Gaining experience with schematic and PCB work

Wardy gives some advice on how to improve your schematic and PCB design skills. His advice is to clone consumer products with available schematics. He provides links to a few examples to get you started.

Using a realistic design will confront you with the kind of obstacles that present themselves to the original designers themselves (things like searching for footprints that aren’t in your parts library) and also the more tangible mental exercises such as trying to cram 250 parts (and the many hundreds of traces that interlink them)  into 20 square inches of circuit board!

For a less adventurous approach we recommend removing some or all of the traces from the PCB on your favorite open source project, then re-routing them.

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  1. Recapturing the schematics of someone else and drawing your own PCB of it sounds kinda odd. I think you learn more by solving a real ‘problem’; i.e. design a PCB in an enclosure, figure out how you want to use and install it, where batteries or LED’s should go etc. The chance is also greater you will actually built it and test it, where you will find that designing a prototype PCB can also be enhanced with conveniently located test pads or jumpers to reconfigure parts of the board whilst testing.

    Furthermore, I wouldn’t recommended looking at the pcb’s themself from We had a couple of boards at college and we were impressed by the lack of quality that has gone in them. Tracks were not aligned to anything, it seems like they draw off grid and with any angle they liked. It was a complete mess with no consistency. I even spotted a via that seemed ‘accidently’ spilled to a GND plane. A mistake? Intentional? One half was submerged by the plane and the other half not.

    1. I fear Dangerous Prototypes have had some trouble understanding what I was getting at.

      I’m not suggesting that people “clone” products. Not at all. I was just suggesting using the **schematic** (not the board layout, which generally unavailable from as a way to practice one’s circuit capture and board layout skills. In capturing the schematic yourself by hand and then generating a layout (again by hand) you gain a great deal of insight into the process of product design. “Cloning” products has some unsavoury connotations that were not promoted in my article. It is vital to always examine the licence for any design before you start using it for your own ends – cloning may well be acceptable in some licenses, but not permitted in others.

      It’s important to get this nomenclature correct, I feel.

      In response to Hans, I agree with your suggestions regarding overall design planning and experience, but my article focuses specifically on capture and layout – not the overall architecture design of a system.

      If someone just wants to improve their circuit capture and layout skills (which are in themselves both very complex and subtle skillsets) then a quick way to get stuck in is to find some realistic designs that exist in the world.

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