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Printed Circuit Board Simulation Technologies

Key Takeaways

  • SPICE Simulations for Early Design Validation offer analyses like DC and AC sweeps, transient analysis, and parameter sweep simulations.

  • Precise impedance modeling, dielectric material analysis, and considerations of copper roughness and dielectric dispersion are essential in high-speed PCB designs

  • Advanced Simulations for Layout and Routing: Signal integrity engines in layout software, lightweight 2D solvers for reflections and crosstalk analysis, and post-routing simulations including power integrity analysis and S-parameter analysis ensure  reliability.

printed circuit board simulation software encompasses a variety of topics, including thermal simulation.

printed circuit board simulation software encompasses a variety of topics, including thermal simulation.

Typically, PCB designs undergo electrical tests during the fabrication and assembly phases. However, quantifying certain specialized mechanical and electrical behaviors post-assembly can be challenging. Rather than testing every facet of a design post-assembly, various printed circuit board simulation technologies are available. These softwares allow for the pre-production calculation of electrical, physical, and thermal behaviors in a PCB, aiding in the design process.


Associated Simulation Types

Pre-Layout PCB Simulation Types

  • SPICE Simulations (DC/ AC sweeps, transient analysis, pole-zero analysis, parameter sweep) 

  • IBIS Models

  • Multisim Models

  • Signal Integrity Analysis

  • Thermal Modeling

PCB Ruleset and Trace Width Requirements

  • Impedance Modeling

  • Dielectric Material Analysis

  • Copper Roughness Assessment

  • Dielectric Dispersion Analysis

  • Signal Integrity Engine

Simulations During PCB Layout and Routing

  • Overshoot and Undershoot Analysis

  • 2D Solver for Reflections and Crosstalk Analysis

  • EMI/EMC Analysis

  • Thermal Analysis

Post Routing Simulation

  • Power Integrity Analysis

  • DC Power Issues Analysis

  • Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR)

  • S-parameter Analysis

  • DC Power Integrity Analysis

  • Decoupling Analysis

  • Voltage Drop Analysis

  • Current Density Analysis

  • Full-Wave Simulation (High-Frequency Designs)

  • EMI/EMC Analysis

  • Mechanical Reliability Analysis

  • Thermal Management Analysis

Pre-Layout PCB Simulation Types

SPICE Simulations 

SPICE simulations are key in evaluating system-level electrical behavior and optimizing circuits during the initial parts of the design process. Schematic software that integrates a SPICE simulation package enhances perform a variety of analyses, including:

  • DC Sweeps, where the input DC voltage across a range is varied and the voltage and current at different nodes in the circuit is monitored..

  • AC Sweeps, where the frequency of an AC signal is varied, allowing for the analysis of circuit response over a range of frequencies.

  • Transient Analysis, or time-domain mixed-signal simulations observie a circuit’s behavior over time.

  • Pole-Zero Analysis: This method visualizes stability conditions and transient oscillation frequencies in a single graph, aiding in stability assessments.

  • Parameter Sweep, where a specific set of component parameters is changed over a range of values to understand their impact on circuit behavior.

While most designers are familiar with using SPICE for basic linear or nonlinear circuit analyses, these simulations are also adept at examining more complicated components as long as a SPICE subcircuit model is available. Custom-written SPICE models can also be created for specific components.

Other Front-End Tools

In addition to SPICE, other front-end tools in electrical circuit design simulation software, such as IBIS models and Multisim models, are utilized to simulate electrical circuits, components, and entire systems. These simulations can cover aspects such as

  • High-Level Signal Integrity Analysis, which is used to identify and address potential signal quality issues, including signal loss or distortion.

  • Thermal Modeling, where initial thermal simulations can be conducted on specific parts to manage the dissipation of heat across the PCB.

PCB Ruleset and Trace Width Requirements 

Accurately determining the impedance of high-speed nets in your PCB stack-up is essential.  The main objective is to set your PCB design’s reulset to have the necessary trace widths for achieving specific target impedances required for interconnects.

Advanced PCB programs utilize methods such as the boundary element method, moment of methods, or finite element method. These numerical calculations are designed to automate the process of determining the trace width required to meet a particular impedance at specific frequencies. Several parameters are essential for your layout rules to accurately determine impedances at high frequencies:

  • Impedance Modeling is vital in calculating the impedance of traces within the PCB, which is key to maintaining signal integrity in high-speed designs, where precise impedance control is needed to prevent signal reflections and losses.

  • Dielectric Material Analysis involves simulations that evaluate the impact of various dielectric materials on the overall impedance of the PCB layers. Different materials can significantly affect the electrical performance of the PCB, especially at high frequencies, by altering parameters like permittivity and loss tangent.

