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What is PCB Design Software?

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  • Written By: Larry Ray Palmer
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2016
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    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
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Printed circuit board (PCB) design software is used by electrical engineers and printed circuit board designers to map out and test a circuit before permanently etching it into a circuit board. A variation of computer-aided design (CAD) programs, this software offers a range of design abilities. Using PCB design software, a designer can add and remove components of a circuit, change the voltages and resistance of the various parts, or alter circuit paths with a simple click of the mouse or a few keystrokes, creating a working model of the circuit long before the design is actually etched onto the circuit board.

The purpose of PCB design software is to create intelligently and efficiently designed circuitry based on schematics. Using this software, electronics engineers or other suitably trained individuals can replicate the function of a schematic design, print circuit boards, and produce a product that will perform all of the functions designed into the original schematic. Most PCB design software is also capable of pointing out minor design flaws, inconsistencies, and trouble areas that may result in a poorly designed product. Depending upon the individual software suite chosen for a project, it may have a preset arrangement of electrical components and tests already configured to be adapted into design projects.

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The technique of using PCB design software is fairly simple, but learning the individual software programs can require a substantial investment of time. In most cases, the electrical engineer can input the components and the software will automatically place them in the proper location and routing on the design. Minor editing is sometimes necessary to achieve a certain effect or in the case of experimental circuitry designs.

Once the PCB design software is used to design the circuit layout, the design is printed, either onto the copper clad circuit board itself or onto a specially designed trace sheet. The printed circuit board is then dipped in etching solution to remove the unnecessary conductor from the board, leaving only the PCB circuit design. By following this process, much of the trial and error testing process is eliminated from the design of new and experimental circuits. In addition, high end PCB design software may be able to alert the user to flaws in the design or dangerous configurations before a design is actually etched onto expensive circuit boards.

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