufacturer and you will have saved time.
- The PCB Visualizer also shows you any changes that the system may have made to your design in order for the circuit board to be manufacturable.
The video below shows the use of this online tool and the entire order/production process:
Returning to our question as to why a company would supply such a nearly indispensable tool free of charge… Dirk Stans, Managing partner Sales and Marketing for Eurocircuits, has this to say: “We don't want to sell the customer anything here, but we would like to help everyone improve their chances for success, and then they will hopefully order from us.”
We are in any case very positive about the help that these tools have to offer. They are very useful when our lab orders PCBs for prototypes or whenever larger batches are required for the manufacture of kits or modules!