  • Copper Roughness which varies according to the manufacturing process, influences the skin effect impedance in a trace. It reflects how the physical texture of the copper layers affects impedance, especially at higher frequencies.

  • Dielectric Dispersion is crucial for understanding how the speed of light and signal losses vary within the PCB substrate. Dielectric dispersion impacts how different frequencies propagate through the material, which is particularly important for high-speed signal integrity.

Together, these parameters and simulations ensure that the PCB design meets the stringent requirements of high-speed applications. They allow designers to predict and control the electrical characteristics of the PCB

Simulations During PCB Layout and Routing

Signal integrity issues can arise if a design is not properly evaluated during the layout phase. Excellent layout and routing software often include a signal integrity engine, which allows designers to assess overshoot and undershoot in signals during routing, rather than relying solely on advanced field solvers at the end of the design process.

This approach is crucial because many real layout aspects affect signal behavior, such as parasitics and the absence of termination, which are not quantifiable in SPICE simulations. The best routing design simulation tools allow for specifying signal integrity requirements within the tools themselves, and then the design software will automatically check for adherence as the layout is created.

Reflections, Crosstalk and Additional Layout-Phase Simulations

Other vital simulation metrics to consider during the layout phase are reflections and crosstalk. These can be evaluated using a lightweight 2D solver within a PCB editor, with the results visualizable on a graph in the time domain. 

Additional key simulation aspects include:

  • EMI/EMC Analysis: These simulations are critical for predicting and mitigating electromagnetic interference, ensuring the PCB meets electromagnetic compatibility standards and can be done during the routing phase

  • Detailed Thermal Analysis: Advanced thermal simulations identify potential hot spots on the PCB, aiding in the development of efficient thermal management strategies. This may also depend on your trace widths, and ground fills as they are able to conduct heat away from particular components. 

Post Routing Simulation

Simulations are also employed to assess possible thermal and DC power issues. To comprehensively evaluate a design, various other post-layout simulations are necessary.

Power integrity analysis focuses on examining the distribution and stability of power throughout the PCB, ensuring that all components receive consistent and sufficient power.

Signal Integrity Simulations in the PCB Layout

After finishing the routing and layout phase, crucial nets are often re-examined to confirm that no new signal integrity issues have emerged. 

  • Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR) is utilized to simulate and measure signal reflections and impedance mismatches.

  • S-parameter analysis simulates the frequency-dependent behaviors of the PCB, for understanding interference between nets in PCB layouts. Interconnects are typically modeled as multiport networks, generating S-parameters in both single-ended and mixed-mode configurations. For instance, mixed-mode S-parameters in a 4-port network involving two differential nets can quantify signal integrity metrics like differential crosstalk, common-mode crosstalk, mode conversion, return loss (input impedance), and insertion loss. Moreover, channel bandwidth, along with pulse responses, eye diagrams, jitter, and losses, can be indirectly derived from S-parameter simulations.

Power Integrity

Maintaining stable power delivery is critical, as if not, excessive jitter and ground bounce, along with electromagnetic interference (EMI), can arise. A crucial simulation for a completed PCB layout is DC power integrity analysis within the design's Power Distribution Network (PDN). The focus of DC power integrity is to guarantee that power is distributed across the design efficiently, minimizing resistive losses that can cause significant heat dissipation. Areas displaying high current density and voltage drop are identified for potential modifications.

  • Decoupling Analysis: is vital for evaluating and fine-tuning the placement and effectiveness of decoupling capacitors, essential for stable power supply.

  • Voltage Drop Analysis: involves ensuring that all components on the PCB receive power at voltage levels within their operational limits, crucial for the reliable functioning of the circuit.

  • Current Density Analysis: Identifying regions with high current density is important, as these areas are prone to overheating and can compromise the reliability and longevity of the PCB.

Field Solver

Certain aspects of a design are contingent on the overall system construction and cannot be simulated until the design is fully realized. Notable examples of these aspects include power integrity, electromagnetic interference/compatibility (EMI/EMC), mechanical reliability, and thermal management.

To simulate these areas,  a field solver is required, capable of solving the differential equations that govern these physical phenomena. Advanced PCB design software often includes features that allow a design to be integrated into these more intricate simulation applications. Futhermore, full-wave simulation is employed in high-frequency designs, where the signal wavelengths are on par with the dimensions of the PCB structures.

Cadence AWR Software Features 

Cadence AWR software offers also offers printed circuit board simulation, as a comprehensive suite of tools, integrating high-frequency circuit simulation,  system simulation, and electromagnetic (EM) simulation capabilities. It aids in creating sophisticated RF/microwave IP through advanced IC, package, and PCB modeling, simulation, and verification processes. AWR has multiphysics simulation technologies, and PCB modeling, simulation, and verification capabilities. 

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