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Your schematics are the blueprints for your hardware startup
If you’ve already read Part 1 of this series of posts, you’ve received an introduction into validating the market for your new product and developing design requirements. Your design requirements will be revisited repeatedly and will form the foundation for the rest of the product development process. Once you’ve got a high level view of your design and its functionality, it’s time to move on to creating block diagrams, schematics, and a PCB layout for your new product.
From Design Requirements to Electronics Schematics
At this point, it is time to start thinking about translating your design requirements into real functionality and engineering the various steps required to produce the desired results. Your block diagram should summarize each portion of the system in terms of how signals move between different portions of the product. Each function in the system is depicted using blocks with clearly labelled inputs and outputs.
This helps you visualize how signals move through the system and with which components they will interface. It is perfectly acceptable to explicitly state specific components in a block diagram, such as microcontrollers that provide some data processing capabilities. In terms of mixed-signal electronics design, it is a good idea to separate the analog and digital portions of the system into different sections of your block diagram. Avoid lumping analog and digital functionality into individual blocks as this will make it more difficult to translate information into an electronics schematic.
Example of a simple block diagram
A block diagram should remain a living document as you move on to creating a schematic. As you start building your schematic, you may find that your original design for your system needs to change, and your schematic should change alongside it. Be sure to keep detailed notes on how and why your block diagram was changed, as well as previous versions of your block diagram. This is especially important if you are working as part of a team and will ensure that everyone will have access to the same information.
Your schematic is your where you’ll assemble components into a complete system. This is where you should start designing each portion of your block diagram in separate areas of the schematic. You can then define connections between each functional block by creating signal nets. This allows you to enforce some level of organization within your schematic as you build your system.
If your board will include a microcontroller or other programmable components, then this is a good time to start working on your code as you will need to test it before you finalize your layout. Before beginning your PCB layout, it is a good idea to build your ideal system on a breadboard to check that your design will work as intended. From a signal integrity and power integrity standpoint, your device might have some problems that can only be corrected once you build a real PCB layout. However, this still allows you to test your design against your specifications and ensure that it will produce the desired functionality. If some of your functionality tests fail, then this is the time to update your embedded software, your hardware design, or both.
You’ll need to seriously consider which components you want to include in your board and any suitable replacements in the event your desired components can’t be sourced. It is always a good idea to check component availability through major distributors before getting too deep into your design. If you wait until your design is finished, and you end up including a component that has a long lead time or is obsolete, you risk going through a major redesign once you start preparing for production.
Creating your PCB layout is the final design step you must complete before preparing to produce a prototype. If you created your schematic using the above guidelines, then you’ll have an easier time creating your layout. Clustering important components together into groups in your schematic based on functional blocks allows you to focus on the layout between a single block in your CAD software. Once you finish each block individually, you can start routing them together into fully connected system.
With some hard work, your PCB layout can look as good as this
There are plenty of other design aspects to consider, such as the number of layers in your board, your grounding strategy, the need for thermal management measures like thermal vias or heat sinks, and even your routing topology. If you’re a professional engineer, then you probably have the experience necessary to make these important design decisions and create a product that will work in a variety of conditions. Otherwise, you’ve got some studying to do.
Working with an online platform that provides collaboration and sharing features in a GitHub-style environment allows you to take advantage of open source projects and learn from the work of others. This is a great way to get some perspective on how your board should be laid out. There is nothing wrong with studying others’ designs; they’ve put them out there for others to use, so you might as well learn from them!
What Happens Next?
Your journey is not over just because you completed your PCB layout. Before you move on to manufacturing, you’ll want to check your design against standard electronics design rules and constraints. These rules are designed to ensure your product will function as you intend from a power integrity and signal integrity standpoint. They also help ensure that your board will be manufacturable. Working with a simulation tool can also help you diagnose signal integrity problems in your design before you produce a prototype.
In our next post, we’ll discuss the next steps, which involve preparing to produce a prototype of your board and evaluating its functionality against your design requirements.
Working with the right browser-based design software gives you the tools you need to take a design from start to finish, including preparing for manufacturing. The browser-based PCB design platform from Upverter® gives hardware startups all the design features they need to build create watch their ideas turn into reality. This online design platform includes the standard features designers expect in their electronics design software. You’ll also have access to an extensive library of electronic components for building your next product.