This Month in Design007 Magazine: Connect the Dots—Is 2020 Really Coming to an End?

Matt_Stevenson-300.jpgAs we approach the end of 2020, we are able to look back on one of the most challenging years that I have ever experienced. But it is not just me; this year has been one to remember (not really fondly) for everyone on the globe. We are very fortunate to have been able to carry on with supplying PCBs to a great number of people and industries, even in the midst of our COVID-19 pandemic. We were also fortunate to be a key supplier for multiple projects aimed directly at helping with the pandemic.

Throughout these trying times, we have been consistent in our desire to share knowledge with everyone and give ourselves and everyone else a few minutes’ break from our reality. The following is a synopsis of the topics we shared with you from the perspective of a PCB manufacturer.

  1. January (Design Tips for Layout): Here, we share tips as a manufacturer that has seen thousands of PCB layouts. Some examples are very good, but we also describe pitfalls to avoid that might give you a chuckle or two.
  2. February (You Cannot Afford Not to Consider ISO:9001): The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9000 family and ISO 9001 certifications are built on standards achieved with a QMS that addresses far more than “just quality.” Done correctly, we learned that this standard provides a foundation for a robust business management system. It was a journey worth taking, and one we encourage you to consider. Fair warning: ISO adoption can be challenging at times.
  3. March (The Seven Year Etch): Creating the copper circuitry on a PCB involves etching. The more that is known about how a PCB is made, the better equipped a designer will be to create the design.
  4. April (Increased Focus on Health and Wellness Transforms the PCB Industry): Our increased focus on health and wellness drives technology advancement for personal devices, and those used in the delivery of healthcare. This trend also drives both PCB production innovation and a long-overdue update of the employer/employee relationship.
  5. May (Picking a Prototyping Strategy): Since no two design projects are the same, your approach to prototyping should be flexible. Your needs will be different every time. Are you going for fast-and-dirty prototyping? Do you need a quick turnaround time? Will it be easier for you to use a DIY prototyping technique?
  6. June (The Power of Forward Thinking): Innovating is fun, and creativity can be a good outlet for people, but PCB design seems to be a rigid set of rules and not fun or creative. However, it really can be an opportunity to have fun and be creative and still create a highly effective and manufacturable PCB.
  7. July (Reassessing the Risk of Offshore PCB Manufacturing): Making the right decision about domestic versus offshore PCB manufacturing depends on a thorough cost-benefit analysis. Your results will vary depending on volume and design requirements. We encourage our customers to look for the hidden costs in offshoring and seriously consider its less quantifiable pain points.
  8. August (The Nuts and Bolts of Electrical Testing): Understanding the process of electrically testing a bare PCB is key. The more that a designer can understand the manufacturing and testing processes, the better the PCB design. This column imparts some of the key points around electrical testing.
  9. September (How to Know If a CAD Tool Is Right for You): The most important tool that a PCB designer can have at their disposal is the CAD tool. There are many different tools available, ranging from very simple and free to super powerful and expensive and everything in between. Depending on the goal of a particular project, many designers have several in their tool belt. This column explores what to look for in a CAD tool. It can be a very personal choice, but knowing what to look for can make that search more productive.
  10. October (Unraveling the Mysterious BGA Routing Mess): In an effort to pass on many tips to help become a better PCB designer, this column was aimed at solutions to make the process of routing a sometimes tricky BGA component easier using logical steps to make it happen. Sometimes, left to their own processes, the resulting design may not be a treat to manufacture. (The more you know.)
  11. November (The New Recipe for Customer Service Success): What does customer service look like now in the midst of the pandemic? What does it need to look like to meet and exceed the needs of the customer? Al Secchi, global customer support and sales manager, shares his thoughts.

Bob and I had a lot of fun sharing some of what we have learned in our over 60 years of combined PCB experience. With that much time in the industry, there are so many tips, pitfalls, stories, and knowledge tidbits that we can still share. We are really looking forward to a year of growth and higher expectations as more and more people get back to work, adapt to this new normal, and continue to innovate, create, and design. If there are topics that you are interested in us exploring, reach out to us and let us know what is on your mind.

This column originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of Design007 Magazine.

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2020

This Month in Design007 Magazine: Connect the Dots—Is 2020 Really Coming to an End?

12-09-2020

As we approach the end of 2020, we are able to look back on one of the most challenging years that I have ever experienced. Throughout these trying times, Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson were consistent in their desire to share knowledge with everyone. Matt shares a synopsis of the topics they shared from the perspective of a PCB manufacturer.

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Connect the Dots: The New Recipe for Customer Service Success

11-11-2020

How are you holding up these days during the pandemic? Each of us is dealing with life struggles and changes differently. With this in mind, Matt Stevenson asks Al Secchi, global customer support and sales manager, what he has learned professionally from the pandemic and how to serve customers.

