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Join the Printed Circuit Engineering Association - Grow Your Skills and Your Network

How about those trade shows for learning and “schmoozing” opportunities with fellow PCB Designers? The thing is that they only happen every so often and only in select cities. Many attendees have to travel to the annual show. Then there are about three days of tutorials where it may be a chore to stay engaged and remember all that was said.

So, rather than dealing with air travel, rental cars and hotels, how about if there was a recurring local gathering focussed on one PCB topic after another? What if they were spread out across the entire calendar for easier participation? What if you could pick and choose among more intimate locations and relevant topics?  That, in a nutshell, is the gist of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association or otherwise known as the PCEA

Once a month or whenever you have the time, you can attend a local chapter meeting of the PCEA to share information related to PCB design, fabrication, assembly or test. You don’t have to live in Silicon Valley to stay sharp on the latest technology. I’ve been at this since the 90’s and still have a lot to learn. Progress never sleeps.

Learning How to Implement DFx Throughout the Design Process

My first exposure to a local chapter meet-up was at the Cadence headquarters. Note that I don’t have a desk there or even a laptop from them so visiting my sponsor was a can’t-miss treat. We learned about and discussed what I’ll call “preventive DFM”. This is an extended part of the Cadence constraint manager that goes beyond line width, length and air-gap rules.

Figure 1. Image Credit: Author - A short commercial presentation preceded the actual training but it was interesting.

The general idea is to catch manufacturing defects in real time. I can’t really speak to how widely it has been adopted but there is a means for the fabricators to submit their best practices. Pulling those in allows us to potentially design boards that fit into the limits of that particular fab shop. Importing that data would be a lot easier than transcribing the numbers from the literature into the constraint manager.

Further, it could sort the DFM rules for a list of vendors and provide a single set of constraints that meets the least common denominator of the multiple fabricators. You would want to choose your vendors carefully in order to avoid overconstraining the board. I try to be tool-agnostic so I digress.

Meet Your (Next) Fabricator

Attendees of this PCEA meet-up included a couple of fabricators who were able to provide further insights into getting a tape-out into the system with minimal delay. One vendor did confess that asking technical questions was like getting an extension on the delivery date. 

That they might ask those questions late on a Friday afternoon was a moment of head nodding among the designers who were present. All along, I thought it was just me! In any case, it’s a good enough reason to want to tailor your PCB layout to fit into your production flow. Take away their excuses.

Figure 2 Image Credit:  Author -  Showing a board that gets attention at the vendor because the gold fingers go out to the very edge so that hard gold can be selectively applied to the PCIE connector.

Maybe you can’t get out in the middle of the day. Well, their on-line program has you covered. Remote learning includes upcoming webinars in January ‘24 for topics such as Via and Trace Currents and Temperatures and another focused on AI and how it will impact ECAD tools. Knowledge is power. Let’s hear it for free power.

Become a Certified Printed Circuit Designer (CPCD)

If you need a deeper dive into the entire PCB Design process, there is a more complete training program for a fee. Full disclosure, I have not taken the training but have history with the people who are providing it.

From, the official web site of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association

Registration fees include a copy of Printed Circuit Engineering Professional, a 400-page handbook on circuit board design authored by Michael Creeden, Stephen Chavez, Rick Hartley, Susy Webb and Gary Ferrari.

You may recognize a few of those names. They’re all people with strong industry experience who have also paid their dues on the teaching circuit. The PCEA always has a booth at the national trade shows and it’s where you can find these instructors in between and after their seminars. You don’t have to go there to become a member. They will let just about anyone into the club. As far as I can tell, the qualifications are curiosity and an email address.
According to the website, membership in the PCEA includes the following:

  • Access to the free section of Printed Circuit University online educational platform
  • Membership in and access to local chapter activities and meetings
  • Access to mentor program

Like anything that is “free”, there is always an angle. The next meet-up for the Silicon Valley chapter is at a fab shop so you can imagine a sales pitch coming with the information. I actually like taking tours of factories whether they are fabricating or assembly boards.

Meeting the CAM team that sits between your virtual board and the real deal can help understand why some of those technical questions crop up. Knowing exactly where solder defects are happening on your board can help you do a better job when you’re pouring copper on the outer layers. Feeling their pain for even a moment will leave a lasting impression that you can take back to your workstation.

About the Author

John Burkhert Jr is a career PCB Designer experienced in Military, Telecom, Consumer Hardware and lately, the Automotive industry. Originally, an RF specialist -- compelled to flip the bit now and then to fill the need for high-speed digital design. John enjoys playing bass and racing bikes when he's not writing about or performing PCB layout. You can find John on LinkedIn.

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