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I recently attended a remarkably interesting presentation on tips and tricks of designing for RF signals, hosted by the Printed Circuit Engineering Association. If you’re not yet familiar with PCEA, it is made up of former members of the IPC Designers Council, and it has become an international network of engineers, designers, fabricators, assemblers, and anyone else related to printed circuit development.
The association's mission is to promote printed circuit engineering as a profession by encouraging and facilitating the exchange of information and new design concepts through communications, seminars, and workshops. They are facilitated by a growing network of local and regional PCEA affiliated chapters as well as the support of the group’s sponsors and affiliates. This includes IPC, I-Connect007, SMTA, the European Institute for the PCB Community, and others.
This Lunch 'n' Learn meeting was hosted by the Orange County Chapter of PCEA and led by Chapter President Scott McCurdy, the former president of the Orange County Chapter of the Designers Council. Scott spent years growing this Designers Council chapter into one of the biggest in the country, often attracting 100 attendees for lunch meetings. When IPC disbanded the Designers Council, Scott and his chapter members joined PCEA.
With attendance at about 100, and after updates on the progress of the organization, the stage was set for Orlen Bates, a senior field applications engineer with EMA Design Automation who has been working in PCB design for almost 40 years. He introduced the basics of RF signals—what RF waves are and the best practices to use when designing for the use of RF signals. He then provided greater detail on the common pitfalls to avoid, common questions the designer should ask, and strategies to mitigate RF circuits—from RF simulation to CAD tools.
For example, some common pitfalls he discussed include:
- Avoiding copper inlands near the RF circuitry. If the board is to include multilayer ground planes be sure to provide many ground vias wherever the signal trace makes a transition from one side of the plane to the other.
- Note that thinner PCBs reduce the influence of parasitic inductance in vias and that in some cases back drilling may be needed in thick PCBs. Orlen highly recommends gold plating instead of copper for RF circuits. You will be far better off with gold plating rather than copper covered with solder mask. I agreed with his statement that designers need to work with their board house, so good communication between the fabs and suppliers is very important. It is just one more example of the critical nature of communications regarding needs and expectations throughout the supply chain.
As someone who has had very little involvement in design, I still found the presentation to be very interesting, educational, and enlightening. Obviously, there was much more to it and the Q&A session that followed was well worth the listen. I highly recommend this presentation.
It was also announced that the PCEA has a new development program with a comprehensive curriculum specially focused on the layout of PCBs. This was published just this year and includes a 397-page state of the art textbook. Completing the 40 hours of classroom training by EPTAC and passing the exam will grant you certification as a printed circuit designer.
To view this entire presentation, click here.