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Connect the Dots: Unraveling the Mysterious BGA Routing Mess

10-19-2020

A ball-grid-array (BGA) device can be a daunting component to route, especially in fine-pitch arrays featuring solder ball counts in the hundreds and pitch values as tight as 0.5 millimeters. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson describe how you can take the mystery out of BGA routing and create a PCB design that can handle all those pesky narrow spaces.

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Connect the Dots: How to Know If a CAD Tool Is Right for You

09-21-2020

The tool that defines PCB designers is our CAD software, and many discover quickly that not all CAD tools are created equally. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson answer the question, "How can designers find the right CAD tools to fit their particular methodology and needs?"

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Connect the Dots: The Nuts and Bolts of Electrical Testing

08-12-2020

In this column, Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson explore the world of electrical testing. They examine a variety of testing methods, what options to look for in a PCB manufacturer, and how to ensure that you're getting the best value out of the electrical test options available to you.

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Connect the Dots: Reassessing the Risk of Offshore PCB Manufacturing

07-15-2020

Offshore board production has long been considered an effective way to reduce the cost of producing electronic devices here at home, but those savings often demand a higher tolerance for delivery issues and come with lowered expectations for quality. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson explain.

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Connect the Dots: The Power of Forward Thinking

06-06-2020

Innovation comes in many forms and from more places these days. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson discuss how innovative electronic devices all contain PCBs, and share pro design tips for bringing new products to the market.

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Connect the Dots: Picking a Prototyping Strategy

05-29-2020

No matter how simple or complicated your electronic project, PCB prototyping is part of its journey from concept to reality. This process of turning the design into something physical can teach you a lot about what needs to be tweaked and improved before your PCB is ready for full production. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson explain how before you can prototype, you have to design.

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Connect the Dots: Increased Focus on Health and Wellness Transforms the PCB Industry

04-04-2020

Our increased focus on health and wellness drives technology advancement for personal devices and those used in the delivery of healthcare. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson explain how this trend also drives both PCB production innovation and a long-overdue update of the employer/employee relationship.

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Connect the Dots: The Seven-year Etch

03-16-2020

PCB etching seems like a simple task on the surface, but quite a few things can go wrong during this process. Adhering to best practice and continuous improvement is a must to help avoid issues with your finished board. Bob Tise and Matt Stevenson share their design tips for a better etching process.

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2019

Connect the Dots: A Penny for Your Thoughts on Copper

11-19-2019

You're probably thinking: “Bob can’t possibly write an entire article dedicated to the use of copper in PCBs.” To that, Bob says, “Hold my beer.”

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Connect the Dots: Build Quality Into Your Boards and Processes

11-06-2019

To the procurement clerk, a PCB may seem like it is just a line item on a bill of materials (BOM) or parts list during the production of an electronic device. At Sunstone, we know differently. The PCB is the building block for all of the components and parts in your electrical project.

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Connect the Dots: A Proactive Approach to Controlled Impedance

10-09-2019

You can save time, money, and effort if you are aware of the impedance math when you sit down to design your board. Gain this awareness by using a good impedance calculator, and you can build the right tolerances into your design. Impedance testing becomes a double-check of your work instead of the tool you rely on to tell you if your documentation is correct. Documenting impedance requirements properly is more onerous than most people realize. Though it seems simple, PCB documentation is a details game that often leaves knowledge gaps for your manufacturer.

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Connect the Dots: Managing Global Supply Chain Uncertainty

09-03-2019

We are well into the second year of tariff-centric trade policy, and one thing appears certain—uncertainty is here to stay. Though most of the media focus has been on cars and steel or consumer prices and corporate profits, the enduring challenge for both the electronics and PCB industries has been maintaining reliable global supply chains.

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Connect the Dots: Five Best Practices to Ensure Manufacturability

08-01-2019

When you send your design for manufacturing, your partner does not know what type of device the board will be part of nor the conditions in which it will have to perform. It’s common for harsh environments or exposure to mess up a board’s performance. If you call out materials that will not tolerate the end-product’s operating environment, bad things can happen—such as a smoking board, for example. Be sure your board can tolerate thermal stress or solder joints risk breaking and damaging components.

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Connect the Dots: The Future of PCB Manufacturing Doesn't Belong to Robots, but to the Users

07-09-2019

Is the world ready for the consequences of rapid automation? Will the use of robots displace entire categories of workers? Can artificial intelligence really “think”? How will manufacturing, including PCB manufacturing, be affected by all of these smart robots? These questions actually come from a pamphlet published in 1955: "The Age of Automation: Its Effects on Human Welfare."

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Connect the Dots: 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 Bob Tise had 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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Connect the Dots: MakeHarvard 2019: Bigger and Better!

04-09-2019

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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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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