PCB Guided Insights
The Future of PCB and Designers’ Roles
The convergence of ECAD and MCAD into mechatronics means more changes ahead for the profession.

In our previous columns we covered all aspects of design fundamentals. As this series comes to a close, it’s important to understand why being knowledgeable on all facets of the design process is integral to design success and how this affects the future of PCB design.

Printed circuit board technology is evolving rapidly. Likewise, engineers need to evolve just as quickly. PCB designers’ roles will soon become even more important. Empowering engineers with the knowledge needed to understand design fundamentals, effectively leverage today’s technology, and learn from others’ mistakes is crucial.

Automation plus the latest software capabilities have made it much easier for even the most inexperienced users to “complete” full designs. But the lack of design fundamentals and collaboration can lead to major issues later and make it almost impossible to leverage the technology available to its fullest potential.

The constant evolution of technology drives the future. No matter where you are in your career, this will always be true. To remain successful, designers must adapt quickly and take on new roles. Ultimately, it is about adequately preparing for the next electronic generation.

With emerging technologies such as 3-D printing, artificial intelligence and machine learning becoming synonymous with daily life, the impact on the design process is all but inevitable. The emergence of 3-D printers from companies such as Nano Dimension, Voxel8 and Siemens, among others, has made the idea of 3-D printed circuits a reality.

“From a micro perspective, I firmly believe an engineer of the future will be sitting at their desk and will click ‘file > print,’ and over in the corner there will be a 3-D printed circuit board printer just knocking out a prototype board,” said Manny Marcano, CEO of EMA Design Automation.

“Due to the nature of how 3-D printers work, the EDA industry will need to develop tools to keep pace with the additive manufacturing process of printed electronics, just as their mechanical predecessors did when they embraced the technology,” said Mike Brown, principle PCB design consultant.

The process of PCB design is evolving and, with that, the role of the electrical engineer. A once highly segmented process – libraries, schematics, PCB layout, DfM, etc. each managed by a separate person – has converged into a single role. This new role, the PCB design engineer (or whatever title it might be called in the future), requires one to understand not only every aspect of the PCB design process, but the tools that will ultimately help accomplish these myriad tasks on-time and on-budget. Having a complete understanding of design processes will ensure utilization of these evolving technologies to their fullest potential.

As we look toward the future, ECAD and MCAD are slowly becoming synonymous with one another. This convergence is causing the emergence of a new discipline called mechatronics, and its adaptation will change how engineers of the future work.

The desktop workflow of the future will be a mechatronics solution, where many of the individual disciplines we know today will be absorbed into one consolidated engineering profession. Knowing how to properly design a printed circuit board will provide engineers the foundation they need to be successful. Merging both electrical and mechanical knowledge is slowly becoming essential to creating a proper design at the mechatronics level. Engineers must adapt and become the reference point for the other specializations.

“Mechatronics is the most compelling issue in front of us. Innovation and technology will always be compelling, but it must be converted to the real world. That is where the PCB comes in. The PCB converts concept to reality. Whether it’s a tiny system on a chip to a large telecom design, it all has to be turned into the physical realm of a PCB,” Marcano stated.

The future of printed circuit board design is very bright if engineers can stay flexible and keep up with the pace of rapid changes in the world of technology.

Few people will be doing the job of many, basing their design workflow on automation and resources available on an industry-wide basis. Mechatronics is a field that opens the doors to many breakthrough ideas that can turn into reality. Since the electronics industry is already known for its competitive landscape, designers will have to constantly review trends and evolve with them. Those armed with a fundamental understanding of design and manufacturing process will set themselves apart from their peers.

This excerpt of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to PCB Design was written by
EMA Design Automation.